The Autonomous Bougainville Government needs to get its history books out. According to the ABG, the Panguna mine was ruthlessly imposed on the people of Bougainville by Rio Tinto and the Australian colonial administration, without consultation. This time it will be different, we are told, this time Rio Tinto will have to deal with the ABG, a government of the Bougainvillean people.
What they fail to acknowledge is that nothing the scale of Panguna could have been imposed purely from the outside – there were a range of Bougainvillean and Papua New Guinea collaborators who championed the mine throughout its operation.
These were men who took the top jobs, got the fat contracts to supply services, and who seized the compensation for themselves; and it was these men who told their wantoks that without the mine there would be no development – sound familiar?
It was not only the foreign enemy which Francis Ona and Perpetua Serero rose up against with the Panguna Landowners Association in 1988, it was also the enemy within.
It was John Momis, Michael Somare, Julius Chan, Paias Wingti, Rabbie Namaliu and other fat-cat politicians who had been welcomed in the company and protected its interests. It was traditional landlords like Michael Pariu and Severinus Ampaoi who had grown rich from compensation payments, lucrative business contracts, and steering the landowner trust. It was company men like Joe Auna and Philip Mapah, who acted as BCL’s Bougainvillean face before the media, while enjoying all the executive perks.
Lets see ten years from now if those ‘courageous’ voices coming out in support of the mine today are the ones who grow rich from jobs, consultancies, and contracts, while their relatives and friends bear the burden of the environmental and social harms the mine will inevitably produce.
Self-interest always comes disguised as national-interest – watch as today’s nationalists become tomorrow’s millionaires!