Press Release – 10th April, 2018.
The Resource Owners Federation of Papua New Guinea welcomes the acknowledgement last week, by the Managing Director of MRDC, Mr. Augustine Mano and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, that the landowners and citizens of this country have not and are not receiving any significant benefit other than the inadequate entitlements in royalties from the major mining and petroleum projects in the country. Their statements are a truthful admission and acknowledgement of the injustices suffered by the landowners of major resource exploitation projects in the country since the colonisation of the country.
The unjust laws by the State acquiring the ownership of all minerals and petroleum resources held under the surface of the land without paying just compensation to the customary owners, was first introduced by the colonial governments and later adopted and maintained by the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, even though those laws are in breach of Section 53 (prohibition of unjust deprivation of property) of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea.
Although a United Nations declaration in 2007, resolved for member governments to remove such unjust laws and restore the ownership of all land and resources acquired by the member States, the Papua New Guinea government has not yet adopted the declaration nor repealed the unjust laws. This is therefore the underlying reason for the landowners not benefiting from the major resource projects in the country.
The unjust colonial laws were first challenged by Panguna landowner, Teori Tau, in the High court of Australia in 1969. He was dismissed, not on the grounds that his claim was untrue, but rather, on the grounds that a law made by the Commonwealth for any of its Territories including the Territories of Papua and New Guinea was valid. The Bougainvillean landowners however, persisted in their ownership claims culminating in them leading a bloody war of rebellion against the government of Papua New Guinea, forcing the giant Bougainville copper mine to close down permanently in the 1990s. The Bougainvillean rebellion was then followed by the Ok Tedi landowners filing legal claims against BHP in Australia, leading to BHP divesting its ownership of the entire mine and handing it over to the Government of Papua New Guinea in return for immunity against all liabilities in relation to the environmental issues at Ok Tedi. About the same time, the landowners of the Mt. Kare area, burnt down the CRA exploration camp in the Enga Province, forcing that company to abandon its exploration program and exited the country permanently. The nearby Porgera landowners have recently launched a massive US$4 Billion claim against the State and ultimately the mine, for environmental damages and breaches of various agreements.
Given the long history of confrontation by landowners from across the breath and length of the entire country in their pursuit for justice, any sound government should have removed the unjust laws and returned the ownership of minerals and petroleum resources to those who owned the lands under which the resources were found. The government could have then passed new laws to administer the extraction of the natural resources and the fair distribution of the benefits arising from such extraction amongst all the citizens of the country, as required by the Constitution of Papua New Guinea. Instead, those governments brought in more unjust laws to restrain the landowners from taking any action against the State for its negligence or pursuing legal claims against Mining and Petroleum companies in foreign jurisdictions. The governments of those times remained weak, incompetent and gullible to foreign ideas and manipulation resulting in the landowners, the Provincial governments and the National Government itself, not benefiting from the exploitation of natural resources in the country for many decades until recently.
The advent of Peter O’ Neil as Prime Minister of the country has seen some improvement when he took action to restore justice for some landowners. He has dealt with the Ok Tedi matter by taking control of the mine and awarding a 34% interest in the mine to the landowners and their Provincial Government. He has further handed back to the Bouganvillean landowners and their Autonomous government, the National government’s shares held in the abandoned copper mine, making the Bougavilleans the controlling shareholders of the mine going forward. He has now publicly acknowledged that landowners have not received a fair share of the benefits from the mining and petroleum development projects in the country for decades and has promised to change this for the better.
The Resource Owners Federation of Papua New Guinea now urge Prime Minister Peter O’Neil and his government to take the next steps firstly by passing the necessary laws vesting the ownership of the minerals and petroleum resources found under any land to those who own the land under which the resources are found and further pass laws to ensure the fair distribution of benefits arising from the exploitation of those natural resources amongst all the citizens of the country, as required by the Constitution of Papua New Guinea.
Such action by the government will restore justice for those landowners that have and continue to seek justice including by Bougainvilleans landowner Teori Tau, Francis Ona and others through their violent rebellion, justice that the OK Tedi landowners had fought for in a foreign legal jurisdiction and won, and the justice that the Porgera, the Hela, the Southern Highlands, the Morobeans and the Ramu landowners of Madang continue to seek today. Justice that the United Nations of the world has declared, that the indigenous peoples of the world must have as a right, to correct the injustices of the past.