” Instead of shrinking from the challenges of his time like the fear of independence and the injustices of colonialism he literally gave himself to pursue his vision of an inspiring future for Papua New Guinea.
It was a mark of a true leader when he took the bold step of making things happen and taking ownership of major decisions unpopular as they might have been.”
JOHN L. MOMIS : President Autonomous Region of Bougainville
Today we pay tribute to a great leader, an icon in the rich history of Papua New Guinea – Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare. Occasions like this are reserved only for people who have done so much outside of themselves. It is a time to recognize the messenger and the message he will leave behind for us and the next generation to keep and cherish.
My personal encounter with Sir Michael Somare dates way back to our younger days. Fate must have brought us together over barbecue and beer in Wewak. Little did we know that soon we would be working together and forge a path for this nation.
I was then full of idealism and he was brimming with pragmatism. The combination of two different yet attuned minds resulted in greater efforts to trail blaze a path not many at that time dared to tread.
Our minds were somehow shaped by the events of the tumultuous 60’s when young men in America were sent to wage war in Vietnam, where personalities like Martin Luther King and the Kennedys were taking the world in storm with their ideals and advocacies, the impending domination of communism, the construction of Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile crisis, Civil Rights protests among others.
Shouts of freedom from colonialism, racism, inequality, communism and capitalism reverberated in all corners of the world. I must say the stage was set, the curtain rises.
If there is anyone who would have known him up close as a person, I consider myself honoured and privileged. He is not perfect like all of us.
There will always be critics and dissenters from his style of leadership but this I have to say, for over 49 years in public service that I have known him he gave his whole life to the people of Papua New Guinea.
He was true to his commitment to the people. He pursued relentlessly the right to be free and pushed to unify a diverse country like Papua New Guinea.
He did much and he did them faithfully. This I would say is loyal service at its best yet to be matched by and emulated by our current breed of politicians. He exercised his role as a true politician – guided by his faith and embracing his role as a vocation, he ventured into the unknown responding to a call without fear.
He was there always ready to listen and to implement results of choices and judgements. Unknown to him perhaps, his biggest contribution was in politics in the tradition the philosopher Aristotle and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas who believe that politics is the noblest of sciences because it is through politics that one can do the most good by passing good laws and politics in the natural order.
He exercised and maximized his political strength systematically by not taking the shorter route of traditional politics where the needs of a select few typical of a Melanesian mind takes precedence over the common good.
Instead of shrinking from the challenges of his time like the fear of independence and the injustices of colonialism he literally gave himself to pursue his vision of an inspiring future for Papua New Guinea. It was a mark of a true leader when he took the bold step of making things happen and taking ownership of major decisions unpopular as they might have been.
I owe him much. For a pragmatist to put his full trust and confidence in an ideologue like me is a rarity. Here is a man whose vision is achieved because he trusted everyone, he encouraged camaraderie and he collaborated without any reservation if only to achieve results.
Upon my election in 1972, he made me Deputy and working Chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee paving the way for everything that we citizens are enjoying now.
Later he made me the Minister for Decentralization that again opened more doors of opportunities for governance and development in every province in Papua New Guinea. Our professional relationship was never near perfect.
We had clashes and disagreements in many instances. There came even a point where I challenged and stood up against him. This, however, did not deter us from reconciling and collaborating to secure the best collective interests of Papua New Guinea. How can you turn against a man who all the way was a sincere and charismatic politician?
His reputation to calm things down where there were incongruities and eventually convince everyone to move forward is an endearing trait that makes him a cut above the rest.
Si Michael Somare, the man of the people clearly understood that Parliament is the best venue where one can do the most good for the whole country; where his commitment to serve the people is unparalleled; where collegiality or first among equals (primus inter pares) took precedence in his leadership style.
All these things clearly indicated the quality of a true leader who never assumed that he was better than everybody else.
At this juncture, may I on behalf of the people of Bougainville express our heartfelt gratitude to this man who together with Sir Paul Lapun stood up for the just right of the landowners against CRA and the Colonial Government when many leaders opted to look the other way and keep quiet. Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare understood and supported the peoples; aspirations and grievance and rights not to mention that we were the first provincial government to be recognized under his vision of decentralization.
As the curtain falls, we give our applause and standing ovation. Thank you! May history be fair to you, acknowledge your contribution to this nation and the Pacific Region and put you in its annals which you rightfully deserve.
So long my dear friend! We who share your dream stand ready to forge a new human solidarity necessary for the transformation of our society so that your legacy of always imagining inspiring future will be realized.
” Chris Dwyer of CNN recently named 12 airlines as having the best aircraft liveries in the world. Among those that were listed, PNG Air has made the cut.
Congratulations to PNG Air. This is a brief spontaneous account of one Bougainvillean passenger on PNG Air service when the Airline commenced its service to Bougainville. The passenger was on the short flight from Buka to Kieta. ”
We lifted off Buka airport at 7:38 am BST. The dew on the grass had hardly dried when we lifted off. Who cares, today I’m traveling by air not on land.
Once airborne the most conspicuous eye-catcher looking left out to sea and the horizon beyond is the dim glare of the sun. The sun itself rose before our flight took off. The sun’s glares were broken up by low hanging clouds far far out at sea. Looks like this is going to be another sunny day.
The empty seascape suddenly changes as the aircraft veered slightly right on a course headed straight to Kieta. I can see looking down that the bays, cays and the quays along the east coast are well defined.
It is easy to see this is a vastly green Island with peninsulas snorting out to sea as the flight progresses along the east coast.
Teop Island comes into view. It looks like someone had thought it was best to anchor this Island here to add to the coastal symmetry that lacked a collection of other islands adjacent or nearby as they are further along the coast into Kieta.
The Captain has just come on the PA apologizing for the late departure from Buka. It doesn’t bother me as the flight time is mere 25 minutes compared to the bumpy and often grueling travel by road of some 3 hours or so.
Wow, down there the breaking waves against the reefs along the seashore are like white contours on a map. Out on some reefs I can see kakunibarras (lagoons) and troughs looking like bomb craters.
Before I knew the Captain announces: “cabin crew prepare for landing”. Thank you captain. I’m almost home and hose. Staring out on left below I just caught a quick glimpse of Takanupe Island with a marvelous blue lagoon. Takanupe’s lagoon is bigger than the size of the island itself.
Then Arovo and Tautsina Islands are here and we quickly pass over them. We pass over Pokpok, I quickly see the village down there. We pass over swiftly and quickly.
The aircraft nose veers downwards as the plane makes the landing approach from Koromira and the old Aropa plantation end.
“Thanking you for flying with us today, thank you and good morning” the steward announces to us in a deliberate voice repeating what they say at every landing in all ports.
As we make our approach to land at Aropa airport I’m thinking how it’d be nice to do up the Buin airstrip near Turiboiuru. It could probably take this aircraft ATR72 600 and thus extend the service to the southern region of the Island.
In a few seconds it will be touch down. The plane’s shadow has suddenly caught up with us and now rushing alongside us. The shadow will meet the aircraft as the aircraft wheel touches down on the tarmac.
We are safely down after another short, scenic and enjoyable flight. Passing the old Toborai Plantation I can see my island home
I’ll ride into Kieta and be home in a boat in 45 minutes.
“When BCL had to leave the site in 1989, we believe BCL operated Panguna in compliance with applicable laws and standards until 1989 when it was required to leave the country…..Given the lack of access since then, it has not been possible for Rio Tinto or BCL to confirm the nature, extent or cause of any alleged damage or pollution,”
A spokesperson for Rio Tinto at their London headquarters told Mongabay
“In terms of the environmental damage and social disruption, it is a moral negligence on the part of Rio Tinto to have caused so much damage to the environment and to people’s lives, and to now walk away,”
Chief Dr. John Momis, president of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
“Wherever possible we prevent – or otherwise minimize, mitigate and remediate – harmful effects that our operations may have.”
British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto was for 45 years the majority-owner of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea (PNG). But now it has given up its 53.8 percent stake in the mine’s operating company, Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), and announced it rejects any corporate responsibility for environmental damage wrought during operations from 1972 to 1989.
The company believes it no longer has any obligation to address the mine’s environmental legacy because it adhered to PNG’s laws of the day and was forced to abandon the extraction venture due to armed conflict.
“When BCL had to leave the site in 1989, we believe BCL operated Panguna in compliance with applicable laws and standards until 1989 when it was required to leave the country…..Given the lack of access since then, it has not been possible for Rio Tinto or BCL to confirm the nature, extent or cause of any alleged damage or pollution,” a spokesperson for Rio Tinto at their London headquarters told Mongabay.
The controversial open-pit mine, once one of the world’s largest, hit world news headlines almost three decades ago when indigenous landowners forced it to shut down. Angered about tailings and mine-waste contamination of agricultural land and nearby waterways, as well as inequity in revenue and benefit-sharing, landowners used a campaign of sabotage to halt operations in 1989, subsequently precipitating a decade-long civil war.
The mine’s social and environmental legacy
Now, rusting mine trucks and machinery litter the long-abandoned mine site in one of Bougainville Island’s remote mountain valleys, while gutted mine buildings have been resourcefully adapted and reoccupied by local villagers as dwellings. But rivers and streams in the vicinity remain contaminated, tailings dumps have become unstable and chemical storage areas are deteriorating.
“In terms of the environmental damage and social disruption, it is a moral negligence on the part of Rio Tinto to have caused so much damage to the environment and to people’s lives, and to now walk away,” said Chief Dr. John Momis, president of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
Rio Tinto claims on its website that “respect for the environment is central to our approach. Wherever possible we prevent – or otherwise minimize, mitigate and remediate – harmful effects that our operations may have.”
However, the Bougainville Copper Agreement Act of 1967 — drafted when the region was under Australian administration as part of the former Territory of Papua and New Guinea — does not incorporate any significant environmental regulations or liability of BCL for the rehabilitation or restoration of areas affected by mining activities.
“Rio is now deeply hypocritical in its blatant disregard of the higher corporate responsibility standards it says it has adopted,” President Momis declared in a June 2016 media statement, following announcement of the company’s divestment. “Corporate social responsibility means responsible companies accept that their responsibilities go beyond the legal requirements of the day.”
Lee Godden, Director of the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law at Australia’s University of Melbourne, commented that: “Many of the early agreements between mining companies and the PNG Government did not contain effective clauses for environmental damage remediation….Typically it is not possible to retrospectively amend those agreements in light of subsequent damage or subsequent international law principles that have operated to address some of the balance of power problems in these early agreements.”
Putting pressure on Rio Tinto
Determined that the mining multinational should not escape accountability for environmental and social legacy issues, President Momis has called for “an international campaign to force Rio Tinto to accept its responsibilities” and sought advice on taking legal action.
However, taking the matter to court requires considerable funds — which the Bougainville Government, still heavily dependent on international aid and financial support from the national government, has limited access to. “We have financial constraints and these financial constraints make it difficult for us,” President Momis admitted.
And while Rio Tinto’s divestment resulted in the Bougainville Government acquiring an extra 36.4 percent shareholding in the Panguna mine and the PNG Government 17.4 percent (with the latter gifting its shares to “the landowners and the people of Bougainville”), their value is negligible unless the mine is in production.
Even during the 17 years of copper extraction in Panguna, which generated an estimated 1.7 billion kina in total revenue (roughly US$1.44 billion at the time), only 1.4 percent was granted to landowners, while 61.5 percent went to the PNG Government. Local resentment about the marked inequity of economic benefits was one of the major factors in the escalation of the civil war.
In 1989, indigenous landowners demanded compensation of 10 billion kina for the mine’s detrimental environmental and social impacts, as well as benefit-sharing grievances. When this was not met by Rio Tinto and BCL, they formed a rebel group, known as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, and used explosives to destroy the mine’s power supply and bring the functioning of the mine to a standstill. In so doing, the Nasioi people of Central Bougainville became known as the first indigenous peoples in the world to force a global mining multinational to abandon one of its most lucrative ventures.
The PNG Government responded by imposing a blockade on Bougainville in 1990 and deployed its armed forces to quell the uprising. A civil war then raged between the national military and armed revolutionary groups, wreaking widespread destruction across the islands and leading to an estimated death toll of 15,000-20,000 lives, until a permanent ceasefire in 1998.
Today the long-term processes of post-conflict peace building, disarmament, reconciliation and reconstruction continue to consume the energy and resources of the government, international donors and local leaders and communities. And memories of the violence, atrocities and injustices of the conflict are still vivid in the minds of many people throughout the region.
An estimated one-third of men and one in five women who were exposed to violence during the war now suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while more than one in three men and women believe there is continuing lack of peace in their communities, according to a recent study by the United Nations Development Program.
Walking away from the mine
For at least the past seven years, Rio Tinto has been engaged in discussions with the Bougainville Government about the possibility of returning to Panguna to recommence extraction of the estimated 3 million tonnes of copper reserves remaining there.
Rio Tinto’s final decision last year to exit Bougainville has been attributed primarily to both the dramatic fall in commodity prices in recent years and investor risks — including substantial opposition to the company’s return by landowners and communities in the Panguna mine lease area and the region’s uncertain political future.
“During the strategic review that led to the announcement in June 2016, Rio Tinto concluded that it would not be in a position to take part in future mining activities at Panguna and that it was in the best interests of BCL and its stakeholders to transfer our 53.8 percent shareholding to those better placed to determine the future direction of the company,” the Rio Tinto spokesperson stated.
However, the massive environmental legacy is still unaddressed and continues to affect the lives of indigenous communities, especially the Barapang, Kurabang, Basikang and Bakoringku clans who own the mine-pit land. For customary landowners, “the land is like a mother because we feed on the land. It’s nothing compared to money. I can always go to the land for food and nourishment,” Panguna landowner, Joanne Dateransi, explained.
There has been no official environmental assessment of the damage since the mine was deserted. But it is known that around 300,000 tonnes of ore and water were excavated every day in Panguna and the mine tailings were discharged down the Jaba River and into the Empress Augusta Bay, while the spoil and overburdens accrued in waste dumps in the Panguna area. Local communities claim there has been no fish in the local Jaba and Kawerong Rivers for four decades.
The Bougainville authorities also report that: “The levy banks built by BCL to contain the flooding of nearby areas arising as the bed of the Jaba River rose (because of the depositing of vast amounts of tailings) were breached by floodwaters over 15 years ago. River water polluted by acid leached from the crushed tailings now floods huge areas of our people’s land all along the lower Jaba.”
And, further, a mammoth delta of tailings extends 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) into the sea on the west coast of Bougainville Island.
Social impacts include the forced relocation of at least five villages, such as Dapera and Moroni, to land unsuitable for growing crops and supporting livelihoods, while families were provided with cheap, substandard housing, resulting in severe overcrowding and health problems. The original location of the villages is now a barren terrain of waste rock.
Funding a cleanup
President Momis says the government is keen to facilitate an expert environmental assessment.
“We are having discussions with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) about the possibility of organizing such a study and also a social impact study. We are also contacting international NGOs which support third world nations in the interests of preserving history, forests and ecological balance,” he said.
Following this, the most critical question is how a major environmental cleanup, which could cost billions, can now be pursued.
One option, according to the President’s office, is to set up a trust fund with potential contributions sought from the PNG and Australian Governments, as well as Rio Tinto, although, to date, Rio Tinto has not indicated any willingness to support such an initiative.
“World Bank or Asian Development Bank funding is sometimes available for this type of cleanup, but often that will mean a loan to what are impoverished governments which need to meet a range of other socioeconomic needs in their countries,” Professor Godden also advised.
President Momis suggests that “the only other way to fund a cleanup is through the resumption of mining. It [BCL] is now majority owned by the landowners and the Autonomous Bougainville Government and we believe the cleanup could be done concurrently with the reopening of the mine. During our discussions with them so far they have been conscious of their responsibilities.”
However, the capital investment required to reconstruct and reopen the Panguna mine is estimated to be about 20 billion kina ($6.3 billion) and securing investment of this magnitude will be a challenge in the current investment climate.
Recommencing large-scale mining is also seen by the authorities and some landowner groups as a way to acquire the sizeable revenues needed to generate economic self-sufficiency ahead of a referendum on Independence from PNG. A major provision in the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement, the referendum is planned to take place by 2020. At present, only 10 percent of the Bougainville Government’s annual budget of about 300 million kina derives from internal revenue.
Two years ago, the Autonomous Bougainville Government, which was established in 2005, passed its first mining law, thus paving the way with a legal framework for large-scale mining to be reconsidered in the region. The Bougainville Mining Act (2015 ) requires mining-lease applicants to protect the environment and comply with environmental policies and regulations, and stipulates that customary landowners have ownership of mineral resources found on their land. But, while they are entitled to consultation about exploration and mining interests, as well as related benefits and employment, the Bougainville Government retains exclusive powers over the granting of mining tenements and distribution of revenues.
Nevertheless, because of the unique history of the Panguna mine and the fact that its territory is controlled by the local Mekamui Tribal Government, comprising many former rebel leaders and combatants, any development or exploitation of Panguna’s resources will require the final consent of local chiefs and landowners. And reports in recent years have highlighted that a significant proportion of landowners in the Panguna mine lease area oppose large-scale mining on their customary land in the near future.
“We don’t need Rio Tinto or BCL,” Lynette Ona of the Bougainville Indigenous Women’s Landowner Association and a Panguna landowner declared. However, she added that a meeting was being planned in the near future so that people across Bougainville, not only local landowners, could voice their views on the question of mining. If there is majority consent for this to happen, “then we have to bring in a new company after Independence, so that we can fund the economy, but we don’t want mining now,” Ona emphasized.
The “new BCL,” without Rio Tinto, has only begun articulating its future plans. Any provision, in this context, for an environmental cleanup is very unclear, but will come under severe scrutiny by those most affected, given that the history of the Panguna mine, to date, is a lesson in the shortcomings of corporate social responsibility.
Catherine Wilson is a journalist and correspondent reporting on the Pacific Islands region find her on LinkedIn.
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“As the ‘devil-we-own’, and one that is subject to the very tough requirements of the Bougainville Mining Act, BCL is now required to seek new investors into some sort of partnership with BCL, and come up with a deal acceptable to the landowners and to the ABG.
At this stage it is a decision that will be subject to the powers of the mine lease landowners under the Bougainville Mining Act to veto the project if they are not satisfied with the conditions for re-opening.
In addition, it will be subject to the ABG being satisfied – on behalf of all Bougainvilleans – that the project conditions are just and equitable.
As well as other Bougainvilleans may want to understand better why I announced ABG support for BCL. There are several separate but powerful reasons.
ABG President Chief Dr John Momis
The Autonomous Bougainville Government’s decision to support Bougainville Copper Limited’s proposal for reopening the Panguna Mine is only in principle.
ABG President Chief Dr John Momis said that at this stage it is a decision that will be subject to the powers of the mine lease landowners under the Bougainville Mining Act to veto the project if they are not satisfied with the conditions for re-opening.
In addition, it will be subject to the ABG being satisfied – on behalf of all Bougainvilleans – that the project conditions are just and equitable.
“As well as other Bougainvilleans may want to understand better why I announced ABG support for BCL. There are several separate but powerful reasons,” Momis said.
Momis explained that the first is that BCL is no longer owned by Rio. Rather, the ABG holds over 33 per cent of BCL shares, and the National Government has promised that the 17.4 per cent shares it received from Rio will be transferred to ownership of Bougainvilleans, including Panguna landowners.
This means that BCL is now a different company. It is not a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. Instead it is majority owned by Bougainvilleans.
“As a result, as stated recently by the new Vice President, BCL is no longer the ‘devil-we-know’, but is instead the ‘devil-we-own,” Momis said.
“As the ‘devil-we-own’, and one that is subject to the very tough requirements of the Bougainville Mining Act, BCL is now required to seek new investors into some sort of partnership with BCL, and come up with a deal acceptable to the landowners and to the ABG,” Momis said
Without such a deal, BCL will have little option but to cease existence – to liquidate and to distribute its remaining funds to its shareholders. At that point, Bougainville will be able to seek other potential developers.
A second reason why the ABG supports BCL is that BCL still holds an Exploration Licence over the area of the former Special Mining Lease. While it holds that licence, we must deal with BCL.
A third reason is that BCL is a reputable company, with reputable board members and management.
A fourth reason is that BCL still holds all the drilling and exploration data for the ore body at Panguna.
A fifth reason is that BCL shows willingness to deal with the legacy issues left by the operation when it closed in 1989.
A sixth reason is that BCL has shown responsibility over the past 5 years in working closely with the ABG and the 6 relevant landowner associations to gradually develop responsible and workable arrangements for making the payment of the 1990 land rents and occupation fees etc.
The seventh and final reason is that the leaders of the combined landowner associations have almost unanimously consistently indicated their support for BCL as the preferred company to become involved in re-opening Panguna.
“I emphasize, however, that despite all these reasons for supporting the BCL proposal, there are as yet no guarantees that it will be BCL that re-opens the mine,” Momis said.
“I must repeat the point already made that everything will depend on whether the ABG and the landowners are satisfied with the proposal that BCL eventually puts forward – provided of course that BCL is able to get the funding partners it will need to put forward a viable proposal,” Momis added.
Tama(tama) is the value-added product of 4-5 varieties of cooking bananas, pick of the best taros and white and yellow cassavas prepared in hot coconut oil by gentle hands.
Women collect the best mature coconuts from marked trees they and those before them have been selectively using for the best coconut oils. If they are from the one tree the end quality and taste is even better.
These (in the photo) long sausage-like shapes stirred hand cooked in virgin oil on selected banana leaves is called toronisi. A toronisi can also be a flat flour bun shape prepared in similar fashion in hot virgin oil on banana leaves.
How much of it should you eat? Tama(tama) and kakasi are best eaten on their own in moderate quantities. Eat too much and it can be too filling and get in the way of appetite and desire for the main dish. That is why it is best taken on its own as a culinary delight in its own right. In a way, in the annals of healthy eating advice it’s like saying protein and carbs and starchy foods do not mix very well.
But these days, especially at feasts or at receptions with varieties of other tuckers that come in all descriptions, shapes, tastes, sizes and colours it is the eyes that do most of the eating. The idea of proper food combination becomes merely a hand-to-mouth delight.
The tama(tama) has been thrown into the mix and fray when in fact it is a vegetarian dish that can best delight and be best enjoyed and satisfy any palate on its own.