Bougainville landowners say NGO should be ashamed
Landowners' groups around the Panguna mine in Bougainville says an NGO's claims that people are against a return to mining are wrong.
The nine landowner associations around the Panguna mine in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville are mystified by claims local villagers oppose a return to mining.
The NGO, Jubilee Australia, spoke to 65 villagers and says many remain traumatised by the civil war, have not been properly consulted and do not back a return to large scale mining.
But the nine landowner groups say the research is wrong and Jubilee Australia should be ashamed.
Therese Jaintong, the chair of one of the groups, the Siokatei Association, explains their concerns to Don Wiseman.
THERESE JAINTONG: There are 65 people that they have spoken to. Who are those 65? The landowners, the nine landowners' associations, which we established with the consultation of the ABG [ Autonomous Bougainville Government] - we are the voice. Our concern is that Jubilee Australia doesn't really know what we are doing here. We are the legitimate representatives of the people. If Jubilee Australia were interested in doing good research they should have spoken to those landowners' associations plus those who own the land. Who are the 65 people that they spoke to and the population, for me, I was elected by the people, landowners who are more than 3,000 plus and if they spoke to me I would tell them the truth about what is happening on the ground. We are working towards - BCL [Bougainville Copper Ltd] - we cannot associate BCL with the process. BCL is the devil we know, as we have been saying all the time, and we will still end up talking with BCL. And Jubilee Australia a research office - they should really consult with us on the ground.
DON WISEMAN: Yet they did speak with these people, so what do you make of that? There are clearly some who are very dissatisfied with how things are shaping up.
TJ: We will never stop the critics. That's healthy. It's a democratic region. We cannot stop people from criticising, but we really have to do it right. Like if they are criticising, why was there not check and balance with us, the landowners. So that is our concern. Yes if some people are criticising we are hearing loud and clear but the majority have spoken through the regional forums. We feel that we are doing everything right on the ground. We are not leaving any stones unturned. We are consulting with our people, widely, through bel kol [custom compensation] committees, and also our associations - there is a strong network on the ground. Yes there will be critics. We are not coming out of a normal situation. There are people who do not understand that if the information is not coming out as they are saying, it is going out slowly. There are many obstacles on the way, but we are very focussed. We know what we are doing and we think that what we are doing is right. We are consulting with everyone on the ground, including the critical ones and really we cannot satisfy everybody.
DW: The ABG are very clear that they see a return to mining and a likely re-opening of Panguna as critical for the economic advancement of the province. Now you landowner associations - is that also your thinking?
TJ: Yes, because we see the sustainability of the political will that we fought for. If we are talking about the referendum in 2019 we have got to start talking now. We are not really saying that the mine should be open, but in the process, something will come up especially with the Bel Kol. We will be inviting BCL - that's our thinking. We will be working with the Government of the day, the ABG with President Momis, so we are supporting what the Government is doing because we see the importance of moving forward, the ABG economically sustained, and one of the pillars in the Pace Agreement, it is about physical self reliance, that is also there. So we have to understand 'how can we run the Government when we are asking the Papua New Guinea Government for all the funding and all that,' so if we want to be independent then we must be independent and come up with self reliance. And Panguna is the way forward.
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