USAID warns Panguna reopening, corporate impunity and AusAID legislation greatest threats to stability on Bougainville
Bougainville Stability StudyThe Panguna mine cannot fund Bougainville’s independence, and is the most credible source of instability in Bougainville, so says a recent United States government agency report titled Bougainville Stability Desk Study [1mb].
According to USAID, many on the ground in Bougainville are adamantly opposed to Rio Tinto’s return, feel overlooked by ABG ‘consultation’ process, and have a thirst for justice.
USAID also warns that the recent mining legislation drafted for the ABG by AusAID consultant, Anthony Regan, ‘could reignite conflict’. They also worry anger over corporate and state abuses have been allowed to fester, which could explode if Rio Tinto return.
Given these damning conclusions by the aid agency of a world superpower, you would think perhaps one or two news services would have reported on the findings, published on 27 January? But no!
In glaring contrast, when the Australian Strategic Policy Institute called for the Panguna mine’s reopening and Australian Defence Force boots on the ground, they were given prime time on Australia’s ABC radio and television. Even a minor blog post by a former ADF officer calling for the mine’s reopening was given a whirl on the ABC.
It would seem if anyone sneezes ‘Rio reopen the mine’, the ABC reports it along with other regional news agencies.
There is, however, apparently no room for modest dissenting opinions – even one from state agencies belonging to a conservative world power. In the Aussie dominated South Pacific even they are too radical!
Here are some key highlights from the report:
‘Though the Bougainville peace process is widely heralded as a peacebuilding success, the post-conflict order remains fragile’.
‘The political, social, economic, and environmental fallout from the opening of the Panguna mine in 1972 by Bougainville Copper Ltd. (BCL), a subsidiary of the Australian Rio Tinto mining company, was the primary catalyst for conflict’.
‘Simply stated, negotiating the “most conflict-prone problem in Bougainville today” is a high-risk endeavour, particularly because reaching “consensus on the future of the Panguna mine is crucial for the future of peace in Bougainville.”’
‘Starting in 2009, the ABG held extensive consultations within Panguna and the areas in its immediate surrounding … Despite these developments, the more recent public fora appear less inclusive and comprehensive’.
‘Though restrictions to the mine area have eased, these hardline [Meekamui] factions still control the access road to the mine, as well as the site itself [Note: Hardline = opposed to foreign corporate ownership of Bougainville]. They also enjoy considerable support, including from communities downstream from the mine who were subject to the environmental damage’.
‘These ongoing [ABG] public fora have also been criticized for not representing other key constituents. To date, only a few fora have been held, turnout has been low, and questions remain about the outreach to, and thus participation of, key landowners’.
‘A number of leading women activists have disparaged the [ABG consultation] process for not including women’s voices more visibly and prominently; this is particularly significant in a society that is traditionally matrilineal. The perception that plans to re-open the mine are moving forward without a meaningful voice for Bougainvillean stakeholders—reminiscent of the 1970s and ‘80s—is a cause for significant concern’.
‘The re-opening of the mine may cause instability in other ways. BCL appears unwilling to provide financial compensation to victims of the conflict. This is likely to be a sticking point, given that according to the Umbrella Panguna Landowners Association, compensation “will come as a pre-condition to any negotiation talks.”’
‘The Meekamui, for example, still demand that Rio Tinto pay 10 billion Kina (approximately 4.2 billion U.S. dollars) in compensation. Some even demand that Rio Tinto be prohibited from mining in Bougainville’.
‘The new mining law that was developed by the ABG ostensibly looks promising in that “approval of mining and resolution of disputes will be negotiated in an all-inclusive landowner forum process.” A potential pitfall, however, appears to be the provision in the law placing the ABG in control of mining once operations have begun, including decisions on revenue sharing. This has the potential to marginalize landowners, and, reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s, could reignite conflict over equitable revenue sharing’.
‘Strong support has emerged in Bougainville in favor of opening the mine prior to independence: this is based on the belief that independence is only possible if Bougainville is economically viable, which can only be accomplished by reopening the mine. If the timetable of the referendum is held, however, it seems increasingly unlikely that the mine will be open before that time; even more certain is that it will be years (well after the referendum) before the mine is generating revenue for the government’.
‘The fear today is that once again external factors—i.e. the referendum and the re-opening of the mine—could unleash local conflicts. This may be particularly destabilizing given the number of unreconciled conflicts that still exist as a legacy of the war’.