OPPOSITION to re-opening of the mine at Panguna by the Autonomous Bougainville Government is slowly gaining momentum in Central Bougainville. Many community leaders feel that this is not the time to talk about mining.
Meanwhile, the ABG has been asked to consider other industries togenerate revenue for its operation because it cannot control mining once it takes root.
An interest group known as ‘Bougainville Independent Indigenous People’s Foundation’ has compiled a list of key people, leaders and ex-combatants in the Kieta District who are against the idea of re-opening of the mine.
Bernadine Kama, who is heading the group, is the daughter of the late Cecilia Gemel who supported the late Francis Ona in his moves to close the mine. She had this to say:
“I just cannot comprehend why we must continue to suffer at the hands of our leaders and our government, which has been negotiating to re-open the mine when a lot of issues which resulted from previous mining activities in Panguna remain unaddressed.
“Can we not be left alone to live our own lives in peace on our land? Many people are going where the wind blows them and they will not even consider the dire consequences of mining. Once mining begins it will not end in Panguna: the whole island will be affected and no amount of legislation or law will stop it, once money starts flying around.
“President Momis tries to equate mining with independence. I don’t see any logic in that, simply because we are the most independent people in the world as we are now, because we live off our land; and if we were cut off from the rest of the world, surely we would find a way to survive. We have done it before and we will do it again. Necessity is the mother of invention.”
There are concerns both in Papua New Guinea and internationally, that the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s so called mining laws would take away the rights of landowners who are indigenous people of Bougainville.
Moves by the ABG and other parties involved clearly violate the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. The declaration recognises the inalienable rights of the indigenous people to their land and resources and that there must be ‘Free and Prior Informed Consent’ from the indigenous landowners before any natural resources can be extracted from their land.
Those who oppose mining believe that the ABG has fallen victim to its own complacency and has not made efforts to explore alternative means to earn revenue for the Autonomous Region. It is alleged that a lot of funds from the government, which could have been used to develop agriculture, tourism, fisheries and manufacturing and downstream processing, were misused.
The move by the ABG to re-open mining has also drawn strong opposition from Central Bougainville ex-combatants who refused to be named because they say they had been used in the media for propaganda by those with mining interests.
“As far as I am concerned, there should be no mining in Bougainville because many people lost their lives to close the mine and to gain independence. The mine has closed now but we have yet to achieve independence — only then can mining be considered; before that, no! End of story,” said a member of the Meekamui faction who also refused to be named.
The business community in Bougainville feel that too much importance is being placed on mining and nothing has been done to add value to our business activities and our cash crops through downstream processing and manufacturing.
According to them there are numerous ways for the ABG to earn revenue to support itself and provide services for its people, instead of just saying mining is the only way.
During the period mining had been going on in Bougainville, there was no tangible development across the length and breadth of Bougainville except for the areas where mine workers and facilities were situated.