NOOSA – Bougainville’s new president, Ishmail Toroama, who has impressed people during his first three months in office, has given the strongest indication yet that he’s unwilling to bow to pressure from foreign mining companies or their go-betweens in the province.
In a sternly worded media statement he has hit out at Perth-based Caballus Mining which earlier this month apparently organised international media distributor, Cision PR Newswire, to issue a press release on behalf of the ‘Panguna Tanku'urang Chiefs’ stating Caballus would be the “perfect mining partner” for Bougainville.
The headline on the release left no doubt as to its purpose, ‘Caballus Mining Chosen as Panguna Landowners' Partner’.
But Toroama quickly demonstrated he would tolerate none of these antics by a foreign mining company to secure a Bougainville foothold using a few covetous clan leaders.
“Let me make it clear that the current Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) under my presidency is not colluding with Caballus, RTZ (Rio Tinto), Bougainville Copper (BCL) or any landowner group to redevelop the Panguna mine at this time,” he declared.
“Statements by companies or landowner groups with a vested interest in Panguna who claim to be working with the current ABG are false; we are not backing any company or any landowner group to reopen the mine.”
The Bougainville copper and gold mine was closed after guerilla action in 1989, which quickly developed into a civil war, and has never re-opened.
RTZ walked away from the mine in April 2017, relinquishing its majority shareholding to the Papua New Guinea and Bougainville governments and leaving behind on Bougainville an environmental mess.
When it is restored, however, the Panguna mine will still have a long life and Bougainville island itself is said to be rich with gold, silver and copper.
“Bougainville had almost no exploration for nearly 40 years,” said Mike Johnston, executive director of Kalia Mining last year. “There’s no other place like it on the planet.”
In his statement Toroama said his government “is committed protecting landowner rights from undue influence by persons wishing to solicit favours from the ABG in an attempt to reopen the mine.
“As it stands there is a moratorium in place over Panguna as well as the surrounding areas around the proximity of the mine.
“The Panguna mine remains a very sensitive issue on Bougainville and parties wishing to reopen it must maintain a sense of decorum that respects the land, the landowners and the ABG.
“We cannot continue to [accept] unfounded claims that are based on promises from the previous regime and its band of leaders and public servants who sought to manipulate the people of Bougainville and wantonly exploit its resources,” Toroama said.
“It is high time we stopped using our Independence aspirations as a bargaining chip to further our personal agenda.”
Caballus has done itself no favours in dealing and manoeuvering with a couple of Panguna clans to get them to stake a claim to Panguna’s riches and press Cabullus’s extravagant claims to be “the perfect partner”.
And president Toroama has once again shown that he is prepared to stand up strongly for the people of Bougainville.