I have travelled to PNG, Tabubil and Lihir and lately we talked with the three landowner associations in Guadalcanal province where there is the first and only Mine in the Solomon Islands.
Up in Ok Tedi, the biggest development that I saw is the road from Kiunga to Tabubil. I was told that before the mine was up at Tabubil there was no road and the people from those areas walked for days to Kiunga for basic needs. Kiunga town was a small government station. These days it is a busy and bigger town because it has become the Mining Port.
In Lihir it is the same story, it was a government station before the project. Now it’s a busy island with a modern hospital and daily air service to the island from other major centres in PNG and Australia. In Gold Ridge, the wife of the chairman of the mining area told us that she is happy with the project because she now has a permanent house; before she lived in a leaf house.
In my Island yes the only development I see is the road to the mine site in Panguna which links the people from the Panguna area with the rest of Bougainville, otherwise they would walk for hours and days up and down the mountains. The conflict which started as Landowners differences, sharing of royalties and not reviewing the mining agreement became the war for Independence.
When the mine finally closed down in May 1989, the PNG security forces were fighting the offensive war to re-open the mine as their main objective. On the ground Bougainvilleans fought a defensive war for no more mining and breaking away from the rest of PNG.
Bougainvilleans are saying no to mining, for the simple reason that mining can come later, after the Independence, so that all the revenue from the mining will develop Bougainville and not go to PNG. As one writer stated in his article for the grassroots, Bougainvilleans think and believe that Panguna Kina developed Waigani and other parts of PNG.
This in fact is true because the PNG national government took the biggest cake; we will see that when we are independent the biggest cake will float around the island itself and that Promised Land someone talks about will come. But my instinct tells me that this is the Promised Land we are living in now, when the mine re-opens it will be wasteland.