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Defends posture as party to gas agreement

By Yehiura Hriehwazi PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 18, 2011) – In Papua New Guinea, all petroleum, mineral, and gas resources under the ground are owned by the State, according to Attorney-General Sir Arnold Amet.

He was responding to lawyer Peter Donigi and Warner Shand Lawyers recent claims that the State does not own the natural resources and as such it was not the proper party to sign the PNG Gas Agreement.

That assertion, according to Sir Arnold is "not legally correct." Sir Arnold is the Madang Regional MP and former Chief Justice of the National and Supreme Court of PNG.

"The Petroleum Act and the Mining Act vest the ownership of mineral and petroleum resources in the State. As such, State is a proper party to the gas agreement and has validly executed the gas agreement," Sir Arnold said in a statement released over the weekend.

"Both the Oil and Gas Act 1998 and the Mining Act 1992 vest the ownership of mineral and petroleum resources in the State. These two Acts of Parliament adopted the State’s ownership rights in the minerals and petroleum resources from the pre-independence laws that gave ownership rights to mineral and petroleum resources to the State.

"Mr. Donigi had previously raised the same issue in the National Court in a number of occasions and the National Court in passing acknowledged the legislative provisions both prior to independence and post-independence enactments that vest ownership of mineral and petroleum resources in the State. The court said that, the actions of all persons corporations and state vitally interested in mining, whether gold, minerals or petroleum, have been predicated by the continuing expression of ownership in the State," Sir Arnold said.

"Nevertheless, Mr. Donigi has and continues to incite the landowners from the LNG project areas with his vague arguments, instead of pursuing legal redress through the higher courts to have the matter resolved," he said.

"Mr. Donigi raised the issue of Section 53 of the Constitution which provides for an Act of Parliament to allow for possession of property (including land) and minerals and petroleum," he said.

"The State has done exactly that under the Oil and Gas Act and Mining Act. The Oil and Gas Act requires the state to pay just compensation giving effect to S.53 of the Constitution."

"It must be pointed out that the issue of compensation here is confined to the surface of the land only and not below for the reason that State owns the minerals and petroleum below the surface of the land," he said and added that Mr. Donigi is at liberty to go to court and seek legal redress if he is aggrieved by the State’s position."

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