PORT MORESBY – The general manager of Bougainville Copper Ltd, Mark Hitchcock, has cast serious doubts on the credibility of the Special Mining Lease Osikaiyang Landowners Association which he says has created a misleading impression that it represents several hundred Panguna customary landowners.
Not only is it not representative but nor does the Association “own the mineral rights at the old Panguna mine” as its so-called developer of choice, RTG Mining Inc, has asserted, Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock cited a letter from Michael Pariu, chairman of the Panguna Developments Company, to the Department of Mineral and Energy Resources which states that “the membership of the PDC, comprising legally appointed block agents and next of kin, completely reject the validity of the above Association to assume they represent ex-SML [special mining lease] landowner blocks and their landowner community”.
The letter went on to say that the Association “enjoys no status under the Bougainville Mining Act and is currently embroiled in a legal action against itself”.
Hitchcock said that “in recent times issues around the leadership and legitimacy of the Association as a representative body have been both controversial and contested” and “there remains a lack of clear definition about the actual make-up of [its] membership”.
At its annual general meeting last month, the Association formally approved RTG Mining as preferred developer for the Panguna project.
“This endorsement ignores the lack of ABG [Bougainville government] support for RTG,” Hitchcock said.
“The endorsement could also be seen to disrespect the indefinite moratorium the ABG has put in place over Panguna and overlooks a travel ban to Bougainville imposed on a number of RTG representatives by the PNG government, at the ABG’s request.
“It should be noted that while a judicial review is underway of the decision by the ABG not to renew BCL’s exploration licence over the project area, BCL remains the holder of the exploration licence until any final determination by the court.” Hitchcock said.
He added that BCL “remains heartened by the strong levels of support we continue to receive from authorised blockholder representatives and, also by the positive relationships we maintain more broadly.
“Our ongoing work in collaboration with ABG departments and others in the community to deliver worthwhile community projects is a clear demonstration of this.”