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Our work achieves positive change in the communities where we operate. We also seek to effect change by being part of the public debate about the effect Australian actions have on the lives of our neighbours.

The Panguna Turnaround

 


 

By Executive Director Luke Fletcher | 17 January 2018

 

Recently, Bougainville President John Momis has made several interviews announcing a moratorium on mining at Panguna. There have also been reports that the president has chosen not to renew the mining license that Australian company Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) has been holding in the area.

 

BCL has long been implicated in human rights abuses that occurred on the island in the early years of the Bougainville civil war. According to Jubilee’s own research, it is for this reason, as well the serious environmental damage that the mine had on their lands, that the communities around Panguna remain strongly opposed to BCL returning to mine there.

 

So, how are we to understand this recent decision by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) as well as the position of its powerful leader, President Momis?

 

First, this is indeed a significant turnaround. Before this series of announcements, the position of the ABG and of President Momis has been consistently bullish that the mine must go ahead under BCL’s auspices. The information Jubilee has from our partners on the ground is that the president was forced into this turnaround by both the strong stand taken by the landowners at a recent Warden’s meeting and even by a vote in the ABG's parliament in December.

 

Second, the decision is an important vindication of Jubilee Australia’s long-held and much-maligned position on Panguna. President Momis' comments to Radio New Zealand last week that proceeding with the mine could ignite a civil war and that BCL does not have a 'social license to operate' are more or less exactly what Jubilee has been arguing since 2014, sentiments that have been strongly rejected by the ABG until last week or so.

 

Third, significant as this turnaround is, it by no means suggests that the ABG has abandoned its efforts to reopen the Panguna mine or mining per se. More likely, the move signals that the ABG is now open to pursuing other options, as I recently reflected in a Guardian story on the issue. Indeed, there are other interest parties who are angling to be allowed to re-develop the Panguna resource, such as RTG, another Australian mining interest. Meanwhile, Perth-based Kahlia Holdings is pursuing mineral exploration in North Bougainville, apparently with the ABG’s blessing.

 

With a potential independence referendum looming in the next couple of years, the path from here is still unclear and the struggle over the future of Bougainville continues. Bougainville does have choices regarding its development and its future. Jubilee’s current work is a project which will explore these choices and attempt to present them to policymakers and citizens in Bougainville.

 

You can read more about mining in Bougainville here.