WILL HELA /SHP CRISIS BECOME ANOTHER BOUGAINVILLE CRISIS???
After researching what happened on Bougainville and the current events occurring in the Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces the hallmarks (signs) are certainly there to suggest it will be.
(researched based on PHD 1994 study by Allan Manning entitled “The Closure of Bougainville Copper Limited’s Mine – Lessons for Mining Industry”)
So what happened in Bougainville that led to the closure of Billion Kina mine, thousands of people losing their lives, crippling of the PNG economy and a lost generation on Bougainville?
While there are many issues relating to the crisis the similarities unraveling with PNG LNG Project are a concern.
In 1987 after 15 years of operating of the mine many villages felt that they were being inadequately compensated.
(PNG LNG Project since first gas shipment in March 2014 landowners are yet to receive their royalties)
Landowners were also fighting among themselves in relation in the affairs of the Landowners Association. A group of younger more educated landowners felt they were being left out in how Panguna Landowners Associations was being run.
There was also the issue of environmental damage and treatment of Bougainvilleans who were employed by the company. One such employee was Francis Ona.
In PNG LNG Project landowners are in a court dispute over who are genuine or legitimate landowners and entitled to royalties.
In the dispute among Bougainville landowners in May 1988 a new faction of landowners, which included Francis Ona met with BCL, Department of Minerals & Energy and Provincial Government.
Following the meeting a letter (in pigin) was served on Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) expressing the view that the mine was having a detrimental effect on landowners who are claiming K10 Billion compensation. It also stated the company would be allowed to continue it’s operations if it paid 50% of all its profits to the landowners and Government of Bougainville. Further that BCL is to become a local company owned by landowners and people of Bougainville after 5 years. The letter concluded with the demand that matter of compensation be addressed within 14 days.
BCL ignored the letter – there were many other meetings that followed. One of the issues raised during the meetings was the detrimental effects of the tailings from the mine flowing down the Jaba river. The villagers claimed fish were dying where the tailings were discharged. They also claimed other animals which where a food source for the villages were also disappearing.
The PNG Government commissioned an New Zealand baesd company to carry out an environmental study. The findings of which were rejected by the landowners. Francis Ona later claimed the study was rigged and the company behind the study had been bribed.
At that point the landowners cut off meetings with the company and Government officials. Francis Ona resigned from the BCL and went on a local radio to say the people would establish their own Government and the mine would be shut down.
On 26th November 1988 local landowners attempted to close the mine at 3am where they blocked the Mine Access Road using bulldozer and grader. However it was later cleared by Police.
By the afternoon a group of masked men held up a security post and stole a quantity of mine explosives. Three days later a landowner went to the local radio station and threatened to blow up the mine.
On 1st December 1988 the explosives were used to bring down a tower supporting transmission lines disrupting power to the mine.
A PNG Government delegation lead by the then Deputy Prime Minister Akotai Doi were unsuccessful in trying to meet with disgruntled landowners. Members of his committee issued threats that the Government would use extreme measures to bring about law and order.
This did not deter the landowners as further buildings and equipment were destroyed including threats made against the company.
On 7th December 1998 Government deployed a further 50 police officers to join 102 already stationed at the mine.
Police carried out raids in an effort to capture people behind the attacks and recover the explosives. No arrests were ever made and villages raised concerns Police were using excessive force.
During January 1988 further attacks were carried out not only to company property but Government installations . In response the Government orders a curfew between 6pm and 5am.
30th January 1988 the landowners led by France Ona refer to themselves as Bougainville Revolutionary Army.
Raids continued by Police – the then Police Commissioner and members of the force complained at being hamstrung in trying to bring the matter under control.
(In the current situation SHP Provincial Commander Joseph Tondop concerned over the unrest in the Province called for SHP leaders to come home to address the situation and in response he is sacked by O’Neill Government).
On 22nd March 1989 PNG Government deploys defense soldiers and bans foreign journalist and diplomats from the Province.
(In SHP O’Neill bans National Leaders from travelling to the Province and deploys 250 troops to Mendi)
1st April 1989 the first of many evacuations of non-Bougainville nationals from the Island.
(Exxon Mobile evacuate staff from a number of their camps attacked by disgruntled landowers)
In late April 1989 BCL issues a press statement it had applied to the National Court over the payment of compensation to landowners. It stated the proceedings referred to the dispute and method of compensation for social inconvenience. It highlighted the companies desire to meet its obligations to it did and that it was paid into a trust account.
(PNG LNG landowners royalty payments are currently tied up in trust accounts over a dispute before the Courts).
In an effort to appease the landowners On 4th May 1989 the Namiliu Government publishes K200 million, 5 year Bouganville package. It included the construction of roads and health facilities, K5 million payment to Provincial Government and redistribution of royalties. The establishment of a special fund for future generations and equity proposal of 4.9% in the mine.
(I suspect the O’Neill Abel Government will try to do the same in an effort to appease the landowners at Angore and Hides)
By 9th of May 1989 Namilu Government declares a State of Emergency – fighting continues between soldiers and militants with deaths on both sides.
(O’Neill Abel Government have already declared a state of emergency where Police and Defence force personnel deployed to both Provinces).
On 15th May 1989 mine workers request to be evacuated resulting in halting production of the mine.
On 19th May 1989 Namilu writes to the Managing Director of BCL assuring that they would be safeguarded by deploying a further 180 Defense Force members.
The workers returned to the mine however landowners now branded as militants bring down another tower supplying power to the mine. An expatriate CRA adviser is shot and four company buses transporting employees were also shot at.
Violence continued with another tower brought down, to prevent it from being repaired militants block Mine access road with felled trees.
On 25th May 1989 National Government declares a 15 day truce with the hope that Church leaders could establish serious dialogue between Francis Ona the landowners and the Government.
Ona wanted secession (independence) from PNG, however Prime Minister Namiliu in an address to the Nation on 9th June 1989 says that “no National Government could accept such a demand.”
The conflict widens following attacks on plantations and other businesses on Bougainville. The State of Emergency is extended another two months. During that time Government was evacuating villages and repatriating non-Bougainville Papua New Guineans to their home provinces.
On 5th September 1989 the mine reopens, however, after two buses transporting workers were fired at by militants the company ceases production indefinitely.
On 22nd September 1989 PNG Government attempts to bring the situation under control by offering a reward of K200,000 for capture of Francis Ona and his seven deputies.
Police and Defence personnel eventually withdraw leaving the Island to Bougainvillians.
The Bougainville crisis started off with just one landowner prepared to fight for the rights of his people – together with just 50 insurrections they were able to close Billion Kina mine and bring Government to sign peace agreement offering the option of Independence.
The motivating factor behind the Francis Ona demanding compensation and independence was that they had lost trust in the company BCL and the Government of PNG.
In Francis Ona statement made on radio he says :
Em Planti Taim Mipela Sindaun Wantaim Kompani Na Gavman Tu,
Tasol Oli Bin Fail Na Tu Oli Bin Tokim Mipela Long Sitting Long November Bai Aprovim Ol Samting Na Ol Peimen Bai Kam Tu,
Tasol Ikam Inap Nau Nogat Samting I Bin Kamap,
Na Tu Long Agreement Bilong Maining Polisi Na Ol Dispela Samting I No Bin Kamap long Dispela Taim.
So Dispela Taim Mipela Nogat Bilip Tru Long Kompani na Tu Long Gavman.
The fact remains the entire country has little trust in the O’Neill Government. During the 2017 General Elections he is on record lying to the landowners in Tari that his Government would gift the 4.75% Kroton equity to them. It appears it was only an election gimmick to help him get re-elected as Prime Minister.
I have serious concerns the landowner and development levies are being misused by paper landowners and Government officials in Port Moresby.
I also have serious concerns if this issue is not addressed or mishandled it may escalate into another Bougainville crisis.
It is beyond doubt the PNG LNG Project is critical to the economic welfare of our country – its closure would have significant ramifications on our economy at a time when the country is burdened with unprecedented debt. To lose the project would be like losing hope for a better future.
Yesterday I was contacted by a person who claimed to be landowner of PNG LNG Project and asked to meet with me. After learning about mistakes that triggered the Bougainville crisis I’m not prepared to sit back and watch history repeat itself – where politicians make stupid decisions from Port Moresby that result in loss of innocent lives and economic burden shouldered by generations to come.
To help resolve this issue I’m happy to travel to Tari to sit down with the landowners to hear their grievances and work with the few good Government Ministers and Members to have them addressed.
The biggest problem when dealing with O’Neill Government is the same problem the Boungainville Landowners faced and that is distrust.
I kindly ask the landowners in Angore to stand down from causing further damage to the Project and meet with me to first find the answers in relation to their entitlements and secondly help them reach a solution to addressing it. While I understand the matter is before the Court it doesn’t prevent parties concerned resolving it out of court.