LAE - Just into the fourth month of 2019 and resource projects in Papua New Guinea have come under scrutiny.
Early last month, senior government ministers, including petroleum minister Fabian Pok, travelled to Komo in Hela Province for meetings with landowners of the liquefied natural gas project.
After 15 years, there is some progress in negotiations, or at least that’s the positive spin to it.
There appears to be some indication that royalties locked away due to legal battles and entangled in bureaucratic red tape is going to be paid – but only after landowner’ identities can be reliably established.
Finance minister James Marape told the media three months ago that K300 million is parked in PNG’s Central Bank ready to be released. But landowners, or people claiming to be landowners, must follow a process of “landowner identification” if they are to be paid the money.
So there is some hope of an end to the long-running disputes. However, the final settlement remains a long way off. That’s the reality. Many of the elders have died awaiting the royalty payments they were promised.
Since Hela became a new province, there’s still a lot to be ironed out. The provincial government has to work its way through layers of bureaucratic processes that continue to favour the Southern Highlands in terms of royalty payments from the gas project.
Understanding the complexities of Hela’s resource project means going back some 20 years when oil extraction ended and the promise of Papua New Guinea becoming the Saudi Arabia of the Pacific faded.
It is against a similar backdrop that neighbouring Enga Province is looking at renegotiating operations at Porgera mine through the warden’s hearing required for reopening after the end of a mining lease.
Landowners and the Enga provincial government are looking at a bigger slice of revenues and benefits.
What did they get over the last 30 years? Well, that’s a point of contention for both pro-mining and anti-mining camps.
Visible to the international community have been the campaigns against alleged atrocities committed against local people in Porgera and the desperate push by the people to get what few crumbs they can from a mine that has existed for so long on their land.
For the first time in more than three decades, it appears the national government is speaking a different language: One that calls for greater benefits into both government coffers and landowners’ pockets.
This rhetoric has come after 30 years of gold extraction, 500 shipments of liquefied natural gas and billions of dollars of round log exports.
In Lae, during the opening of the Central Bank’s currency processing facility, deputy prime minister Charles Abel talked about a production-based tax, instead of a profit-based tax, for resource projects signed from 2019 onwards.
The thinking of the national government is that a profits based tax can be deceptive, leaving the government with little to collect if a mining company declares losses or breaks even.
A similar process is happening in Madang. Triggered by an agreement between Chinese and PNG governments, Ramu Nickel’s expansion is also the subject of discussions between the government and the resource developer.
The processes are long and the risk is that, without proper representation, landowners may be left with another raw deal for several more decades before another opportunity for renegotiation presents itself.
Scott Waide’s blog columns are frequently published by Asia Pacific Report with permission. He is also EMTV deputy news editor based in Lae