The finance minister in the autonomous government in Papua New Guinea's Bougainville says re-launching mining in the province will provide the finance to foster other sectors of the economy.
There is a real prospect of a re-start with new mining legislation likely to go before the ABG early next year and extensive efforts by the government to garner the thoughts of communities around Bougainville.
Albert Punghau told Don Wiseman the immediate appeal of mining is it would bring money into the economy the moment construction work starts.
ALBERT PUNGHAU: The cash crop industry, for example the cocoa and coconut and the other crop industries, they're also equally important here in Bougainville, but given the situation that we are at, to re-activate back the plantations here that have been closed down that were generating economy to Bougainville are all in virgin forest. And we need to clear this forest - all the plantations are no longer as they used to be. We need, first of all, an amount of money to kick start clearing the bushes so the cocoa trees and the coconut trees that are now in the bush can be cleared so we can start to work on these plantations. It will need money to kick-start all these things that were left for a long time during the war. And as a minister I feel if we can kick-start the mine we can reinvest all the money into agriculture and try to get downstream processing on maybe cocoa and coconut industry here in Bougainville. So the mine would give the financing time kick-start the agriculture industry here in Bougainville.
DON WISEMAN: Some might think that's cart before the horse given the problems associated with mining.
AP: Yes, I think we need to also look at the realistic situation on the ground. Yes, peace has prevailed in Bougainville. We are now in total peace. But the issue of getting the agriculture industry up and running so fast and quickly, it will take time to produce all these cash crops, to produce cocoa and to produce coconut and all these things. But if you can look at mining we can just kick-start the economy quickly because as soon as construction starts on the mine there will be money thrown to the people and to the government As soon as they open the mine. But if we don't do the agriculture it will take some time. And, remember, we are going through this referendum until five or four or three years' time. So it is something that we are putting into a situation where we have to make some hard decisions, some drastic decisions for us as a government, as a people of Bougainville to now say that we have to things from the past in the past and look to the future and rebuild the economy and get the political aspiration that people have died for.
DW: Do you think that the mine can be up and running or mining, per say, can be a significant activity in Bougainville within that two or three years before there is a referendum?
AP: From the investors point of view, in my view I think they would want to do is they would want to wait until the referendum is taken in Bougainville. Then they would know how much money they are going to invest in Bougainville because no investor would want to come to Bougainville given the situation that we have gone through and given the experience that the investors had had in the past. And I think the political stability of having the referendum and the result of the referendum, whether it's an autonomous government here in Bougainville, an independent government here in Bougainville, that would be a clear indication for the investor to come into Bougainville. But we need to start something to talk about these issues with whichever investors want to come. Then we can talk within the parameters of the mining policy that we are talking about and we are trying to build. And then the investor would use that mining policy to come and invest in Bougainville. But I think the investor would want to come to Bougainville only after the referendum. That's my view.
DW: As far as the mining legislation goes, how far away is that in terms of it being re-presented in the house?
AP: We have given copies of the draft to all the constituency members of Bougainville. And they are doing consultations with their people in all the constituencies in Bougainville. As soon as all these consultations are done it will be taken back to the mining department of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and then the Autonomous Government will collate all the views of the people and try to look at how they can put all these inputs together before they present it back to the Bougainville executive council and the executive council will make a decision as to when they can put the mining law on to the floor of parliament.
DW: So the middle of next year maybe?
AP: If I look at things, yes, I think it might be the first session of parliament, which will be March. Maybe that will be a good time for us to have a look at that mining transitional deal.
DW: There has been criticism that there hasn't been enough consultation at grass-roots level. Do you think with this work that the MPs are doing that that will satisfy those critics?
AP: I think that people, especially the people in the constituency from South and North Bougainville, they are virtually aware of what is happening and what the contents of the mining deal is all about, but it is the people in Central Bougainville where there a lot of mining elements and Panguna and [Indistinct] and all the other places where they find coal, these kind of people who are resource owners, these are the people who really want to scrutinise the mining deal and make sure that the landowners and the resource owners are protected.
DW: The MP from Central Bougainville in the national government Jimmy Miningtoro spoke out quite recently about how the people there don't want mining.
AP: If go to Central Bougainville and you talk to the actual people on the ground you will find that there are people who want the mine to be open and there are also people there who think the mine should not be open. So these are the people that we need to educate and we need to tell them why it is important that we have to get this mine up.