LEONARD FONG ROKA
BOUGAINVILLE HAD SUFFERED FROM EXPLOITATION by external powers since 1899 when the Germans and British bargained over it as if it was their commodity.
This exploitation intensified under Australian rule with the discovery of mineralisation in Panguna and the granting of a prospecting authority to Conzinc RioTinto of Australia (CRA) in 1963.
With the legal backing of the colonial government (and, from 1975, the Papua New Guinea government), so the Solomon Island people of Bougainville were brutally intimidated.
Panguna’s rich mineralisation is clear. It is shown, for example, in the Porter Geoconsultancy paper, Panguna Copper & Gold.
But Bougainvilleans since time immemorial, whether they had any idea or not of this sub terrestrial wealth, just knew it as their land with all of its cultural and spiritual connections; and they knew nothing should come between their land and themselves.
This wealth, however, was available only for those with the financial power and technology to exploit it.
One reason why Bougainvilleans fought Bougainville Copper Limited and the PNG government was the influx of non-Bougainvilleans who grabbed our land, raped our mothers and looted our gardens.
This leads to the question of whether Bougainville itself has the resources to localise mining? We need a vagrancy law to enable us to control migration to our island. And we need tertiary institutions that will provide the appropriate education and skills.
These developments must be on Bougainville first before we talk about mining Panguna.
The people with conflicted interests in this controversial mine are Rio Tinto (with its player on the ground BCL), Papua New Guinea (with its legal trickery in Bougainville) and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (with pro-mining leaders the late Francis Ona hated).
Where is Rio Tinto coming from? In an Islands Business article in April, BCL chairman, Peter Taylor said: “The mine has the potential to process 60 million tonnes of ore per annum, a similar rate that it achieved prior to the mine being suspended.”
This rate was for the pre-crisis mining operations. It was done for PNG development and not Bougainville. To re-start the Bougainville economy at such a rate is suicide for Bougainville.
Bougainville, as it prepares for a referendum on its future independence, needs not this size of mining. Panguna must be downsized relative to a level of sustainable economic growth.
The fact is that Rio Tinto, which is having nightmares in its other mining projects, is interested in making a profit from the Chinese economic boom and is not wanting to mine to develop Bougainville.
PNG is now fooling Bougainvilleans as it did in 1976 with the useless provincial government system. In mining, it is clear that PNG has the all the power to decide Bougainville policies.
In a July Lexology article, Reopening of Panguna copper-gold mine in PNG: risks and benefits, Rockwell Olivier and Dan Ward wrote: “Although the PNG Constitution was amended to allow the Autonomous Region of Bougainville to make laws in relation to mining, such laws aren't necessarily guaranteed.
“Section 292(3)(a) of the PNG Constitution provides that even if ABG passes the proposed mining laws, the National Government would still need to agree with the legislation, otherwise the law won't take effect until a dispute resolution process reaches a final determination.”
To this, Bougainville has no power to control or design its own mining development; PNG is still hanging on.
Back in Bougainville, the problem is that we have greedy leaders in Kieta. There are people running after their personal interest and brain-washing uneducated local people.
Their issue is money into their Panguna pockets from Rio Tinto, ABG and PNG. Decisions made are so far not representative of the people. It’s getting the whole Bougainville Island frustrated because there is no progress.
So, who are you to mine my Panguna minerals? Rio Tinto will be mining my Panguna for the Chinese market with the blessing of PNG and not the Bougainville government, its people and their future betterment and nationhood.