BY MARTYN NAMORONG
THE DEBATE on mineral ownership has resurfaced recently with the speech by Mining Minister Byron Chan regarding transfer of ownership from the state to customary land owners.
If one looks at the Wikipedia entry on mining in Papua New Guinea, its opening line is misleading. It states: “Up until 1970, there was little mineral extraction in PNG, but since the 1970s mineral extraction has dominated the national economy.”
That Wikipedia version of mining history is what most Papua New Guineans are taught to believe. The truth is that Australians were ripping off Papua New Guineans big-time at Bulolo in the late 1920s.
At the height of the Bulolo gold rush it was said to have the busiest airport on planet earth. What did the indigenous people of Bulolo gain from this?
In fact, once people start acknowledging that local landowners should benefit from resources, it is recognition of the legitimacy landowner claims of ownership of the resource.
Of course the Australian colonialists weren’t going to recognize landowner rights and to this day they still mislead their PNG pets via their agents in universities, think-tanks, chambers of commerce and media outlets.
Every red blooded Melanesian who owns land knows that the ownership extends to that which lies below six feet as well.
The biggest challenge to the colonialist view of mineral ownership was mounted by the Bougainvilleans. The Bougainvilleans never recognised the colonialist trespassing on their land for minerals.
In 1965 their objections to mining were rejected by the mining warden and there were confrontations between villagers and geologists throughout the year. In 1966, the Australian Federal Minister for External Territories went to Bougainville to address villagers regarding the mine.
In 1969, they took their case to the High Court in Australia but it was thrown out; in the same year cabinet in Canberra was briefed about the potential for Bougainville causing problems for an independent PNG.
In 1972, the year Bougainville Copper Ltd started production at Panguna, US environmentalist Richard West predicted in his book Rivers of Tears that the disputes on Bougainville would lead to civil war.
In 1987, the old Panguna Landowner Association was replaced by a younger socially, culturally and environmentally conscious team led by Francis Ona. Having being suppressed for over two decades, the younger generation now had to deal with massive social and environmental damage.
The kids had found the matches and the State was adding more fuel with its refusal to negotiate a better deal. The kids were hungry for justice and trouble began brewing in 1988 and exploded in 1989 into a civil war.
The western created puppet state failed to protect the rights of its people and chose instead to side with foreigners.
Papua New Guineans fought against each other and lost their lives, for what? So that some guy in Sydney, London or New York could have money to drink champagne and drive a Mercedes.
The Bougainvilleans saw their fight as a fight for justice on behalf of all Papua New Guinean landowners. They wanted to be paid for their copper ore instead of just receiving compensation payments for the destruction of their cultural, spiritual and environmental heritage. They have set the precedent on ownership that very few in PNG seem to care about.
The western state, having lost on Bougainville, has continued to attack indigenous people at Ok Tedi, Porgera, Hidden Valley, Basamuk and Tolukuma. The Bismarck Sea has now been targeted by foreign exploiters and their compradors (agents).
The Bougainville crisis came into fruition after over 20 years of resistance to mining and neo-colonization. Its roots lie in the question of ownership of land and that which is underneath.
Once the Australians and their Papua New Guinean compradors saw fit to steal from indigenous people, they set the precedent for the destruction of indigenous nations and their resources.
It is time to correct the wrongs. For it is by heritage that indigenous Melanesian people lay claim to the land and the resources therein.
Note: I have written recently opposing the transfer of ownership rights from the state to landowners. However, having researched the roots of the Bougainville crisis, I’ve changed my mind on the ownership issue. However, my concerns still remain, particularly regarding powerful landlords becoming warlords or simply squandering their increased wealth the same way that most are doing today.
Having said that, I believe that given their rights, should the landowners decide to destroy their cultural, spiritual or environmental heritage, they are not in any position to blame the state. If they squander their wealth, they cannot blame corrupt politicians of bureaucrats. Thus there is a need to educate resource owners about these pitfalls.
Source: The Namorong Report http://medicmangi.blogspot.com