Bougainville Mining Bill Grants Landowners Unprecedented Rights

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Passage of bill completes transfer of power from national government

By David Lornie

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, August 11, 2014) – The passing of the Bougainville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Bill 2014 by Bougainville Parliament on Friday was an historic occasion for the Autonomous Region.

The bill’s passing completes the drawdown of mining powers from the national Government.

The symbolic and practical significance of this event is clear – the 10-year Bougainville Conflict was sparked by the giant Panguna Copper Mine which was closed down by dispossessed landowners.

As such, mining is an emotive issue for Bougainvilleans with up to 20,000 having died as a result of the Conflict.

The bill, in its fourth draft when passed, is the result of comprehensive community consultation, including wide-ranging forums and workshops.

It has been a long battle for Bougainville President John Momis who, with his team, has developed and pushed forward the bill over the past two years, changing it and tailoring it to fit the needs and expectations of the greatest possible amount of Bougainvilleans.

Despite this, not all are satisfied, with an angry protest being held outside Parliament last Tuesday when the bill was originally supposed to have been put before the House.

But the president strenuously defended it, saying "I firmly believe that we have done has been practicable". He explained it is a "transitional law" and that the long-term law is still being developed.

Mr Momis said he expects the final bill to be ready by early next year after further community consultation.

In a stirring speech to Parliament on Friday, the president said "as we all know, Bougainville has bitter experience with previous mining laws that were applicable to Bougainville".

After outlining the ills caused by of past mining laws imposed upon Bougainville, he went on to say "mining can occur only if it is done in ways that respect our people’s rights, brings as many benefits as possible and does the least amount of damage to our land, environment and culture".

The bill is considered a world-first in the unprecedented rights it gives to landowners.

"We are especially proud that the bill is completely unique in the world in the focus it gives to protecting the interests of the people of Bougainville," Mr Momis said.

"Customary owners will have many rights."

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