Calls for businesses to take lead on Bougainville refinery
A former PNG Mining Minister and long time Bougainville politician backs the idea of a gold smelter in the region but wants private enterprise involved rather than the government.
The government in the autonomous Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville wants a slice of the action of the burgeoning alluvial gold mining sector.
Thousands survive from sluicing and panning for gold, mostly in the tailings of the Panguna mine, and then often smuggling the ore across the border.
The Bougainville government wants to regularise the business and earn some taxes on it.
It is proposing it build a small gold refinery - an idea supported by veteran Bougainville politician, Sam Akoitai, but rather than they government building it, he says it should be led by private business interests.
Mr Akoitai is a former national mining minister and Don Wiseman asked him about this, but began by asking about the possibility of the controversial Panguna mine re-opening.
SAM AKOTAI: It is just one part of the economy. I have said time and time again that the reopening of Panguna mine depends entirely on the people of Bougainville but again one issue that has to be addressed is the leadership has to take the lead and guide people which way to go.
DON WISEMAN: What about alluvial mining, now I know that thousands of people are involved in it and just recently Mr Momis told me the AGB is looking to set up a small refinery to try and I guess reign that whole industry in. Is that something you would support?
SK: Yes I would. But I think the government thinking of setting up a refinery is putting money which is supposed to be used in the social sector such as education and health. What the government should be doing is creating an environment where someone independent comes in and invests. The government doesn't have the money to be playing around setting up business. It should concentrate on coming up with policies to grow the economy on Bougainville.
DW: The vote on possible independence has got to happen by 2020, but it can only happen if there is a viable economy in place on Bougainville. Do you think the region is going to reach that point by then?
SK: To be honest with you, Bougainville is totally out of timing. Why I am saying this is Bougainville can only generate 9 million kina revenue and time has caught up with us. For Bougainville to go to a referendum, that has already catered for whether people like it or not. People of Bougainville have been able to have a referendum to the PNG constituency.
DW: They are not going to reach that viable economy situation?
SK: We wasted 30 years in Bougainville. The leaders have totally failed Bougainville because we haven't grown the economy, increased the internal revenue.
DW: So it won't be ready?
SK: Well Bougainville as I said, ready or not, the arrangement is already there, it has to happen between 2015 and 2020. But what I see is that the leadership has failed the people of Bougainville, not getting Bougainville ready once it goes to a referendum and decides to be independent - we don't have the economy, we don't have the revenue.
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