The ABG Minister for Mineral and Energy Resources, Rodney Osioco, has announced that the Bougainville Government will no longer be partially lifting the existing mining reservation or moratorium in selected areas of Bougainville for the purposes of mineral exploration endeavors in new or “greenfield” sites until certain issues are addressed.
This is consistent with a key Bougainville mining policy objective that talks about developing the mineral endowment on a phased basis that favours long-term ecological, economic and social viability instead of maximising short-term investment.
According to the Bougainville Mining Policy, Minister Osioco says it is necessary to control the rate of development in the mining sector to ensure beneficial evolution of our social structures and cultural values and to preserve a resource base for future generations.
Given Bougainville’s unfortunate mining-related history, and the recent fatal incidents at two current exploration sites, the government is cautious in its approach to mineral exploration.
“Let us not forget the Bougainville Conflict too soon; we saw unrest which stemmed from unattended mine-related socio-economic and environmental grievances which eventually converged with political factors and escalated into the Bougainville Crisis”, Osioco said.
“Already I am seeing a concerning trend, I will not see a repetition of unattended escalated landowner mining-related grievances under my watch”, he said.
Another issue of concern for the government is the lack of regulatory human resource capacity for the sector.
Minister Osioco says that mineral sector development needs to be broken up into practical, distinct, and manageable phases that will allow for phased building of regulatory capacity over time.
The ABG intends to maintain its support for existing exploration projects and allow for regulatory capacity building before it will permit additional greenfield project developments.
“Let us fix existing problems, develop existing projects, put our house in order, before we start creating more issues,” Osioco says.
The government has also noted the need for amendments to existing sector legislation after five years of practice. This includes the addition of effective grievance mechanisms which will enable the ABG to take on board and respond to and resolve issues raised by local communities.
“There is a need to review procedures for granting of mineral exploration licenses and other mineral licenses, particularly given that Bougainville has complex interests of land ownership, land use and land tenure in general” Osioco said.
“We are also looking at scrapping the first-come-first-served colonial mineral rights award principle where we are forced to settle for whatever investor or company first applies for an exploration licence or first comes to Bougainville and deals with landowners and public servants and leaders. First-come-first-served awarding of mineral rights encourages corruption”, Osioco said.
The alternatives include giving State Entities priority in tenement applications and, if necessary, utilizing transparent processes where investors would be invited to bid for the right to operate in Bougainville under clearly spelt out terms and conditions.
The alternative for a transparent public auctioning process can attract cash strapped investors and major miners and eliminate those junior speculators that often exploit the first-come-first-served process with dubious methods.
The ABG is steadfast in its position that any partial lifting of the moratorium for the purposes of new exploration applications for new sites will only be considered after the required amendments are made and the human resources regulatory capacity situation improves.
SOURCE: ABG GOVT/PACNEWS