Warning about the future of the PNG's LNG project
Warnings that frustrations in under-developed Hela province could disrupt PNG's major natural gas project.
Amid concern about lawlessness in Papua New Guinea's Hela province, there are warnings about the future of the Liquefied Natural Gas project which is set to begin production next year.
Hela is the Highlands hub of this major project which spans across several provinces and is expected to be the lynchpin of PNG's economic growth in coming years.
However, the Hela Governor, Anderson Agiru, recently gave the government and the project developer, ExxonMobil, a 30 day ultimatum to fulfill its contractual obligations in the province or face legal action to shut the project down.
Frustrations are mounting in Hela over what many communities in the remote province feel are unmet obligations made by Exxon's PNG subsidiary Esso Highlands in the project agreement.
Stanley Mamu of the NGO, LNG Watch, says the obligations include building infrastructure and delivering various community benefits during the project's construction phase.
Governor Agiru has met with Esso since delivering the ultimatum and appears reassured with its commitment, but Stanley Mamu told Johnny Blades the Hela people still feel out of the loop.
MAMU: Because most of the people living in the Hela region are illiterate and uneducated. They (the developer) just capitalise on that and they're trying to do away with the commitment. So Agiru is just the mouthpiece of Hela.
BLADES: PNG's former Police Commissioner Gary Baki is concerned about the impact on Hela people of the LNG project which is bringing the kind of large-scale development never before seen in the region but few apparent benefits
MAMU: I can't see any hospitals around here, there are no shops around here, there are no schools around this place here.. nothing. Within the project site itself, there is nothing. So how can we say that the project is not equally responsible for the livelihood of our people? They are! My honest view is that they have a moral obligation to make sure that people are made aware of that, and I think that they are not doing enough.
BLADES: However Prime Minister Peter O'Neill says his government is working to ensure all commitments made concerning the project are met.
He told EMTV that so far 355 million US dollars has been paid to provincial governments involved in the project, as well as landowners.
O'NEILL: We all know for a fact that in many cases, some of these projects have not eventuated. But a committee audit team that has now been established including various government agencies will be added by an independent audit team to get out there and establish facts. And of course, with that report, government will be proactive in taking actions so that those projects are delivered or those funds are accounted for.
BLADES: But time could be running out for the project and Stanley Mamu warns that community frustrations may boil over in a way that echoes the Bougainville conflict.
He says that if they don't get what they expect, Hela people are prepared to take action similar to how Bougainville landowners closed the Panguna Copper mine in 1989.
MAMU: The people will disrupt the project because the pipeline has not been connected So that pipeline will never progress and then connect to Hides (Petroleum Development License) 4. So, Esso Highlands will be another Bougainville Copper Limited.
BLADES: Meanwhile, Esso Highlands says it is working hard to assist Hela people in building skills capacity and delivering sustainable, long-term benefits to communities.
It says while constructing the Project over the last three years, it has also focussed on investing in local jobs and training, business development, infrastructure and community programs.
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