PNG PM SIR MEKERE SLAMS AUSTRALIAN LAW FIRM AS "NEO-COLONIAL

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LEECHES"

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 12, 2001 – The National)---The Australian law firm Slater and Gordon, which has been suing the Ok Tedi mine on behalf of Western province villagers, has been accused of interfering in PNG's affairs and of being a parasite sucking millions of kina through its actions.

In a scathing statement to Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta said the Melbourne-based law firm was jeopardizing the future of the mine and its benefits to the country.

Slater and Gordon's most recent action has been to obtain a court injunction in the Victorian Supreme Court preventing OTML from signing agreements with landowners in the mine area and the Fly River region out of fear that such agreements would free the company from any further liability for environmental damage to the mine.

An angry Sir Mekere said yesterday, while the 9th Supplemental Agreement on the mine was just about to be completed, which would be of immense benefit to the local people and the country as a whole, the law firm's actions would prove destructive.

He said this foreign firm, acting in its own financial self-interest, was seeking to destroy the agreement, and with it any prospect of post-mining prosperity for Western Province.

"This law firm, Slater and Gordon of Melbourne, has made millions and millions of kina over an extended period of time by preying on villagers in the Western province," Sir Mekere said.

"Its parasitical behavior has cost the people of the Western province, and the nation, many millions of kina.

"It has disrupted the orderly and legitimate operations of the mine. It has disrupted the flow of benefits to landowners, downriver villagers, the Western province and Papua New Guinea as a whole.

"This law firm -- which does not have an office in Papua New Guinea -- has interfered in the actions of the sovereign state of Papua New Guinea.

"In order for this law firm to fill its pockets with money that rightfully belongs to Papua New Guineans, it pretends to act on behalf of those affected by the mine.

"Nothing could be further from the truth."

Sir Mekere said the State was acting on behalf of the people.

That the people recognized this, he said, was demonstrated by the fact that, yesterday, 138 of the required 149 villages had signed the Mine Continuation Agreements, which underpin the 9th Supplemental Agreement.

He said the court case "these leeches" had instituted in a foreign court was designed to stall that 9th Supplemental Agreement, BHP Billiton's withdrawal, and PNG taking control of the mine.

"It is a cheap, devious, self-interested tactic typical of this firm," Sir Mekere said.

"It is specifically aimed at creating an opportunity for it to suck more money out of Papua New Guinea."

Sir Mekere said the people of PNG would not benefit in any way but be done immense harm from this court case.

"It may cause the immediate closure of the mine. It may cause the immediate cessation of development spending in Western Province by the State and Ok Tedi Mining Limited.

"It may remove the opportunity for Papua New Guineans to control their own mine."

Sir Mekere said the Government was examining the implications of the court case in Melbourne and possible courses of action.

It is also examining the possibility of legal action against Slater and Gordon, and those aiding or supporting it in activities that may be illegal in the country, he said.

Meanwhile, Slater and Gordon senior partner Andrew Grech said last night that Sir Mekere was apparently venting his ire at the latest legal moves by the law firm, reports AAP.

Mr. Grech said Slater and Gordon had applied to the PNG Supreme Court, claiming the 9th Supplemental Ok Tedi Agreement Bill is unconstitutional.

He said the effect of the bill would be to deprive landowner parties to the current class action against BHP Billiton in the Victorian Supreme Court any future benefits to Western Province landowners from the mine.

"The (PNG) government is trying to shoot the messenger (Slater and Gordon), rather than addressing and resolving the concerns of the people of Western Province," he said.

"We are acting on instructions from our clients."

 

PNG GOVERNMENT RAMS THROUGH OK TEDI AGREEMENT BILL

By Daniel Korimbao

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 12, 2001 – The National)---The Government yesterday pushed through Parliament the Ok Tedi Mine Continuation Agreement Bill, which grants unrestricted legal indemnity to BHP and OTML for pollution and damages, caused by the mine.

The Bill was passed 58 - 2 votes, but not until after many MPS from within the Government's rank attacked BHP for the way it was exiting the mine and leaving behind massive damage to the environment for someone else to clean up.

Also yesterday, South Fly MP Gabia Gagarimambu filed a Supreme Court reference in Waigani challenging the constitutional validity of the Bill passed.

Mr. Gagarimambu also took out an interim injunction in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Australia, which barred OTML from signing with landowners, the Mine Continuation Agreement.

His lawyers will return to court today to argue for a permanent injunction, which if granted could affect the exit of BHP due on December 31, 2001.

BHP claims about 87 per cent of villagers have signed, and want all villagers to sign the Mine Continuation Agreement by December 31.

Mining Minister Chris Haiveta, who presented the Bill, said the Ok Tedi mine has and continues to have a significant impact on the landowners and the country.

Mr. Haiveta said the government's deliberations on the future of the mine were made even more difficult when BHP announced its intention to exit the mine as major shareholder and operator by the end of this year.

He said after 12 months of meticulous negotiations, arrangements have been put in place to enable OTML to continue as a viable stand alone entity, maximize benefits to the landowners, province and the rest of PNG, and manage environmental impacts and accommodate any potential liabilities arising from the environmental impacts of the mine.

He said upon exit, BHP's 52 percent in OTML would be transferred to a program company, which would be independent, with no connection to BHP or the State.

He insisted the Bill would regulate BHP's exit. But many Members disagreed during debate on the bill.

Bulolo MP Samson Napo said the Fly River has been severely damaged, and BHP must be made to pay for its damages before it leaves.

North Fly MP Kala Swokin said BHP must pay for dumping 4,000 feet of earth into the Fly, making the river rise and swallowing up high grounds.

Kainantu MP Baki Reipa, who was a pioneer worker at the mine, said BHP should be made to build roads and other infrastructure before they leave because the company had taken out enough.

Middle Fly MP Bitan Kuok, who along with governor Nobert Makmop and Swokin voted to pass the Bill, said he felt BHP was trying to escape from problems it has caused for the people of the Fly.

Central Bougainville MP Sam Akoitai said talks that villagers were being forced to sign agreements was blackmail, and added that the State and BHP must own up to their responsibilities.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Provided by Vikki John VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au" target="_blank">(VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au

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