The PNG National Research Institute as part of its work in researching and analysing strategic issues for national development, consider the Referendum and Bougainville to be of a significant national event that will impact the well-being of the people of Bougainville and the people of PNG.
The PNG NRI therefore independently plans to undertake a set of research projects that will generate information to inform discussions in preparation for the referendum so that the outcome is credible and respected by all parties and ensuring a peaceful outcome for the people of Bougainville.
The PNG NRI research project proposes to inquire and inform stakeholders on three key central questions:
What is a Referendum and why is it being held?
How can the Referendum be effectively administered?
What are possible outcomes and how can the outcome of the Referendum be effectively managed and implemented?
The Institute seeks applications from qualified candidates to develop the Communications Strategy for the project. This is a critical piece of work that will provide a foundation for dissemination of the research generated by the Project.
The strategy will be developed on a consultancy basis. Applications are due by Friday 26 May 2017.
The Bougainville Referendum Research – Communication Strategy
1.1. The Bougainville Referendum
The people of Bougainville will vote in a Referendum before June 15 2020 to determine their political future; – a choice between whether Bougainville remains a part of Papua New Guinea under an Autonomous Governance Arrangement, or to become a fully Independent State, an option to be included in the Referendum.
This is an important milestone as part of a Peace Agreement reached in 2001 following a brutal Civil War between 1989 and 1999.
The conflict was initially triggered by issues over redistribution over landowner benefits from the Bougainville Copper mine, then fuelled by long held secessionist sentiments mobilised into a civil war against PNG Government forces, that later flared into localised conflicts between different factions after the government forces withdrew and maintained a blockade around the islands of Bougainville.
The war resulted in more than ten thousand persons estimated to have been killed and destruction of major infrastructure as well as social disruptions leaving half the population of Bougainville displaced.
Cessation of fighting in 1998 led to negotiations for a Peace Agreement.
One of the key stickypoints in the negotiations was a call by factions of the Bougainville delegation on a Referendum for Independence. This was finally agreed to, but deferred to a period after fifteen years following the establishment of an autonomous Bougainville Government but before the end of twenty years.
Reports and findings from recent studies done on Bougainville indicate a lack of general information about what is a Referendum and its purpose.
It is important that the people of Bougainville are clear about the purpose of the referendum, the choices available and the implications of their choice of a political future when they cast their vote.
The Referendum outcome also has implications for the wider PNG as it challenges the essence of the PNG Nation State for maintaining a unified country of a diversified people, yet ensuring that a peaceful outcome is achieved for Bougainville.
It is therefore also critical for robust informed discussions that would lead to informed decisions and outcomes over Bougainville’s future as well about autonomous governance arrangements in PNG.
” The Autonomous Bougainville Government has taken a huge step in its drive to develop the mining industry on Bougainville as it made the historic decision to accept applications for exploration licenses in mining on Bougainville.”
Picture above : Symbolic reconciliation between Sam Kauona and ABG President John Momis to solve grudges from mining negotiations
” The ABG has pledged to push for the interests of the landowners in any resource development exercise that it partakes in on Bougainville.
ABG President Chief Dr John Momis made the rousing statement to the landowners of the Isina, Jaba and Tore areas where the ABG has lifted the moratorium on mining exploration.
“If we are to re-establish mining operations, it must be a cooperative approach, consultation must occur and your rights must be at the forefront of all considerations. This is my view and this is my belief, and as your president I will always put your interests first,”
Momis to landowners by Anthony Kaybing article 2 below
This follows the partial lifting of the Mining and Exploration Moratorium on Bougainville that allows the ABG to grant licenses to would be investors interested in developing the mining sector on Bougainville.
A proud ABG President Chief Dr John Momis said the event marks an historical occasion and one that marks the beginning and resetting of relations between the people of Bougainville and the mining sector.
“As we move towards the Independence Referendum in 2019 and continue our journey towards full autonomy and reconciliation, it is timely to reflect on the work that has been done and the progress that has been made,” Momis said.
“Under the Agreement Bougainville must actively work towards achieving financial self-reliance. What that means is that we must find ways to generate revenue and income so that we can meet the needs of all Bougainvilleans in the future,” Momis said.
Momis added that mining and exploration is just one way that we can do this.
“But let me be clear, the announcement on 28 April 2017 is not about revisiting the past. It is not about going back to doing things the old way which caused conflict and concern, it is about putting in place a cautious and sustainable process that allows Bougainville to embark on a new journey of partnership – a journey where landowners, the Government and mining and exploration companies work together to ensure that the interests of Bougainville are always at the forefront of any decisions on whether to embark upon new mining projects, or rehabilitate existing mining sites,” Momis said.
The decision to lift the moratorium allows the Government to become more involved in these activities through regulation and the promotion of environmental protection and safety, ensuring that mining activities are undertaken responsibly and in accordance with the law.
For the Government’s part, the ABG’s Department of Mineral and Energy Resources is ready to take this work forward.
This will be a whole-of-government process involving many departments, including Lands, Physical Planning and the Environment, Economic Development, Justice, Personnel Management and Administration and President and BEC.
In making the decision to partially lift the moratorium, the Bougainville Executive Council has carefully considered the implications of development, the capacity of government to manage exploration applications and the needs of our people.
The strategic lifting of the moratorium in Tore, Isina and Jaba will play a critical part in enhancing Bougainville’s economic future, without losing sight of the need for environmental protection and monitoring systems to regulate exploration activities.
“I believe in you and I have faith that all Bougainvilleans want to move forward in prosperity where sustainable economic development helps everyone and allows us to achieve our self-determination goals,” Momis said.
article 2 Momis to landowners by Anthony Kaybing
The ABG has pledged to push for the interests of the landowners in any resource development exercise that it partakes in on Bougainville.
ABG President Chief Dr John Momis made the rousing statement to the landowners of the Isina, Jaba and Tore areas where the ABG has lifted the moratorium on mining exploration.
“If we are to re-establish mining operations, it must be a cooperative approach, consultation must occur and your rights must be at the forefront of all considerations. This is my view and this is my belief, and as your president I will always put your interests first,” Momis said.
President Momis made a call upon each of the landowner groups to play an active role in this process and to use the negotiation and consultation mechanisms available to them.
“If you have concerns then these must be addressed peacefully and lawfully, lest Bougainville make the same mistakes of the past,” Momis said.
“I believe in you and I have faith that all Bougainvilleans want to move forward in prosperity where sustainable economic development helps everyone and allows us to achieve our self-determination goals,” he added.
The moratorium does not cover the controversial Panguna Mine but the ABG and the National Government have publicly committed to working with Bougainville Copper Limited to restart mining operations after Bougainville gained a majority stake in the now defunct mine.
This will also occur in a manner that is consultative and takes into account the wishes of the respective landowners groups.
And while the Government has indicated broad support for the work of BCL, this is on the basis that under law they have the first right to re-develop the mine.
“Let me be clear, I will be watching this process very closely to ensure that BCL honour their obligations, adhere to our laws and not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Momis stressed.
The President in his discussions with BCL has received their strong a commitment that the company intends to learn from the lessons of the past and work with landowner groups to ensure your needs and wants are addressed.
“To achieve this, the Prime Minister and I have agreed to establish a steering committee to guide future operations at Panguna,” Momis said.
“This committee will have an independent chair and include representatives from landowner groups, governments, regulatory agencies, NGOs and BCL,” he added.
The announcement for the partial lifting of the moratorium is a cautious approach. As President I want to move forward carefully. I do not want to see whole-sale mining across Bougainville.
On Friday, the former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), Me’ekamui Government of Unity (MGU), Twin Kingdom Factions and the Me’ekamui Defence Force (MDF) signed an understanding to work together to pursue peace leading to the Bougainville referendum in 2019.
Picture above : Former BRA factions members (ex-combatants), womens reps and ABG representatives standing together to show their unification in working towards a peaceful process to referendum.
The meeting was conducted under the theme: ‘Re-Unifying Bougainville for a free and fair referendum.’
The factions met for four (4) days at the Goro Homes Village Resort in Arawa to recall the events that took place in Roreinang from the 25th – 27th of September 1997, which triggered the split in the BRA to different factions.
Those present at the meeting recalled the events of the ‘Roreinang Coup,’ especially;
Gun fired in front of Francis Ona, Joseph Kabui, Sam Kauona, David Sisito, Jonathan Ngati, Andrew Miriki, Jacob Aroku, Bernard Tunim and David Onavui,
Letter to Francis Ona from the BRA Commanders demanding him not to engage in activities that could jeopardise the ongoing Burnham Peace Talks,
Letter from Francis Ona terminating BRA Commanders and Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) Members
Split between Francis Ona and Joseph Kabui
Split between BRA Company Commanders and ‘A’ Company.
The ex-combatants present at the meeting acknowledged their split and recognised the limited time they had available leading towards the appointed date of Bougainville’s referendum on June 15th 2019, thus making it their top priority to work together.
Picture above : Former BRA General, Sam Kauona (L) and former BRA ‘A’ Company Commander MDF General, Moses Pipiro shaking hands after signing the understanding to work together towards referendum.
The signed understanding was to reaffirm their commitment to pursue peace by all means and make aware the importance of the unification process.
It was also a commitment to continue to the best of their ability to resolve the issues that arose from the ‘Roreinang Coup’ and further commit themselves to work in partnership with the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the Bougainville Peace Building Program (BPBP) in moving the process leading to the Referendum and beyond.
The parties agreed that between May 15th – 17th, 2017, they will reconcile their differences through major reconciliation ceremonies to be held at Roreinang, Panguna and Arawa. The understanding was signed by Philip Miriori – Former Secretary, Supreme National Council (SNC), Ishmael Toroama – Former BRA Chief of Defence, Gunther Using – Twin Kingdom, Sam Kauona – Former General, BRA, Moses Pipiro – Former BRA ‘A’ Company Commander, MDF General, Co-Chairman, Roreinang Coup Committee, and David Sisito – Former BIG Defence Minister and was witnessed by Honourable Thomas Tari – Member House of Representatives (MHR), Veterans Member for South Bougainville, Honourable Noah Doko – MHR, Veterans Member for Central Bougainville, Honourable Ben Malatan – MHR, Veterans Member for North Bougainville, Honourable Albert Punghau, MHR, Minister for Bougainville Peace Agreement Implementation and James Tanis – Secretary Department of Bougainville Peace Agreement implementation.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government has made an historic announcement in the lifting of the Mining and Exploration Moratorium on Bougainville.
ABG President Chief Dr John Momis made the announcement on Friday April, 28 2017 after the Bougainville Executive Council carefully considered the implications of developing the capacity of the government to manage exploration applications and the needs of the people of Bougainville.
This allows for applications for the areas of Tore, Isina and Jaba only and does not include Panguna, places which have large ore deposits.
Since the development of the Panguna Mine more than 40 years ago the rest of Bougainville has been covered by the moratorium until the announcement was made.
In 2006 the ABG requested the National Government for the Mining, Oil and Gas powers and functions to be drawn down as the priority powers in its notice to the national government.
In 2008 both the ABG and the National Government signed the Alotau MOU that established the road map for the transfer of the Mining, Oil and Gas powers and functions from the National Government to the ABG.
Although the process was slow the ABG enacted its own Mining Act in 2015 and this paved the way for the ABG to regulate its own mining sector.
“The Bougainville Constitution and the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 clearly define the people as the owner of all the mineral found on all the land in Bougainville,” President Momis said.
“It is significantly important that the people’s consent must be given before any mine is developed and the Mining Act,” Momis said.
Momis also added that the Bougainville Mining Act gives the ABG the opportunity to preserve and reserve certain areas in Bougainville from mineral exploration and mining to strategically harvest mineral resources for the current and future generations.
The Bougainville Executive Council has the final authority to grant mining licenses in Bougainville and in this way it will scrutinise every would be investor well to ensure only genuine investors invest in Bougainville before a license is granted.
“We have learnt our lessons from the Panguna experience and now we have the opportunity to do a better job this time,” President Momis said.
“On behalf of the people of Bougainville I invite and welcome applications from prospective applicants to invest in our mining sector; Bougainville is open for business and I look forward to the development of long term economic partnerships to allow Bougainville to fulfil the economic potential she rightly deserves,” he added.
The Bougainville Mining Registrar will start accepting applications from 10am Bougainville Standard Time, Tuesday 9 May 2017.
L-R: Julius Chan, John Poe, Iambakey Okuk, Maori Kiki, Ebia Olewale, Gavera Rea, Kaibelt Diria, Michael Somare, Dr Ruben Taureka, John Guise, Paul Lapun, Boyamo Sali, Thomas Kavali.
” This is a short tribute, appreciation and acknowledgment of the early political leaders I met and around whom my career serving elected leaders grew.
I am privileged to have served, and served with, these pioneering pre- and post-Independence leaders. It is an honour I shall always treasure.
In this photograph, the pose and demeanour of these Ministers – the Cabinet – accurately shows them thinking seriously, thoughtfully, in some cases may be even curiously, about the looming question of independence.
I remember much about these pioneer political leaders largely because the career I chose as a teenager just out of high school grew and evolved around serving political leaders. Looking back it was a time and youth well spent with a rewarding graduation from the university of life whose only curricula was duty of service
Those years were a fulfilling and rewarding part of history to which I will always look back. The time and rubbing shoulders with these pioneers guided my later choices as I have considered how I might be able to still contribute as time goes on “
Statement by the Speaker of the Bougainville House of Representatives Simon Pentanu
It is election season. It is a very short, abrupt season which comes only once every five years. We are in the thick of it now. All over the country people are struck by election fever. Excitement and malaise are everywhere.
Despite shortcomings and inequities that come with all election, the value and benefit of elections are obvious. They are a tried, tested and proven method for selecting political representatives – rooted in ancient Greek system and derived from the word demos for people, thus, democracy. The rulers are elected by the ruled – government by the people, for the people, of the people – and accountable to the people through regular elections.
Alternatives to democracy autocracy, theocracy, demagoguery, plutocracy, dictatorship and military junta, anarchy and the brand of latter day religious fanaticism that is wreaking violence and in certain parts of the world.
PNG has, since its early polls, delivered democratic elections for which we can all hold our heads high.
The earliest election I can remember was the House of Assembly election in 1964. I was doing my last year in primary school in Kangu, south Bougainville. The next election was the House of Assembly election in 1968. I was doing my last year in high school in Malabunga, ENBP.
The following year I applied, was successful and commenced a job in the pre-independence House of Assembly as a simultaneous trainee interpreter/translator.
I remember much about these pioneer political leaders largely because the career I chose as a teenager just out of high school grew and evolved around serving political leaders. Looking back it was a time and youth well spent with a rewarding graduation from the university of life whose only curricula was duty of service.
The Chief, the one that was always quick to grab the baton and run from the front, was Michael Thomas Somare. Of this group he was one of the first into the House and the last to bow out of Parliament – retiring recently on the eve of 2017 Parliament elections. Sir Michael has had the longest un-dismissed innings at the crease and the most party political victories at the polls.
The tribute paid to Sir Michael and Chief and Father of the nation by Members on the day of the final meeting of the Tenth Parliament was well deserved and most fitting.
After this year’s election Sir Julius might be the only one of this group in Parliament if he is returned for the Tenth Parliament.
I was delighted to meet Dr Reuben Taureka again after more than 45 years at a private traditional closure reception to end the mourning period of one of his son-in-laws whom I knew and worked with at the Ombudsman Commission. Reuben was still in good shape and form. It was a brief and happy occasion for us to reminisce about those early pioneering years.
Those years were a fulfilling and rewarding part of history to which I will always look back. The time and rubbing shoulders with these pioneers guided my later choices as I have considered how I might be able to still contribute as time goes on.
It is no fluke, accident or coincidence I am serving as Speaker of the Bougainville House of Representatives today. I thank God, He has been kind and caring. I also thank these political pioneers whom I’m blessed to have served and observed as they gave their all, selflessly and unpretentiously to this country.
The country has been kind, the opportunities and choices have been plentiful, the opportunities and decision moments lived and exercised, have been truly remarkable.
No matter how close, how far and in what direction I look, this country cannot avoid or miss the souls and spirits of these men.
The sum total of their collective political efforts, their contribution and dedicated service to this country is beyond measure.
And yet it is also their individual efforts, that often come to the fore.
How could so many genuine leaders have emerged in the same era? I can only explain it thus: that PNG came of age because the excitement, the challenges and doubts about self determination prompted and nudged these men to mature beyond their age to face up to the uncharted waters and unknown future to nationhood.
” When I was appointed Speaker by the House in June 2015 I said my first priority would be to provide our Members with the necessary assistance, proper services and facilities to enable them to perform their duties and responsibilities to serve their constituencies better.
We are on track to meet this undertaking. I’m extremely pleased with the progress we have made in the last 19 months. While funding is limited, there is no limit to the ideas and ways and means we can pursue improvements for our elected representatives.
I envisage a modern, well-functioning Bougainville House of Representatives comparable to any in our Pacific Region in the foreseeable years ahead. Our primary responsibility is to the people through their elected Members in the House. “
Statement by the Speaker of the Bougainville House of Representatives Simon Pentanu
Pictured above with the Clerk of the House inspecting Members’ new computer room and work station.
The Bougainville House of Representatives will commission a new Members’ Resources Centre adjacent to the Parliament House at Kubu.
The Centre will have ten work stations with desktops and Internet access for to Members to use. For some Members the facility will further their skills in computer use, access information, respond to queries and for research.
The Centre will also have a Conference room, providing additional space for parliamentary committees.
Meanwhile, four haus wins that were built in 2015 have now also been fitted with lights and Internet access for members to use.
These addition of the haus wins in 2015 and now the Research Centre in Parliament precinct are welcome but they are temporary reprieves for our parliamentarians who have been left to fend for themselves without even basic office accommodation since the inauguration of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville House of Representatives in June 2015.
As former Chief Ombudsman it gives me particular pleasure to witness the Ombudsman Commission having now established an office in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. I urge the Commission to exercise its jurisdiction with responsibilityb to promote good governance in the Region.
As Speaker I have been very keen to establish close contacts, consultations and meaningful partnership with the National Parliament. We will continue to vigorously pursue this following the elections and into the future.
The fruitful contact has included discussions at the level of Speakers and Clerks and some exchange visits between our parliamentary committees.
The UNDP Peace Building Fund has been a welcome facility in our legislative institutional strengthening efforts at Parliament House during the last 15 months.
It is important that we promote the role of Parliament and give representative democracy a practical meaning for everyone.
To this end I am keen to see a better coordinated approach for better outcomes to strengthen the role of the Parliament with our traditional aid donors and partners in this part of the world.
” 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.