Bougainville News : Momis : Debate on the process for lifting the ” moratorium ” on Bougainville mining exploration

photo J M

It should be no surprise to Members here today that in participating in this debate on the future of the ‘moratorium’, I am deeply concerned to ensure that the issues involved are discussed thoroughly, with care, and with the most careful attention to the need to fully protect the interests of Bougainvilleans. After all, that ‘moratorium’ protected our interests over many years. We need to consider the issues involved most carefully before deciding what should be done.

I’d like to comment briefly on the main options for a decision on the ‘moratorium’. The options include:

  • Maintaining the moratorium;
  • Lifting it partially, for limited specific areas of Bougainville;
  • Lifting it fully, for all areas of Bougainville currently covered by it.”

These matters that I have outlined must be carefully considered by this House when debating the options for decision on the future of the ‘moratorium’. Because of these issues about international tender for exploration licences, and setting up the community mining licence system, I suggest that we should not yet consider the option of fully lifting.

I further suggests that instead we should either maintain the existing moratorium for at least a period of two or three years, or alternatively only partially lift it, for just one or two specific areas. In that way we would allow the time to organise for international tender and for community mining licences “

STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT JOHN. L. MOMIS, TO THE BOUGAINVILLE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 5 APRIL 2016

Mr. Speaker:

The BEC has recently agreed to a recommendation from the Mining Minister that it is vitally important that this House discuss the future of the ‘moratorium’ on mining exploration.

The ‘moratorium’ was originally imposed 45 years ago, in April 1971, by the colonial Administration. It prevented any mining exploration licences for areas of Bougainville other than those already covered by BCL leases. It was imposed in response to the deep concerns of Bougainvilleans communicated to the colonial Administration by their then leaders.

45 years ago, I was a young, recently ordained Catholic priest working in Kieta. I was being called upon by landowners to support them in their struggle with CRA and the colonial Administration. So I was one of those leaders whose request resulted in the moratorium being imposed. It was imposed to protect our people from the unlimited mining exploration and development that they feared might :

It should be no surprise to Members here today that in participating in this debate on the future of the ‘moratorium’, I am deeply concerned to ensure that the issues involved are discussed thoroughly, with care, and with the most careful attention to the need to fully protect the interests of Bougainvilleans. After all, that ‘moratorium’ protected our interests over many years. We need to consider the issues involved most carefully before deciding what should be done.

When the last ABG House proudly passed the two Bougainville mining laws – the Bouganville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Act 2014, and the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 – both laws retained the ‘moratorium’. It was adopted as if it was a reservation of land from mining exploration made under the Bougainville Act.

Members need to be very clear about what the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 says about lifting such a reservation (or moratorium). It gives the power to the BEC. The BEC can lift it partially (just for particular parts of Bougainville), or fully (for the whole of Bougainville). But when the BEC considers lifting the reservation, either partially or wholly, it must first get advice about its proposed decision from the Bougainville Mining Advisory Council (the BMAC). It must also provide an opportunity for debate of the proposed decision by this House.

This procedure is very different from how a reservation under the National Government Mining Act is lifted –that needs just a decision from the National Government Minister, with no consultation or advice required. In developing the ABG’s law, we were determined that an issue of this importance had to be subject to careful scrutiny. That’s why the decision cannot be made just by the Minister – it requires a BEC decision, and only after receiving considered BMAC advice and hearing a debate on the issues involved held in this House.

As the Minister also emphasises, as yet the BEC has not made any decision about the future of the ‘moratorium’. We are not coming to you with a proposed decision. Instead, we are asking this House to debate what we should do about the ‘moratorium’. We are doing this to generate broad public discussion of the issues involved.

Members might ask for an explanation of the reasons why we need such a public debate about lifting the ‘moratorium’. There are several reasons.

First, lifting the ‘moratorium’ is still a highly sensitive issue for many – perhaps even most – Bougainvilleans.

Second, many of the same issues that led to the request for the moratorium in 1971 remain. Even people open to some mining in Bougainville want it very strictly limited.

Third, if we do lift the moratorium, and especially if we lift it fully (that is, for the whole of Bougainville), it is likely that a very large proportion of the land of Bougainville will soon be covered by exploration licences. That will have huge impacts for all of us. There will be great difficulty turning back from such a massive change if it produces results that we do not like.

So there is a clear need for the most careful deliberation on the issues involved.

Ideally we want to have a major Bougainville-wide public consultation and awareness campaign about issues of such great importance. But because of our serious financial difficulties, that is not an option for us at the moment. So instead, the BEC has agreed to an initial debate in this House. That must be a thorough, careful and well-informed debate.

I believe that it is also essential that we engage with our people as part of this debate. So I recommend, in the strongest terms, that this House debate the ‘moratorium’ issue in two separate sessions. One should be now. Then when the issues have been carefully considered, I recommend that all members go out and consult the people of their constituencies, and seek their views. They should then have a second round of debate at the next House session – a debate further informed by the views of our people.

I’d like to comment briefly on the main options for a decision on the ‘moratorium’. The options include:

  • Maintaining the moratorium;
  • Lifting it partially, for limited specific areas of Bougainville;
  • Lifting it fully, for all areas of Bougainville currently covered by it.

Before we consider options, we need to consider carefully how either partial or full lifting of the moratorium would interact with, or impact on, other major aspects of the Bouganville Mining Act 2015. There are at least two aspects of the Act where there could be major impacts.

The first is the provisions on putting exploration licence application for particular areas out for international tender. The aim of international tender is to see if the ABG can raise significant revenue from exploration licences – for international tender could perhaps bring offers of millions of kina instead of a usual small exploration licence fee.

To put areas out to international tender, the Mining Department must first identify areas that have a potentially high prospective value, and then get geological survey done for those areas. The resulting information would then be made available as part of the tender process, so those offering to pay for a licence have some real information on which to base competitive bids.

If the ABG were to lift the ‘moratorium’ fully, we would be shutting the door on the provisions on international tender, for many years to come. The reason is that lifting the moratorium will mean that most, if not all, highly prospective areas will very quickly be covered by exploration licences. There will be nothing left to deal with under international tender processes.

If we are to keep the door open to using the international tender process in the next few years, we need some time to identify prospective areas and find the funds needed to get the necessary geological survey work done. We need perhaps 2 or 3 years to get such things organised.

In our current serious situation of financial crisis, we would be very unwise to throw away the possibility of raising serious funds by tendering exploration licences.

The second aspect of the Mining Act where fully lifting the moratorium would have major impacts is the arrangements for small-scale mining. Under the Act, COEs or Community Governments have authority to request the ABG to reserve areas exclusively for small-scale mining. Once areas are reserved, then the COE or Community Government will have the authority to issue licences to Bougainvilleans who are landowners of the area they are mining, or have permission of the landowners. That will then be the only basis for small-scale mining to be legal.

The Act gave the Mining Department time to get the new system of community mining licences organised. It made existing small-scale mining (in the absence of the new licences) legal for just 18 months, ending in October 2016.

I am very concerned now because I’ve recently been advised that the Mining Department has done nothing at all to organise the community mining licence system.

The problem now is that if the ‘moratorium’ if lifted for the whole of Bougainville, before the community mining licence system is set up and operating, then it will probably be almost impossible to have land reserved for community mining licences. The reason is that exploration licences will almost certainly be granted for most areas where small-scale mining is occurring. Once an exploration licence is granted over land, there can be no reservation of land for community mining licences without agreement of the exploration licence holder. Experience elsewhere suggests that exploration licences will be very reluctant to agree to community mining reservations that will encourage small-scale miners.

So again, we need some time, perhaps 12 to 18 months more, to allow the Mining Department to do what it should actually have been doing over the past 12 months – that is, working with the Community Government Department and other departments to set up the community mining licence system.

If we do not allow the time for this, then most, if not all, small-scale mining in Bougainville will be illegal. It will become more or less impossible to establish the community mining licence system. But of course, that will not stop small-scale mining from continuing. So that will set up serious risks of tension, confrontation and conflict between small-scale miners and exploration licence holders.

These matters that I have outlined must be carefully considered by this House when debating the options for decision on the future of the ‘moratorium’. Because of these issues about international tender for exploration licences, and setting up the community mining licence system, I suggest that we should not yet consider the option of fully lifting.

I further suggests that instead we should either maintain the existing moratorium for at least a period of two or three years, or alternatively only partially lift it, for just one or two specific areas. In that way we would allow the time to organise for international tender and for community mining licences.

There would also be other advantages in partial lifting, for just one or two areas. That would also allow the Mining Department the time it is likely to need to see how well it is able to administer the new tenement applications system established under our new Mining Act.

The Mining Department is a completely new and untried organisation, with no established experience of operating our new Act. Clearly the Mining Department must already be struggling to carry out its heavy responsibilities under the Act – for that would be the only acceptable explanation for its compete failure, so far, to do anything to establish the community mining licence system.

Once it has established that system, we could perhaps feel more confident that the Department is developing the kind of capacity it will be needing to effectively

My recommendations to the House to consider in this debate are:

  1. To debate the issues and options for lifting the moratorium thoroughly during this session of the House, and when the issues have been covered fully, the House should adjourn that part of the debate to return to our constituencies to consult our people on the issues involved;
  2. That there should then be a further debate on the issues at the next session of this House;
  3. That in that second debate, the options for lifting should be carefully evaluated, taking full account of likely impacts of maintaining the moratorium, partial lifting, or full lifting on both:
  4. Setting up the system of international tenders for exploration licences;
  5. Setting up the Community Mining Licence system for small-scale mining.6
  6. The House should consider the possible advantages of a partial lifting of the moratorium in just one or two areas, thereby allowing the Mining Department time to get the arrangements under the Act operating properly.

I must assure the members of this House that as President, I believe that this debate on the future of the moratorium is one of the most important debates we have ever held.

I assure you, Mr. Speaker, and all members, that I, and the BEC, will listen most carefully to the views expressed in this debate, and in the wider public debate, before we make any decision on lifting the moratorium.

I must also remind members that if we do later make a decision to lift it either partially or fully, then that decision too will have to be referred for advice of the BMAC, and the House will have to have the opportunity to debate the decision. So the future of the ‘moratorium’ could be a matter before this House for quite some time.

In my view, Mr. Speaker, it is entirely appropriate for the House to take an extended time to deal with such an important issue.

I look forward to hearing the contributions to the debate.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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