HAVING lost much of their precious land and rivers, landowners in and around Panguna do have grievances. But welcoming the culprit back into their midst to remedy some conflicts is a goal they see as paramount to the progress of Bougainville as a whole.
Thus the communities of the Upper Tailings prepared for almost a month for the day when the mining company, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), would pay them compensation outstanding since 1990 - 27 years before.
BCL had a cordial welcome from the people of my home Enamira Village in the heart of the Upper Tailings area of the Panguna District.
A short traditional ceremony to mend broken ties and restore relations with the community of the Tumpusiong Valley, as it is known widely today, began the day. This was followed by speeches that emphasised concord, collaboration and remediation of all the issues attached to the Panguna mine.
It was a go-forward for Bougainville because BCL was giving the mine-affected people a sign that the physical destruction of their land and life by mining no longer meant they had been deserted by the company responsible for their destitution.
BCL, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and other stakeholders were led by BCL manager Justin (Ted) Rogers.
Their mission was to verify and help locals finalise legal documents and bank accounts for title holders of land areas leased by BCL all those years ago.
The money ought to have been paid in 1990 but the Bougainville conflict of 1988-97 got in the way. Thus only now the people of the Panguna District queued to get what was owed to them by BCL.
This prevented possible eruption of conflict and maintained harmony within the Upper Tailings lease and its community members.
The tailings of the Panguna mine is in three sectors: the Lower Tailings (South Bougainville’s Bana District), the Mid-Tailings (Jaba to Konnuku Village) and the Upper Tailings (Tonanau Village to Dingumori).
In money terms there was a great variation in compensation depending on the size of the land blocks subject to royalties. The Lower Tailings, geographically a vast plain stretching from the Mid-Tailings to the coast, received a massive amount of K1 million-plus. The Mid-Tailings took about half-a-million while we in the Upper Tailings get something less than K50,000.
According to sources, the Special Mining Lease land title holders from areas directly around the mine will get close to a million kina.
BCL spent four days in the Upper Tailings with the people. Where disputes arose amongst people over land titles, BCL directed them to share the benefits. Thus peace prevailed.
Happy faces came out of the buildings where people were interacting with BCL and ABG officials. Above all, BCL manager Rogers was everywhere chatting and smiling with the people.
As BCL and its entourage left, the people stood by feeling relieved. What some of their elders had long waited for had materialised.
Many in the Upper Tailings are now telling themselves to make good use of the BCL money so it will have some lasting positive impact on their lives and the community as a whole.
They are telling themselves not to be like the Arawa Villagers who received K3 million from the national government for the lease of the land in the Arawa township but hardly have seen any tangible development.
They say the whole of Bougainville is watching us - and peace is intact as my people flock into Arawa, where the bank is, to get and use that BCL money.