WHEN I met prime minister Peter O’Neill on Saturday 2 July, I was not aware that the national government had already accepted the transfer of 17.4% equity from Rio Tinto.
I was initially reassured that he understood the serious dangers involved in the national government accepting the equity. I believed he understood our concerns and was ready to consider the shares coming to Bougainville.
But later that day, I received the information that the national government had already accepted transfer of the shares. I immediately wrote to the prime minister, demanding that the shares be transferred to Bougainville.
I became much more concerned by the statement of the former minister responsible, Ben Micah, reported in the Post Courier of 12 July.
He alleged that the negotiations with Rio Tinto about equity transfer had been under the direction of the prime minister. Micah said that he had “been in discussions with Rio together with the prime minister and we have kept Mr. Momis abreast of our discussions”.
If there was cooperation between the prime minister and Mr Micah, that would be very worrying. But more importantly, it is completely untrue that the prime minister and Mr Micah have kept me advised of their discussions. To say so is a complete lie.
My last discussion with them was in December 2015. At that time I was advising them of the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s strong opposition to the national government taking over the Rio Tinto’s 53.8% equity in BCL. (They were then proposing to pay Rio Tinto US$100 million for those shares.)
I also opposed their argument that the ABG say nothing about Rio having responsibility for environmental and other legacy issues. They feared that such concerns could damage their ‘commercial negotiations’ with Rio Tinto.
My last communication with them on the issues was my letter to the prime minister of 10 December 2015.
Since then I have not had a single word from them about their thinking about the BCL shares. If, as Mr. Micah says, they have kept working on this, then they have done it in complete secrecy, with not a word to me or the ABG.
That secrecy in unacceptable to Bougainville, for they are playing with rights to Bougainville’s resources as if the issues do not have anything to do with Bougainville.
But in a response to my letter to the Prime Minister of 3 July, received through his chief of staff, the prime minister provided assurances to me that:
He was not aware of the acceptance by national government-owned company Petromin, of the transfer of the 17.4% equity; and
He was willing to ask the National Executive Council [Cabinet] to re-consider the issue of that transfer of the equity.
Whatever happened in negotiations between PNG and Rio Tinto, my demand is that the prime minister honours his most recent assurances. So he must ensure the earliest possible decision to transfer the 17.4% equity to the ABG.
If that does not occur, then the relationship between the ABG and the national government, indeed, between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, will come under terrible pressure.
I wrote to the Prime Minister again on Monday 18 July, strongly advising him that he now has an opportunity to end the tension developing over the shares issues. In a single move, he can develop a new and more positive relationship between his government and Bougainville.
I have urged the prime minister to resolve the issues, once and for all. I have asked him to do so in advance of the motion of no confidence on Friday 22 July. This is an opportunity for him to counter allegations against the prime minister and his government. He can send a strong signal to the whole country of his creative and unifying leadership, and of hope for the future.
Bougainville has come full circle. We are back to where we were in 1997, at the beginning of the peace process. Then we were deeply divided. Only by unifying and working together could we successfully negotiate the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
But in the period since the agreement was signed, it has become clear that some divisions remain. We have two groups of Me’ekamui people that oppose one another in claiming to be the true government of Bougainville. The leader of U-Vistract, a failed Ponzi fraud scheme, claims to head a kingdom of Papa’ala, that he says is somehow in charge of Bougainville.
We have small outside mining interests, with very poor track records, that have linked up with small Bougainville factions. We have a greedy adviser to a silly landowner leader causing new divisions. We have a small group now of seven or eight former combatants from outside the Panguna area claiming that they will decide what happens there.
We even have a supposedly educated Bougainvillean, who has been outside Bougainville for years, now coming back and trying to scare our people with false ‘awareness’ campaigns, telling complete lies.
They include claims that the Bougainville Mining Act is against the people. She tells former combatants that the amnesty under the peace agreement will end in 2020, and that they will then face the death penalty under PNG Law.
We, the true leaders or the only true government of Bougainville, must unite against these unfortunate, deluded, and irresponsible people who are seeking their own advantage by sowing division and confusion. Only by uniting can we make real progress in the next stage of our efforts to build lasting peace in Bougainville.
So I am asking the elected leaders of Bougainville to work with me to unite the people of Bougainville around two main issues.
First, we must unite in demanding that the whole of the Rio 53.8% shareholding in BCL be transferred to the ABG.
Second, we must unite in developing the strongest possible international campaign to apply all necessary pressure on Rio Tinto to accept its mine legacy issues such as the needs of relocated villages.
At the same time we must work to persuade the national government to accept its responsibilities for Panguna legacy issues.