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We could’ve been different (a pantoum)

Rio gives up – on its way out of Bougainville & leaving a mess


AFTER two years of deliberation, Rio Tinto has today transferred its 53.8% shareholding in Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) to an independent trustee, which, in six months, will provide both the PNG and Bougainville governments each with 36.4% of the company.

The remaining 27.2% of shares is held by independent shareholders, who now become important players in the future of BCL.

In a media statement, Rio said Equity Trustees Limited will manage the distribution of shares between the ABG "for the benefit of Panguna landowners, the people of Bougainville and PNG".

According to Rio, this “ensures both parties are equally involved in any consideration and decision-making around the future of the Panguna mine.

“The ultimate distribution of our shares provides a platform for the ABG and PNG government to work together on future options for the resource,” said Rio copper & coal chief executive Chris Salisbury.

“Our review looked at a broad range of options and by distributing our shares in this way we aim to provide landowners, those closest to the mine, and all the people of Bougainville a greater say in the future of Panguna.”

Although Rio will no longer hold any interest in BCL, the statement said it will continue to meet its obligations under the agreement during that period to ensure an orderly transition in the shareholding.

BCL chairman Peter Taylor resigned with immediate effect but will continue to provide services to the board during the transition period.

The statement was silent on whether Rio will take any responsibility for the environmental clean-up of the site, so it must be assumed that this huge task will be left to BCL to address.

The negotiations about who will eventually take control of BCL will be particularly messy, and Rio must know this.

The governments of PNG and Bougainville have been at loggerheads for some time over financial obligations the PNG government has not met in relation to the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

In light of this, Mr Salisbury’s comment that Rio’s decision “provides a platform for the ABG and PNG government to work together on future options” seems especially cynical.

With Bougainville’s referendum on independence due in the next couple of years, Rio’s stepping aside could turn out to be an abdication that spells even bigger trouble for Bougainville-PNG relations.


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Jaffie Amani

The government must understand that the mine was the cause of the civil war in Bougainville and to talk about mining now is not in the best interest of the people of Bougainville.

There are still fresh scars that needs to be healed and family reconciliation is still ongoing in some villages in Bougainville.

What the government needs to understand is that the conflict did not only cause friction between the PNG government and Bougainvillians, it destroyed family relationships in Bougainville and that's something the people in Bougainville are currently trying to resolve.

Family reconciliation is currently happening in all parts of Bougainville and needs more support from all stakeholders for a brighter and peaceful Bougainville.

Gabriel Ramoi

Look at the Facts. BHP left behind a Trojan Horse in Ok Tedi with respect to its shares in the mine. Rio Tinto gave back to Bougainville and PNG a mine in compensation for the loss of life in the Bougainville civil war.

It's up to President Momis and O'Neill to deal with the finer details of how equitable the mine can be developed for the collective good. It's time to move on.

The mine is a lake and the river is a tailings desert. Some compensation. And I'd rather listen to John Momis on this issue. His words in PNG Attitude are brutally to the point. Move on? This issue has a long way to run. I hope it can be dealt with fairly and peaceably. But for this to happen people like you, Gabriel, will have to show far more understanding understanding - KJ

Ed Brumby

Is it not too cynical to suggest that Fr Momis should go to China too?

I think you will find little appetite in Bougainville for that connection, especially if under the auspices of the PNG government - KJ

Gabriel Ramoi

This is the most positive development to come out of the Bougainville civil war and stands in contrast to BHP's handling of the Ok Tedi dispute.

I think Gabriel should declare his interest given, as today's PNG Attitude story demonstrates, the Bougainville government sees Rio's abdication as anything but positive. In fact it has great similarities to BHP's walking away from Ok Tedi, except BHP set up a compensatory fund of $US1.4 billion while Rio is just saying hasta la vista - KJ

Paul Oates

Not too hard to connect the dots is it Phil?

Philip Fitzpatrick

And Peter O'Neill is travelling to China next week.


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