PRESIDENT Momis has made clear that it is completely unacceptable to the people of Bougainville that the PNG national government have an equal shareholding in Bougainville Copper Ltd with the Autonomous Government of Bougainville.
As mining minister, I firmly believe that if the 17.4% of shares taken up by the national government-owned company Petromin on 30 June are not transferred to the ABG, I will have no choice but to cancel the exploration licence.
That would not be an ideal situation. BCL has about K138 million in funding and it holds the drilling data for the Panguna ore body as well as all other records of the company.
Clearly it will be best if all of that can be kept together by the same company that holds the exploration licence. We will do all we can to keep that all together.
If the national government refuses to transfer the 17.4% of shares to us, it will clearly be important that the ABG does take up the 36.4% on offer from the Trust set up by Rio Tinto.
In that way we will be in the strongest position to sort out what happens to the BCL cash and records.
But if the national government refuses to transfer its shares to the ABG, and we do terminate the BCL exploration licence, the ABG will then be free to seek other possible developers.
We would probably make use of the provisions in the Mining Act empowering the ABG to put exploration licences up for international tender. In other words, we would invite international tenders for an exploration licence holder over Panguna.
We would then be able to test the interest in the mining industry. We would be able to get the best technical experts to evaluate applications. We would be able to raise revenue through the process of tendering the licence.
In relation to Rio’s refusal to accept responsibility for Panguna environmental damage and other legacy issues, the ABG must initiate a major international campaign against Rio Tinto. I am proposing that the ABG establish a task force to initially develop and coordinate that campaign. Amongst other things that will need to be examined in developing such a campaign will be:
the possibilities of legal action against Rio Tinto, internationally, and (or alternatively) in the PNG courts – we have already obtained some preliminary advice on such a course, and while the issues are complex, there are some important possibilities to explore;
action to get international organisations that maintain indexes of corporate social responsibility and sustainable development to make adverse findings against Rio Tinto, as that action can result in ethical and principled investors (including major retirement and other investment funds) refusing to invest in Rio Tinto, and that can result in damage to its share price – for we must remember, the only thing that matters to Rio is making money, and when its share price falls, even its shareholders start to put pressure on a company to behave ethically.
We will need to explore other possible ways of putting pressure on Rio.
To do that, we need a unified approach from the ABG, from the landowners, and from Bougainville as a whole. We need the active involvement of all Bougainville interest groups, of all major Bougainville organisations.
For example, we need the churches involved. And in that connection, I am very much encouraged to hear that already the Bishop of Bougainville, Bishop Bernard Unabali, is preparing to make known his views about the need for action here.
We face huge challenges in dealing with the Rio decision. We must also all put our heads together and consider the various options for the best ways of dealing with the issues involved here.
What I have outlined to you are just some of the possibilities available.