In this exclusive, LNG Watch interviews a senior government official involved in the LNG negotiations. The official prefers to remain anonymous.
LNG Watch: What are some of the difficulties you are facing at the moment with the LNG project?
Official: The level of information at the ground is not good. It is very complicated. It is also complicated because of the different regions, with different cultures, and different levels of understanding. If you go to the Highlands the level of understanding may be different than if you go down to the New Guinea islands, so it is very difficult to make the landowners fully understand.
LNG Watch: In other resource operations there has been a problem with local elites monopolising the compensation and benefits produced by the operation.
Official: It’s the same issue country wide. So you have a handful who come here to Port Moresby and are promised landowner benefits, while the villagers suffer and have no idea.
LNG Watch: In terms of the companies running the mine, how you are finding the attitudes of the staff engaged in the negotiations?
Official: When they [Exxon Mobil] came they were very arrogant, they thought they were going to bulldoze things the way they wanted. But because of our experience with Bougainville and Ok Tedi, we were adamant we should consult with landowners according to the rules.
LNG Watch: Are there concerns that there may be violence around the project?
Official: We just had an incident recently, which is quite unfortunate. It is about the land. The state needs to be really careful with how they handle landowner issues. What we are trying to do now is to get the leaders in parliament and the landowner leaders to resolve the issues ... through alternative dispute resolution rather than going to court with expensive lawyers.
LNG Watch: Is there fear that the project may not go ahead? Is there concern Exxon Mobil will pull out?
Official: No they have spent billions of dollars, the project is going ahead. The landowners fully support the project, they want the project to go ahead. It is how the benefits are distributed right down to the people in the rural areas. You have got to realise there are two groups, the landowners who are back in their villages and the landowners who are residing here in Port Moresby.
LNG Watch: It appears at present that no projects can go ahead unless people are getting money under the table.
Official: We have had that in the past, where people were paid off, but we have not seen evidence of such things.
LNG Watch: Would you find there are differences for example between the way Exxon Mobil operate and say MCC (Ramu Nickel)?
Official: Yes there is a difference in culture. The Chinese, well yes they are like if you do me a favour I will give you this.
LNG Watch: The Environment Act Amendment was seen to be an example of corruption, an attempt to stop the landowners (in Madang) from protecting their marine environment
Official: I haven’t actually seen the amendments so I would not have a good idea.
LNG Watch: So we have development forums which are better than in the 1960s, but it strikes me that we still have mobile squads providing security and they have thirty years of taking punitive, irresponsible actions.
Official: Sometimes you have to really understand the people. For instance if you to the Highlands people are very aggressive. When they come for meetings they come with knives, they comes with axes, they come with bows and arrows. We don’t stop that. The tensions are very high. The people are very aggressive. So it depends on the area you are in with the mobile squads ... But up there it is very tense, so if someone comes up there and says something wrong, someone will come with an axe and chop him down. The mobile squad is (specially) designed to quite down violence. At village forums here (Port Moresby) or in the New Guinea Islands we don’t need the mobile squads.