KOKOPO – The Porgera mine is a large gold and silver mining operation in Enga province, Papua New Guinea located at the head of the Porgera Valley at an altitude of about 2,500 meters. The region is noted for its high rainfall, landslides and frequent earthquakes.
The mine is operated by the Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) and began production in 1990. It is now owned by Barrick Gold Corporation of Canada and the Zijin Mining Group of China with local landowners having a small stake.
It is the second largest mine in PNG, one of the world's top ten producing gold mines and has enriched many people.
In my view, the company shouldn’t be chased away but be courted by the Papua New Guinea government to find a middle ground for the long term benefit of all parties.
The strongest reason the company should remain is the economic transformation of the people in the Lagaip Porgera area since the mine started.
The transformation in terms of roads, education and an improved standard of living are myriad within and beyond the mining area.
One example of a community that experienced transformation is Maip Muritaka, located 80 kilometers away from Porgera.
The population of Maip Muritaka is about 19,000 and there are 19 local level government wards, one high school established by Governor Ipatas and six primary schools. There are two hospitals and several village aid posts.
There are six different churches in the area - Catholic, Lutherans, Apostolic, Seventh Day Adventists, the Israel ministry and the Christian Apostolic Fellowship.
The area has experienced much tribal fighting in the last three decades, during which many lives and much property have been lost. Even today there are tribal fights.
Most of the people are subsistence farmers and, to improve their prospects, many have moved to cities like Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen.
en mining started at Porgera, many people in Maip Muritaka found employment. Several later became entrepreneurs and started small businesses like livestock, transport, earth moving and construction.
Many of these entrepreneurs are now millionaires in their own right. Some of the outstanding being JT Transport, EJ Sisters, JLW Construction, Munaka Transport and Nakitu Transport.
In short, the Porgera mine has been a boon to Maip Muritaka and the many areas around.
With the mining lease expiring, PJV sought renewal. But it has been denied. The extension would have extended PJV’s rights by 20 years.
Prime minister James Marape said “the world would not end if the Porgera mine in Enga shut down” and he asked all Papua New Guineans to bear with him.
The company have sought legal means to continue its lease. The national court has told the PNG government and PJV to find a middle way.
Proponents of neo-liberal capitalism who advocate free market commerce say what the government is doing is nonsensical and will deter investors making new investment in PNG.
On the other side, ultra-nationalists point to wealth gained by PJV and say the company has made a huge amount of money and it’s time for the country to take back the mine.
If the ultra-nationalist is followed, the millions flowing into Waigani’s coffers will not necessarily benefit rural people. As the past has shown, the nation’s wealth has become a honeypot for the corrupt leaders and the government has proven to be a poor manager of the nation’s wealth.
On the contrary, PJV should be allowed to operate the mine because the benefit the company brings to the nation is twofold: it enriches the local grassroots community through job creation and also pays taxes to the national government.
This is not to deny the fact that PJV has had its share of follies. It has been accused of being environmentally irresponsible, blind to the plight of the landowners and abusive of human right abuses.
The government and the company must find a win-win solution for the good of the company and the nation and try to avoid a costly and protracted legal battle.
The government and PJV could let the company operate for another five to 10 years, during that time agreeing to an exit plan in which the company will hand over the reins to the government.
The revenue must both fund short term budget needs and be put into a sovereign wealth fund for future generations.
Simon Davidson is from Muritaka village in the Maip-Muritaka area. He is a writer of prose and poetry and holds a masters degree in theology