Reprising Sil Bolkin – an essayist of significance & substance
‘My Walk to Equality’: One year down. What next?

Media reports on Panguna landowners are misleading

Axel G Sturm

AXEL G STURM | President, European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper

ANDORRA – On Monday the PNG Post-Courier published a remarkable article about the situation on Bougainville and the future of the famous Panguna mine.

Unfortunately journalists in the Pacific region are publishing misleading reports on the situation on the ground and which support that the notorious troublemaker Philip Miriori who works (probably for his own profit) with a reputedly nearly bankrupt Australian mining company, RTG.

Here is the Post-Courier report:

Title holders do not recognise Miriori

The 367 authorised customary heads of the 510 blocks of land within the special mining lease area of the Panguna mine do not recognise Philip Miriori as the chairman of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners’ Association.

Philip Miriori

The title holders said Mr Miriori did not represent them and was trying to advance the interests of disruptive third parties, including the small overseas company RTG which has no mineral rights over Panguna.

“Despite the decision of the Bougainville executive council to impose a moratorium over the Panguna project, we the title holders remain supportive of development with BCL’s involvement,” they said in a statement.

“Our position aligns with the ABG’s original decision to reopen the mine in partnership with Bougainville Copper Limited and supports the broader aspiration for a Bougainville that is economically self-reliant.”

The customary landowners said while they respect the outcome of the warden’s hearing it was completely dishonest to describe it as producing an overwhelming rejection of BCL as claimed by Mr Miriori.

“In fact President John Momis described the outcome as only a ‘narrow divide’ and the public should be aware that a submission signed by about 320 of the 367 Customary Heads supportive of BCL was made to the Mining Warden,” they said.

“The ABG and the landowners invited BCL to re-engage and they have done so in good faith and we the title holders believe a constructive dialogue with BCL about a development pathway should continue,” the landowners said.

“BCL is a company that Bougainvilleans hold a major interest in through the ABG’s shareholding. To us landowners there is a strong logic to supporting a company that is owned by Bougainvilleans.”

It is also true that there are legacy issues – both social and environmental – that will need to be addressed and as landowners we have higher degrees of confidence in BCL addressing these issues due to their full awareness, as opposed to alternative developers who will be reluctant to take responsibility.

The landowners said the decision to place an indefinite moratorium over Panguna could also open the way for illegal miners to advance their activities in Panguna with authorities incapable of controlling it in Panguna.

As you see, Mr Miriori represents only a minority  of landowners that oppose to BCL.

Since the beginning of this campaign it had been my impression all that cinema was motivated only by RTG’s desire to influence its share price . Even if RTG’s intentions were honest, such a small company with a few million dollars turnover never would be able to manage a multi-billion mining business like Panguna.

So please, dear colleagues, avoid publishing superficial nonsense, such as the ABC’s Pacific Beat did:

Mining at Bougainville's troubled Panguna copper mine - one of the world's biggest - is being put on hold indefinitely.

The community in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region remains divided, raising concerns the island risks a return to violence.

The mine was at the centre of a deadly civil war in the 1990s.

The Bougainville Government's now imposed an indefinite moratorium on mining, essentially shutting the door on BCL - the company which previously ran the mine - and has been vying to do so again.

But others firms, including one with Australian links say they're still hoping to develop the mine.

Please don’t forget that Mr Momis is already a pretty old man who hesitates to create new problems on the island he stands for. He’s simply afraid to cause new unrest on Bougainville.

But one thing is for sure: Without revenues from the Panguna mine under the leadership of BCL that is owned by the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the independence of  the island will remain a sweet dream.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

The Panguna mine in its current abandoned state would make a great tourist attraction Paul.

It could stand out as a physical reminder of how greed, jealousy and arguments over the distribution of profits from resources can destroy a society. A kind of memorial to the follies of colonial capitalism.

I reckon it would be up there with Disneyland and would attract visitors from all over the world.

On a more sober note it also stands as a memorial to all those who lost their lives fighting over it.

Paul Flanagan

Are we sure that "But one thing is for sure: Without revenues from the Panguna mine under the leadership of BCL that is owned by the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the independence of the island will remain a sweet dream."

Separate to the BCL vs RTG issue there is a more fundamental assumption. Why is a mine essential for independence?

Bougainville's agricultural prospects are reasonably strong. It has some of the best agriculture land in PNG. Its cocoa and copra plantations were extremely productive prior to 'the troubles'. Tourist potential would appear significant if law and order issues are contained. Its waters would link into fishing revenues under the Nauru agreement.

The estimated population of around 300,000 is larger than many other Pacific Island Nations - about half Solomon Islands but slightly larger than Vanuatu, New Caledonia or French Polynesia, and significantly larger than Samoa. These countries get by with a form of independence without a mine.

Experience also is that mining can lead to "resource curse" issues - ones that may be very manifest in Bougainville as Panguna could represent a major share of measured GDP.

Not saying there shouldn't be a mine, just asking why it is "essential"? This an assumption that needs to be examined closely. Using the figures above, even if 320 of 367 customary heads are in favour of a particular course of development, that still leaves 47 with issues. And the issues may not come from the customary heads.

The Panguna mine riches are not going to disappear. Is it better that they are left in the ground for another generation until there is an absolutely unambiguous consensus that they should be developed?

This would simply be banking the resource at this stage. And it may allow the people of Bougainville to consider more inclusive forms of development and governance as it considers the referendum.

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