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Landowners & ABG agree to reopen Panguna

Bougainville Toroama
President Toroama - Decision of the five clans the "beginning of a new chapter to realise Bougainville’s independence"


BUKA –In a major development, landowners from the Panguna mine area and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) have agreed to re-open the Panguna mine, abandoned after a civil war broke out in 1989.

The mine is one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits with an estimated remaining resource of copper, gold and silver valued at more than K200 billion.

Since Rio Tinto, which developed the mine through its subsidiary Bougainville Copper Ltd, relinquished its majority shareholding, a bevy of would-be operators has pressed their interest.

In its 20 years of operation, Panguna provided 45% of Papua New Guinea’s exports and 17% of its overall revenue, effectively setting up PNG as a viable state as it moved to independence.

Australian iron ore magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest has shown interest in reviving the mine, a process expected to take ten years and require an investment of at least K35 billion. In 2019, Forrest’s company, Fortescue Metals, confirmed it was exploring “potential opportunities”.

There were many other suitors, including:

Bougainville Copper Ltd, the original developer seeking a comeback and at the time supported by some local landholders through the Panguna Development Company

RTG Mining, an Australian group accused of attempting to bribe the Bougainville government

Callabus, which offered Bougainville a joint shareholding and was supported by previous president John Momis

An unnamed Chinese entity which was reported to have also offered Bougainville $1 billion to fund its transition to independence

There’s been no reliable indication of which entity will be asked to restore the mine or how it might be structured.

In late 2019, a referendum on Bougainville’s political future showed 98% of the population supporting independence.

Then, in August 2020, the dynamic, aggressive former rebel commander, Ishmael Toroama, was elected president and began moving decisively to prepare the province for independence, and a second life for the mine always on the cards as the best way to make a Bougainville nation economically sound.

It is highly likely we will now see much fierce action from suitors old and new as the resolution to reopen the mine has been agreed by its hitherto most adamant opponents – the people it most adversely affected and still affects through a despoiled environment.

The joint resolution was signed by chiefs and other leaders of the five major Panguna clans – Basikang, Kurabang, Bakoringu, Barapang and Mantaa.

It was reached at the end of a three-day summit at Tunuru, a coastal village between the mine port of Loloho and the important administrative centre of Arawa in Central Bougainville.

“Today marks the ending of a chapter and the beginning of a new chapter, a chapter to realise Bougainville’s independence,” President Toroama said congratulating the clans on their decision.

He reassured landowners that the government will continue to protect the people and their resources through laws passed by the Bougainville parliament.

Bougainville crowd
Panguna clan chiefs agreed that the time had come to start work on reviving the copper and gold mine

And he urged the landowners to continue to use the government to control resources that rightfully belongs to the people.

The government is confident the re-opening of the mine will provide a major boost for Bougainville’s economic future even during the restitution and reconstruction phases and guarantee Bougainville’s political independence.

The ABG’s Department of Mineral and Energy Resources and other agencies will work with landowner groups to facilitate the mine’s rebirth.


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Phil Doyle

I was born in Brisbane but spent five years on Bougainville (1972-76) as a child, attending Bovo Primary School in Arawa.

I can only hope this time the people of Bougainville finally get to dictate at what date the mine at Panguna will re-open and who will run the project.

My father Lindsay Doyle was a mine shift foreman at Panguna. Francis Ona worked under him at the mine and spoke highly of Ishmael Toroama.

The even distribution of mine royalties should also be of very high importance to the future of Bougainville and its people and a system needs to be set up to secure the future of all Bougainvilleans.

I only hope that this time the environmental and financial monetary policies are carefully addressed and the percentage of profits actually flow through to the development, infrastructure and benefit of the people of Bougainville.

To Ismael Toroama, I admire your tenacity and ability to lead your people and see this through.

Best wishes to Bougainville and its people. I hope to return to Bougainville before the mine reopens.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It's certainly food for thought Harry.

All that turmoil and all those deaths was only ever about the mine and who reaped the benefits.

There were more factors at play than the mine, including age old clan rivalries, the long felt feeling amongst Bougainvilleans of their own ethnicity and the antagonism towards 'retskin' from other parts of PNG. As Anthony Regan writes: "In thinking about the conflict amongst Bougainvilleans, we need to ask whether single explanations are of much use? I don’t think we can say there is a culture of violence in Bougainville… I don’t think we can put it down purely to the mine or purely to the abuse, the appalling violence started by the Papua New Guinean forces. Combinations of factors and serendipity seem to be more important than any single factor" - KJ

Bernard Corden

It will be quite interesting how any class actions against BCL proceed if the major mining contract is awarded to another suitor.

Harry Topham

Hello - Why would any one not be surprised? Anything that promises easy money for nothing is far better that just putting one head down and using ones skills to provide a living.

It then seems to suggest that after all the previous calamities that arose through greed, that greed again wins.

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