Bougainville President Questions Wisdom Of Cocoa Project

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Momis worries leasing land to Australian company not ‘ethically right’

By Jemima Garrett

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, May 28, 2014) – Bougainville's president John Momis says a major Australian cocoa project may not be 'ethically right'.

The President of Bougainville has cast doubt on the future of a major cocoa project being developed by an Australian-based company.

Bougainville Island's Group, owned by Australian businessman Godfrey Mantle, has acquired 99-year-long leases to 15 abandoned cocoa plantations, totalling 12,500 hectares.

Mr Mantle said the traditional landowners will receive a 30 per cent stake in the company and up to 4,000 locals will get jobs.

"We just don't want their ownership we want their involvement, we want to show how a business should be run in best practice but with transparency and a high level of integrity," he told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat.

"I see the CEO of the business in a fairly short period of time being a Bougainvillean, in fact I have got somebody in mind ... but we want to build the skills first."

However, Bougainville's president John Momis said while the land leases may be legal, they are not ethical.

"We have just had a war over land," Mr Morris said.

"For one foreigner to own so much, in fact to own the best, choicest lands, is not seen as ethically right."

But Mr Mantle said he has addressed all of the President's concerns.

He said his company will bring a skilled marketing, distribution and scientific team that will benefit all the island's cocoa growers.

"You need scientists. And the people who benefit from that are not just your plantations," he said.

"That is an extension to the rest of the Bougainville cocoa producing community."

Joint ventures preferred

An inquiry into the project is due to report on its findings next month, but president Momis said it will still take a lot of convincing.

"In the final analysis, the people will respect the government," he said.

"We are spending a lot of time with them ... telling them that international best practices must be adhered to.

"Our zeal to make money should not be used as pretexts to break rules and to break conventions and protocols."

He said the Bougainville government would like to encourage joint venture deals between foreign and local companies, rather than stand-alone foreign businesses.

"The reason for that is to make the people feel they have a sense of ownership and therefore they will take responsibility to protect the properties and operations of the companies," Mr Momis said.

Cocoa boom

Cocoa production is booming on the autonomous island.

It is putting 200 million kina ($A74 million) a year directly into the hands of small holders.

President John Momis said it will delivering more in the near future.

"There [are] a lot of new cocoa plantings and we are told by experts that by 2017, cocoa price will triple," he said.

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