20 Sep 2013

Former PNG prime minister critical of OK Tedi mine takeover

4:47 pm on 20 September 2013

Papua New Guinea's former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has sounded a note of caution about the government's take-over of the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Western Province.

Parliament has passed amendments to the OK Tedi Mining Agreement, which will see the State own 100% of OK Tedi mine after cancelling PNG Sustainable Development Programme's 63% share in the lucrative mine.

Sir Michael, who is part of the Peter O'Neill government, staged a protest walk-out before the vote was taken.

He has warned the move sends the wrong signals to the international community and there should have been more dialogue before any decision. Johnny Blades spoke to him.

MICHAEL SOMARE: It's very important for a country, when you are a developing country, when you are at the end of being a receiver of goods and services, you must try to understand them and work with them to achieve the same aim as they have. That was the view that I had so I decided I'd walk out yesterday in parliament. I don't do things like that, but I was upset because I thought this is a wrong trend that we are going to set for Papua New Guinea.

JOHNNY BLADES: Sir Mekere Morauta has said that this move is like stealing from the people of Western Province. But Peter O'Neill says that he's really not satisfied with the current arrangement, with how that money, particularly in the long-term fund, is being used. What do you think about that?

MS: I support Mr O'Neill, but I don't support him with the idea of us trying to grab something which we've never really worked hard for and taking it and making it our business. No, that's not the view I share. Yes, I share sentiments with Mekere, but Sir Mekere Morauta, at the same time, should have an opportunity... In my statement I said the OK Tedi chairman and management should ask for an appointment with Mr O'Neill and his cabinet ministers, the Minister for Mines, to sit down and discuss this issue and reach an agreement, some kind of solution. OK Tedi wanted to invest money somewhere else in Singapore, but Papua New Guineans always believe it would be better for them to strike a deal and find some way. I see no reason why they could not invest in Papua New Guinea with the bank of Papua New Guinea or commercial lenders here and let it grow in Papua New Guinea so interest could be derived from what is invested to do things for western province people.

JB: You share Mr O'Neill's view that the money was not being used wisely by just being deposited in Singapore.

MS: OK Tedi had a purpose when they decided to have this sustainable development fund outside the realm of Papua New Guinea, outside the interference of government. No, I don't share that view. If there was to be any move by Mr O'Neill to bring everything in to Papua New Guinea there should be proper dialogue with people who have so much confidence in this country, they invested so much here, and there should be a dialogue of discussion. You discuss it before you take a drastic decision like this. Parliament are keen to take over an asset it gives a strong message, wrong message, to the international world. What should we do with a country who does that to us, you know?