KALAMAZOO, USA – Along with my wife Penny, I have served with Pacific Island Ministries in East Sepik Province between 1980 and 1985 and from 2005 until the present.
Pacific Island Ministries was founded in Ambunti, the largest town on the Sepik River, in 1977.
From the get–go a priority was to listen to the locals about what kind of help they wanted.
They expressed a strong interest in education and a prominent landowner donated a tract of land for us to construct classrooms, dormitories and teachers’ houses.
Ambunti Akademi, as it was named, conducted Grade 1-6 education and all went well for 28 years.
Then the landowner died and his two sons took over.
They met with us Pacific Island Ministries leaders in 2005 and stated, “Papa bilong mipela I stupit! We’re taking back the land.”
And take it back they did. Not just the land but all the infrastructure as well….houses, dorms and classrooms valued at about K500,000
Landowner relatives claimed the houses and the school had to be closed.
“Okay, what do we do now?” we asked ourselves.
We decided to turn our focus to work with villages in the Sepik River Valley where there was no educational opportunity.
Over time, we established 30 elementary schools.
The agreement with villagers was that if they wanted a school for their children, they needed to meet some goals.
They had to construct a school building using bush materials. They needed to build a bush materials house for the teacher provided by the ministry. They also had to construct two pit toilets, one for the school, the other for the teacher.
Once this was achieved, the ministry would provide trained teachers and their salaries and equipment - blackboards, books, pencils, paper, tables, benches, all that was required.
This mutual arrangement has worked very well.
But the worrying event remained in our minds - second generation landowners had reclaimed land their papa gave for a school, even though it meant a small NGO in the Sepik got trampled on.
The thought strikes me that is what happened in Ambunti in 2005 a microcosm of what is now happening in Porgera on a major scale?
Is the PNG government effectively saying, “Thank you for constructing the mine for us. You’ve made a handsome profit and are no longer needed. By the way, we will be taking the infrastructure for which we will pay you a few million kina. But we’re not going to pay fair market value for the mine. Goodbye.”
Back in 1990, when the Porgera Joint Venture began, the ownership deal was 47.5% for Barrick, 47.5% for Zijin and 5% for landowners and Enga Province. PNG as a whole would benefit from taxation receipts.
Under new arrangements, the PNG government has the option of retaining between 16.6% and 25% ownership in a project, with the understanding it will come up with the funds to pay for its share.
If the project agrees to defer payment while the government obtains a loan, that is also workable.
But, in my book, seizing a mine while paying only 5% of its value is exploitation.
James Marape is a big improvement over the corrupt prime minister who preceded him.
But, as I have argued previously, I disagree with his posture toward the Porgera Joint Venture.
Thankfully there was recourse for an appeal to the national court, which on 1 May instructed the two sides to discuss and resolve their differences and ordered them to report back to the court.
It has been encouraging to see some progress on the impasse. According to the Post-Courier, Barrick Niugini has presented a proposal on how to resolve the dispute on the lease and the future of the mine.
The government's response is expected by tomorrow and I’m optimistic the two sides will work this out.
If this doesn't happen, it's likely the national court will appoint a mediator to resolve the matter.
Let's hope for healthy give and take on both sides.