THERE’S been coverage in the Papua New Guinea press and in parts of the social media, but one of the most important and interesting stories of the year in PNG has been pretty much underdone.
And this concerns a major new piece of mining legislation passed by the Bougainville House of Representatives last Friday.
There were three significant Bougainville political contributions to the public debate on the bill: the first being a speech by Autonomous Bougainville Government, President John Momis (pictured), on the day the Bougainville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Bill 2014 passed through parliament.
The other contributions - by ABG Finance Minister Albert Punghau and Natural Resources Minister Michael Oni – were delivered three days before the passage of the mining bill to the first meeting of the 65 member Panguna Negotiations Forum.
The ABG established the Forum to help develop a combined Bougainville position in advance of possible negotiations with Bougainville Copper Ltd on the future of the Panguna copper mine.
The Forum comprises nominees of a wide range of interest groups, including women, churches, civil war ex-combatants, Bougainville business organisations, Bougainvillean professional living outside the province, Panguna landowner associations and the ABG.
In his speech (download here in full), President Momis said he was very proud to presents the first Bougainville mining law.
“Bougainville has bitter experience of previous mining laws,” Dr Momis said. “This terrible experience began with the Australian colonial Mining Ordinance. CRA began exploration in Bougainville under that law.
“It continued under the extremely unjust and unfair Mining (Bougainville Copper Agreement) Law 1967, again a law of the Australian colonial government.
“After PNG Independence in 1975, our sad mining history continued under mining laws of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea after September 1975.”
Dr Momis said that at many points over the last 50 years, Bougainvilleans objected to unfair mining laws.
“Successive colonial and PNG governments failed to listen,” he said. “That was a critical factor in the origins of the Bougainville conflict.”
Dr Momis said he and his Cabinet were proud of this first Bougainville Mining Bill.
“We are especially proud that our Bill is completely unique in the world in the focus it gives to protecting the interests of the people of Bougainville – that is, those who are Bougainvilleans by custom and who own land by custom,” he said.
“For the first time under written law, all of our customary landowners will own the minerals in, on or under their land….
“Customary owners will have many rights. In particular, they will have a right of veto over the grant of any exploration licence over their land. They have the power to say ‘no’.”
Dr Momis said the ABG had also considered giving owners a right of veto over mining development but decided this was not feasible.
“The reason is that if an explorer spends many millions on exploration approved by landowners, only then to have the landowners veto development, the landowners or the ABG would have to refund the explorer their exploration costs.
“If we did not promise to do that, we would never be able to attract quality investors.”
Dr Momis also directly addressed accusations that he was “selling Bougainville”.
“What a terrible lie it is to claim I am selling Bougainville. The truth is that the Bill is designed to stop unscrupulous and dishonest outsiders who together with a few weak or dishonest Bougainvilleans are the ones trying to both buy and sell Bougainville.
“The ABG takes very seriously its responsibility to promote and protect the real interests of Bougainville and its people.
“As a result, we have no choice but to oppose and stand up to the unprincipled, dishonest, greedy and self-interested foreigners who want to attack the ABG and undermine its mandate, destroy the rule of law and end good governance.
“They want to do this so that they can help themselves to the wealth of Bougainville.”
Dr Momis went on to criticise a number of Bougainvilleans who attacked the ABG when they themselves were trying to benefit personally from exploiting the province’s resources.
He also disparaged “anonymous commentators” in the social media.
“PNG Mine Watch often attack[s] the ABG over mining…. They have never approached me or any minister in my government for facts. They never talk to the ABG Mining Department.
"Instead they restrict themselves to statements based mainly on their own narrow conspiracy views. As a result, their attacks are almost always incredibly short on evidence in support of claims made and very long on innuendo, and conspiracy theories.”
Read President John Momis’s full speech here
In his speech to the Panguna Negotiating Forum Meeting, ABG Minister for Natural Resources, Hon Michael Oni, said although the ABG supports the resumption of large-scale mining, it is focused on more than that.
“We want to see broad-based development,” he said. “That includes Bougainville’s home-grown mining industry – the small scale gold mining industry.
"We estimate 5,000 to 6,000 Bougainvilleans are directly involved, and they may be receiving as much as K75 million or more from gold sales.”
On large-scale mining, Mr Oni said “we are moving with an interim law mainly to make sure that all outside interests understand they must have approval under Bougainville law – they cannot go through the back door by dealing directly with small groups of landowners.”
He said the final version of the new “long-term mining law” should be ready for initial debate by the end of 2014 or early 2015.
“There are some Bougainvilleans opposed to the new draft Bougainville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Bill,” Mr Oni said.
“They say it gives too much to BCL. Yet the clear reality is that we propose a law that takes almost everything from BCL.
“All they will have is the right to negotiate for a mining lease over the old SML [mining lease] area.
"If we also took that away from them, they would have little choice but to challenge what we are doing in courts, or in international tribunals. The result would be long and costly legal battles.”
Read the Hon Michael Oni’s full speech here
"But the reality is that without much more revenue, we can’t reach highest autonomy or independence. We cannot meet the increasing needs of our people.
“We are together building Bougainville up from the ashes of a terrible war which destroyed and damaged lives, destroyed services and infrastructure, and severely damaged the capacity of our public service,” Mr Punghau said.
“Through the war and the following peace process, we have achieved our unique autonomy status, giving us wide authority to deal with our unique problems and needs.
"But, at the same time, to make autonomy work requires far more capacity than any provincial government.
“We have the right to make policies and laws on most things needed to meet our people’s needs but, although we are making progress, we have a long way to go.
“We have the right to a referendum on independence, but in setting the date and in getting international community support, we need to show we adhere to good governance and are dealing with weapons. And to do that we have to greatly improve law and order.”
Mr Punghau said Bougainville’s budget expenditure this year is estimated to be K312 million. “[We] know that level of budget expenditure is far too low to meet the real needs of Bougainvilleans.”
He said Bougainville was a very long way from achieving “our much talked about, and very important, goal of fiscal self-reliance.”
“We clearly face the very real need to be financially independent from the National Government by the time we reach independence,” Mr Punghau said.
“So the big question I have for all of us here is: How can we move quickly to expand our economy?
“It’s clear that agriculture is important to our economy. But it’s not going to be the key source of government revenue unless there is long-term and significant investment in the industry.
“If cocoa and small-scale gold are our major economic activities at present, what else is there that can bring us massive economic development and associated ABG revenues in the time frames we are looking at?” Mr Punghau asked.
He told the Forum that “what brings us all here today [is] the search for agreement amongst us, on behalf of all Bougainvilleans, of the conditions for allowing mining to happen that will ensure a fair return to landowners of the mine lease areas, as well as to all Bougainvilleans.
“It’s not a matter of any of us having any special love for mining and its impacts. We Bougainvilleans know the problems that mining can cause. But we also know that mining can be done differently from what happened under an unjust colonial agreement signed in 1967.”
Read Hon Albert Punghau’s full speech here
Disclosure: Keith Jackson’s company, Jackson PR Associates Pty Ltd, consults to Bougainville Copper Ltd