"We declare our first goal to be for every person to be dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression so that each man or woman will have the opportunity to develop as a whole person in relationship with others".

- Papua New Guinea National Goals and Directive Principles

Thursday, 28 July 2011

A union for landowners? From defeat can come strength

In light of the recent decision by Justice Canning to remove the interim injunction placed on the construction of a deep sea tailings placement system for the Ramu mine, there has been a mixture of reactions. Anger and frustration punctuate facebook and other social networking sites.

On the other hand over in Waigani, Madam Luo Sho and the Minister of Mining are popping champagne corks if not literally, then metaphorically. Other companies such as ExxonMobil would also be glad that ‘sense’ has prevailed, lest landowners in Hela or other regions get their own ideas about injunctions and court cases.

Mining, gas and oil companies are complacent, overly-complacent perhaps, for two reasons. First, the national government is encircled by a network of corrupt elite – personalities in this network chop and change, but their allegiance to money remains. Public funds regularly drift off into the night, assisted by irregular accounting practices that have been tirelessly exposed by the Auditor General. These funds (and we are talking in the billions of Kina) end up being used by this national elite to speculate on property, hotels, casinos, construction companies, etc, i.e. short term industries that will ride the resource boom wave and leave PNG within nothing in 20 years.  These dynasties controlling the national government can, therefore, be relied upon to play ball with the mining industry, they have a political and economic interest in it!

The second cause of the mining industry’s complacency is the fragmented nature of the poor. They believe that landowner communities are too parochial, isolated and self-interested to unite – indeed can you imagine their fear if landowners from Madang, the Southern Highlands, Bougainville, Porgera, etc, formed a united landowners front, a union of sorts for ensuring all landowners, in all regions of PNG have their interests defended.

But such a threat to mining interests seems fictional at present. Thus,  mining companies only have to worry about isolated pockets of resistance in Ramu or Porgera etc finding a courageous lawyer or two, who possess the skill and resources to protect the community’s right to live in clean, free environments, undisturbed by the dictates of crude profit oriented industries.

In the case of Ramu nickel, this fear was temporarily ended by Justice Canning’s decision.

The appeal might succeed, it might not. We know that the national government and the mining companies will use dirty tricks – even hire goons to threaten landowners and their legal representatives. Moreover, they will bring in the high price silks from Australia and throw all the money in the world at them. We know they will also trolley in their own hire-purchase ‘experts’ and if need be legislate away basic constitutional rights.

That is why we need a united landowners front, a union, whatever you want to call it – one which can defend all communities regardless of their economic circumstances, education levels, etc. A group that is built on landowner’s solidarity – if brothers and sisters in Madang are being thrown under the carriage of MCC, then action will be taken across all mine communities in PNG in protest. Can you imagine that, MCC receiving phone calls from Exxon, Barrick Gold, Newcrest, because their operations have been shutdown by landowners standing in solidarity with their friends in Madang.  

At present the mining companies and the national government are united, and they have their own unions (e.g. the Chamber of Mines and Petroleum) – landowners are not. Until they are we can only run isolated campaigns against injustice, when what we need is a united front strong enough to stand up to the bullies, thugs and corrupt cronies who dictate the rhythms of PNG’s development.  

PNG is made up of a thousand simmering communities, we must turn this into a boiling pot!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Disgraceful! The Post-Courier publishes Exxon media releases as news

We at LNG Watch are not so naive as to believe that the media can engage in balanced reporting, when they are so dependent on the patronage of large companies and the political elite for revenue and insider access. However, of late the Post-Courier has excelled itself by publishing as news, what are in fact press releases from ExxonMobil.

Pasted below are the offending articles and the corresponding ExxonMobil press releases.


The Press Release

The Article

 TITLE: ESSO gives to charity



Date: July 1, 2011.

PORT Moresby City mission is well-known for the support it gives to the troubled youths throughout the city but it was their turn to be on the receiving end.
The PNG LNG operator, Esso Highlands Limited (EHL) last Tuesday donated about K165,000 for the refurbishment of City Mission's headquarters in Koki. This is to support the valuable contribution that the organisation is making to the lives of many young men in Port Moresby.
The headquarters in Koki house 85 young men but the facility has a bed capacity of only 40. Some of them sleep on mattresses on the floor while others rotate their beds so that everyone has a space.
The funding will improve the dormitories, ablution blocks, lighting and roofing to provide comfortable accommodation. The City Mission began in 1993 with the objective of providing physical, emotional and spiritual support to the young men.


The Press Release

The Article

TITLE: LNG operator helps villages



DATE: 1 July, 2011

ESSO Highlands Limited (EHL), the operator of PNG LNG project, continues to support the community projects in the villages around of the LNG plant sites.
The villages including Lealea, Papa and Boera in Central Province have their community projects funded while Porebada will be the next as discussions with the operator are underway.
The projects that are being funded include replacing of the foot bridge at Lealea which links two parts of the village, allowing villagers to cross the wide river instead of paddling across, EHL will provide the materials for the bridge while Lealea community will provide labour.
The other project is the provision of housing for three health workers at Papa, a project to support the Salvation Army which runs a Papa Clinic and all of the LNG plant site villages who use the clinic. The Papa Clinic serves as a referral centre for all health centres in the area, therefore, the housing will support the recent PNG Government's initiative to upgrade and expand the clinic.
The project at Boera is the refurbishment of Boera Clinic, enabling it to deliver health services to the community. The project will involve the construction of a new house for the health worker who works at the clinic and currently living at the clinic.


Lift your game Post-Courier, give LNG WATCH a call we would be happy to take you to meet the real people being affected by the LNG project, and the real concerns they have about this juggernaut project that will profoundly and irreparably change their life! 

Monday, 18 July 2011

The trickle down effects of Capitalism: A view from Port Moresby

Powered by projects like LNG PNG, the skyline of Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby is changing.

Luxury Apartments

Advertised at $8500 US p/m.

Luxury accomodation for the visitor

About $500 US per night

Want a relaxing Saturday fry-up, the Yacht club does a cracking one 

Entry by invitation only, of course!

How do the other half live (well other 99% to be precise)

People keep nice houses, there are sports, and plenty of talk and fun ... but still the trickle down effect of capitalism is taking its time, it seems to have bottlenecked somewhere, LNG WATCH wonders just where?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Big Legal Win in the US: Exxon May Have to Pay for Alleged Complicity in Aceh Atrocities

For over a decade landowners and villagers from countries including Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Nigeria have been attempting to seek redress using the US Alien Tort Statute for atrocities committed by mining companies. Last year after a number of unfavourable decisions it appeared that the courts in the US were going to employ a restrictive reading of the statute. However, the below decision from the D.C. Court of Appeal gives renewed hoped to litigants.

Currently, Bougainvilleans litigants are seeking redress in the US under this statute for Rio Tinto’s direct involvement in the war crimes committed by the government during the Bougainville war. Exxon Mobil stand accused of aiding and abetting the Indonesian government in a similar vein.

If the Alien Tort Statute is held to extend to cases such as these by the Supreme Court (which is the lilekly next venue), this will be an important victory for mining communities globally for four principle reasons:

1)      It will allow them to seek redress for corporate crimes committed against them.

2)      It will allow them to utilise the sophisticated legal machinery in the United States to promote their claim.

3)      Using this legal machinery, litigants can meticulously expose the illegal practices being used by mining companies.

4)     Companies like ExxonMobil will have to be that little more careful when operating abroad.  

Indonesia torture case vs Exxon Mobil revived

Fri, Jul 8 2011
By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Indonesian villagers who accused Exxon Mobil Corp's security forces of murder, torture and other atrocities have regained their right to sue the giant oil company in the United States.

A federal appeals court said on Friday that companies are not immune from liability under a 1789 U.S. law known as the Alien Tort Statute for "heinous conduct" allegedly committed by its agents in violation of human rights norms.

The 15 villagers contended in their lawsuit that family members were killed and that others were "beaten, burned, shocked with cattle prods, kicked, and subjected to other forms of brutality and cruelty" amounting to torture in Indonesia's Aceh province between 1999 and 2001, a period of civil unrest.

A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said Exxon Mobil should be forced to defend against such charges.

Given that laws in civilized nations hold corporations responsible for lesser wrongs, "it would create a bizarre anomaly to immunize corporations from liability for the conduct of their agents in lawsuits brought for shockingly egregious violations of universally recognized principles of international law," Judge Judith Rogers wrote for a 2-1 majority.

Friday's decision reversed part of a ruling by the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

It is also at odds with a landmark ruling last September by the federal appeals court in New York, raising the prospect that the U.S. Supreme Court could try to resolve the dispute.

"The ruling basically says that corporations are not above the law," said Jennifer Green, a University of Minnesota law professor and director of that school's human rights litigation clinic, who submitted a brief on the plaintiffs' behalf. "When corporations have knowledge that they are aiding and abetting human rights abuses, they can be held liable in a U.S. court."

Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, said it is reviewing Friday's decision, calling the plaintiffs' claims "baseless." Indonesia's government has also opposed the lawsuit.

"Not above the Law"

The villagers sought to hold Exxon Mobil responsible for having retained soldiers from Indonesia's military as guards for a natural gas facility in Aceh, despite knowing of past human rights abuses by Indonesia's army and that the contract would lead to human rights violations against Aceh villagers.

In its ruling, the D.C. Circuit also upheld the district court dismissal of claims under a different law, the Torture Victim Protection Act.

It returned the case to that court, where a jury could decide liability and any compensatory or punitive damages.

"We have fought these baseless claims for many years," Exxon Mobil spokesman Patrick McGinn said in a statement.

"While conducting its business in Indonesia, ExxonMobil has worked for generations to improve the quality of life in Aceh through employment of local workers, provision of health services and extensive community investment. The company strongly condemns human rights violations in any form."

Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the decision makes clear that corporations would be "as liable as anyone else" for violating international human rights norms.


Friday's decision puts the D.C. Circuit in agreement with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

It also put both courts at odds with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said companies are not liable in U.S. courts for violating international human rights law.

That case was brought against Royal Dutch Shell Plc by the families of seven Nigerians executed by a former military government. They accused Shell of helping Nigerian authorities violently suppress protests against its oil exploration and development in the 1990s. [ID:nN04244684]

The 2nd Circuit decision applies in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh dissented from Friday's decision, saying it would be "quite odd" for a U.S. court to allow Alien Tort Statute claims against a corporation based on customary international law, when no international tribunals would.

He also said the ruling could harm U.S.-Indonesian relations, and perhaps damage the war on terrorism.

Kavanaugh was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. Rogers and Judge David Tatel, who comprised the majority, were appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Exxon shares closed up 6 cents at $82.42 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The case is John Doe VIII et al v. Exxon Mobil Corp et al, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 09-7125.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston and James Vicini in Washington, D.C.; editing by Tim DobbynAndre Grenon and Matthew Lewis)

Hela Leaders Demand Recognition

Post-Courier, 11 July 2011. 

HELA leaders are adamant that the PNG Boundaries Commission visit and confirm the electoral boundaries of the new province.
The leaders made the call last Friday in Port Moresby, warning that Government failure to ensure the marking of boundaries before the 2012 national elections, would deny the Hela people representation in the new Parliament.
Leader Larry Andagali warned that the Hela region was restive as the people want their own elected Governor and MPs in 2012 elections.
He warned that a failure to attend to their needs would have serious implications on the multi billion kina LNG project.
Hela is one of two new provinces. The other is Jiwaka in neighbouring Western Highlands Province where current North Waghi MP Benjamin Mul is locked in a battle with former premier Philip Kapal over the chairmanship of the transitional authority.
The EBC is expected to visit Hela at the end of this month and the Hela leaders say their people are anxious because the elections are only 11 months away.
"The Hela people want their own governor and own MPs," Mr Andagali said. "The government must weigh up the risks, let the elections go ahead without Hela and face the consequences. If the whole of Hela people say shut down the LNG, we the leaders are powerless."
Hela is the heart of the oil and gas extraction in the Southern Highlands and Mr Andagali feared that government ineptness would result in the closing down of Porgera gold mine, Moran gas fields and the massive LNG project.
Mr Andagali said they are hoping to meet with PNG Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen and Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru to iron out these issues this week. The press conference was attended by vocal leaders from the Hides PDL 1, PDL 7, PDL 8 and PDL 9, HIDES 4 and 1, Angore, Kutubu and Moran PDL 5 and 6.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Exxon Spill Shines Light on the Dangers of Pipelines

An article by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin from today's Washington Post

For 20 years, Exxon Mobil's 12-inch Silvertip pipeline lay buried beneath the waters and muddy bottom of the Yellowstone River in Montana, and Friday it was feeding 39 barrels a minute to small refineries in the Billings area.  Then at 10:41 p.m., the pressure in the pipeline dropped - the sign of a leak.          
Six minutes later, at the Exxon Mobil control room in Houston, workers used remote devices to shut down the pipeline's pumps, reducing the flow. A valve near the refinery was closed, reopened, then closed again. Finally, 55 minutes after the pressure drop, the crucial valve on the other side of the river was closed.
Exxon Mobil estimates that in the interim as many as 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the fast-flowing Yellowstone River, which is swollen with melted runoff from heavy winter snowfalls. The river, surging over its banks, snakes its way through Montana into North Dakota and empties into the Missouri River.
Suddenly, images familiar from last summer's much bigger Gulf of Mexico spill are back: Workers mopping up oil with absorbent pads and laying plastic booms near shorelines. Soiled grasses and breeding grounds. Apologies from a big oil company. And an angry governor.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), who has a master's degree in soil science, vowed to "stay on this like smell on a skunk until it's cleaned up." He added: "Exxon Mobil? They're going to pay for it. I promise you this right now. Yellowstone is cleaned up when the state of Montana says it's cleaned up, not some bureaucrat from Washington or the state of Texas."         
If Exxon's estimate is correct, this spill would be just a fraction of 1 percent of the size of BP's spill in the gulf last year. But the company said it had already spread nearly 20 miles, and others said it stretched twice that far. Schweitzer said flooding had carried the oil into eddies and wetlands that he called "the health and wealth of a river."
Moreover, the spill raises questions far beyond the banks of the Yellowstone River: How can the nation's 2.3 million miles of aging gas and hazardous-liquid pipelines be safely maintained? Exxon Mobil's pipeline subsidiary alone has 8,000 miles of lines. Was there sufficient regulatory oversight? And how can a big company make sure that decisions in far-flung corners of its bureaucracy don't end up causing a disaster?
Agency's investigation         
In the wake of the BP spill last year, Exxon Mobil executives said the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker accident off the coast of Alaska taught them to control risks. Yet environmental groups said Exxon had failed to take measures that might have prevented the Yellowstone River spill.
The Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it is looking into Exxon's handling of the pipeline shutdown as well as its maintenance of the line's other river crossings.
This past fall, officials from PHMSA had met with residents from the nearby town of Laurel because people there were worried that flooding from heavy snowmelt could erode the soil above the pipeline and expose it to damage from debris.
In May, Exxon Mobil shut the pipeline for a day and reviewed data collected last year - including soundings from September and December that it said showed five to eight feet of riverbed above the line, said company spokesman Alan T. Jeffers. He said the company was responding to Laurel's concerns but concluded that the line was safe. PHMSA, however, said Exxon reported 12 feet of cover.
"I was not aware of that shutdown," said Chris Hoidal, PHMSA's western regional director for pipeline safety. The company was not required by law to close the line in May. "What led them to shut that down, that is a focus of our investigation," Hoidal said.
Jeffers also said the company ran an inspection device, known in the industry as a "pig," through the line in 2009, complying with regulations.
The unfolding spill in Montana could complicate the State Department's decision about whether to approve the 2,000-mile TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, stretching from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf Coast. Foes of the project - environmentalists, ranchers, farmers and residents along the proposed route - point to other recent pipeline spills, including a nearly million-gallon spill on the Kalamazoo River last year and several smaller accidents in the United States and Canada.
"The Yellowstone spill makes it clear, yet again, that we have to have a better assessment of pipeline safety in the U.S. before we move ahead with the mother of pipelines in the Keystone XL pipeline," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, who directs the international program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She said an existing Keystone pipeline has had 12 spills in its first year of operation.
TransCanada spokesman James Millar said that the spills - which ranged from five to 16,800 gallons - came from ground pump stations, not underground lines, and that each was contained within TransCanada's property.
Spill cleanup
At the Yellowstone River, the president of Exxon Mobil's pipeline unit, Gary Pruessing, said the company had received complaints of oil deposits from 36 landowners. He said Exxon had brought in 70,000 feet of boom and 3,000 absorbent pads, each 2 by 3 feet. Half the pads had been applied, he said. He said there was no new technology involved, "just hard work."
Jim Martin, the Environmental Protection Agency's regional administrator, said the EPA was coordinating a team of 440 people seeking "oil and oily waste." Martin said flooding made some areas impenetrable, making it hard to determine whether there is contamination south of Billings.
"There's a tremendous amount of water moving at a very high velocity," Martin said in a phone interview. "There are some places we can't get to." He added, "We are going to be here for quite a while."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Exxon Mobil to Pay $1.6 Billion for Contaminating Water Supply

TOWSON, Md. (AP) — Exxon Mobil Corp. has been ordered to pay more than $1.5 billion in damages to 160 families and businesses affected by a 2006 gasoline leak in Maryland.
Jurors awarded more than $1 billion in punitive damages on Thursday, after earlier awarding $495 million in compensatory damages. The ruling in Baltimore County Circuit Court follows a $150 million award in 2009 involving about 90 households, which Exxon is appealing. The Irving, Texas-based oil company said the facts do not support the latest ruling and that it will appeal it as well.
The 2006 leak occurred in Jacksonville, a small, affluent community about 20 miles north of Baltimore. An underground pipe burst beneath an Exxon gas station, allowing more 26,000 gallons of gasoline to escape. Many residents get their water from wells and the spill led the state to order well monitoring in the area to judge contamination. The plaintiffs had claimed lost property values as well as emotional stress.
"As we've stated throughout the last five years, we sincerely regret this unfortunate accident. We apologize to the Jacksonville community and have devoted significant resources to clean-up, recovery and remediation activities," Exxon said in a statement. "As soon as the leak was discovered, we immediately took responsibility and, sparing no expense, began cleanup activities working under the Maryland Department of Environment's oversight and direction."
Exxon Mobil asked the Maryland Department of the Environment in January 2010 for approval to stop monitoring some of the 248 private wells near the Jacksonville station. MDE agreed to the oil company's request to stop monitoring 130 of the wells. Exxon Mobil also stopped delivering bottled water to those homes.

Exxon's Attempts to Downplay Yellowstone Spill Exposed

Associated Press Report by Matthew Brown 6/7/11

Federal documents show it took Exxon Mobil nearly twice as long as it publicly disclosed to fully seal a pipeline that spilled roughly 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.
Details about the company's response to the Montana pipeline burst emerged late Tuesday as the Department of Transportation ordered the company bury the duct deeper beneath the riverbed, where it is buried 5 to 8 feet underground to deliver 40,000 barrels of oil a day to a refinery in Billings.
The federal agency's records indicate the pipeline was not fully shut down for 56 minutes after the break occurred Friday near Laurel. That's longer than the 30 minutes that company officials claimed Tuesday in a briefing with federal officials and Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the longer time span was based on information provided to the agency by the company and the discrepancy might have come about because Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing was speaking without any notes in front of him when he addressed Schweitzer.
"Clearly our communication with the regulator (DOT) is the one that we've got precision on," spokesman Alan Jeffers said.
It was not the first time the company offered clarification of its response and assessment of the spill. A day earlier, the company acknowledged under political pressure that the leak's impact could extend far beyond a 10-mile stretch of the river it initially said was the most affected area. The company had earlier downplayed government officials' assertions that damage was spread over dozens of miles.
The governor toured the area Tuesday as the waterway rose above flood stage and stoked fears that surging currents could push crude into undamaged areas and back channels vital to the river's prized fishery. Conditions have hampered efforts to find the cause of the break.
The river has been flowing too swiftly for crews to reach some oiled areas, and forecasters said mountain snowmelt was adding to high water levels. Officials speculated that the surge may push oil into areas that haven't yet been damaged.
Most observations have been made through aerial flights.
A few miles downriver from the broken pipe, homeowner Robert Castleberry said he had been out of his house since Saturday because of dangerous fumes from oil that the river pushed across his yard and into the crawlspace beneath his house.
Castleberry's wife suffers from heart disease and the fumes gave her difficulty breathing, he said. While he appreciated the company promising to cover the couple's immediate expenses, the retired fuel truck driver was doubtful workers would be able to clean up the black, gooey film that laced through the underbrush along the river.
"Exxon's been nothing but 100 percent with us," he said. "But when you get into brush that thick, that's going to be virtually impossible to clean."
Company and federal officials said they have only seen oil about 25 miles downstream from the site of the break near Laurel. But Schweitzer said he believes some has traveled hundreds of miles to North Dakota.
"At seven miles per hour, some oil is already in North Dakota. That's a given," Schweitzer said. "I'm asking everyone to get out there and report what you see on the river."
Representatives of Exxon Mobil and the Environmental Protection Agency said they had no reports of oil beyond the town of Huntley.
Transportation officials said Tuesday that oil was observed as far downstream as 240 miles in Terry, Mont. The agency said that information was provided by Exxon Mobil, but company spokesman Alan Jeffers said he was not aware of any such sighting.
Exxon planned to test the river's conditions with a jet boat, with eight more on standby if the launch is successful, Glass said.
Federal regulators have ordered Exxon to make safety improvements to the 20-year-old pipeline. Among them was an order to re-bury the line to protect against external damage and assess risk where it crosses a waterway, which the company intended to comply with, Jeffers said.
"We will follow their requirements," he said.
The company also will have to submit a restart plan to the Department of Transportation before crude can again flow through the line.
Schweitzer also ordered a review of pipelines that cross major and minor rivers in the state. Officials will look at the pipes' age, location of shut-off valves and whether they are similar to the ruptured pipe. He said the state has 88 such crossings.
Modern pipelines can be buried as much as 25 feet beneath bodies of water; Exxon Mobil's Silvertip line was 5 to 8 feet below the bottom of the Yellowstone.
The line was temporarily shut down in May after Laurel officials raised concerns that it could be at risk as the Yellowstone started to rise. The company restarted the line after a day, following a review of its safety record.
Schweitzer said he noticed that oil was pooling in areas near banks with slower-moving water, close to islands and cottonwood stands that support the microbes and insects that bring life to the river.
"Those riparian areas are a biological treasure trove. That's the health and wealth of the river," he said.

Monday, 4 July 2011

State Corruption and Exxon: Where does the buck stop?

From today’s (4/7/11) Post Courier. It raises the question, Exxon Mobil might not be writing cheques out to senior Ministers, but if it reasonably knows that the revenues it pays to government will be misappropriated, does this create complicity?  
Report: K1.2 billion missing, MPs named

Certain Ministers and senior bureaucrats have been named in a report that forms part of the Department of National Planning and Monitoring Secretary, Joseph Lelang’s affidavit now before the National Court.

The copy of the affidavit obtained by Post-Courier highlights that about 90 per cent or K1.2 billion of the total of K2.1 billion direct PNG Government funding for its development budget has allegedly gone missing in the three months when Mr Lelang was out on suspension. Philemon Was Korowi, from Philemon Korowi Lawyers who is representing Mr Lelang in court, confirmed that the national fraud squad will provide its own report to the court.

In the report, the total 2011 development budget stands at K4.2 billion of which K2.1 billion is direct funding from the National Government while the balance comprises foreign aid monies with almost 75 per cent of these coming from AusAID.

The report, which highlights alleged massive corruption within the department, states that K1.9 billion was the total warrant authorities which was issued by the Department of Treasury of which K735 million in project monies are placed under trust accounts held by the Department of Finance.

The report states that the Department of Finance will be responsible for funding development projects directly and that the remainder of K1.2 billion was released to projects by DNPM over the three months from March – May, 2011. There has been abuse of project screening and planning processes and that officers of the DNPM had been directed and pressured to make sure that they manipulated the appraisals of projects to pass the screening criteria so that they are eligible for funding, the report states.

The report highlights that the investigation established that certain payments were made to companies which were allegedly linked to senior officers at the Department of National Planning. Further checks with the bank records as to the signatories to these company accounts show actual names of the department officers and bank transactions of payments to certain individuals and politicians, the report states.

Somare, Pruaitch out
TWO senior ministers facing leadership tribunals were suspended from office last Friday by operation of a Supreme Court ruling that leaders referred to a tribunal must step down from office with immediate effect.

Public Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare and Finance and Treasury Minister Patrick Pruaitch, both facing separate leadership tribunals over misconduct charges, were automatically suspended from office by a three-member Supreme Court bench. 

The leadership tribunal investigating Mr Somare’s alleged misconduct in office charges starts today while Mr Pruaitch’s case is pending before a National Court.

The Supreme Court also ruled that any move to take out court injunctions against leadership tribunal proceedings are viewed as abuse of process and should be declined without exception. 

And if the Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Fidelis Semoso, is also referred to a Leadership Tribunal by the Public Prosecutor, he will also be suspended from office.

The Supreme Court decision last Friday clarified that the Constitution was specific that all public office holders except for the Prime Minister and a few others, are automatically suspended from office when they are referred to a leadership tribunal. 

The Ombudsman Commission and the Public Prosecutor’s Office are expected to write to the two MPs to inform them of the judgement today and its effect.

Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika, Justice Nicholas Kirriwom and Justice Ambeng Kandakasi clarified the operations of the law on the suspension of leaders facing misconduct charges when dismissing the constitutional reference filed by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare on the powers of the Ombudsman Commission to investigate and refer leaders in April this year.

In its deliberations, the Supreme Court reviewed two earlier decisions it made in the Patrick Pruaitch case, in which in the earlier decision, the same court suspended Pruaitch but this was overturned in the second judgement when the same matter returned to the same court.

“In developed democracies, people who hold public office, who become the subject of allegations and investigations for any misconduct in office, readily either resign or step aside to allow for the investigations and the due process of the law to take its course. They do this out of respect for themselves, the integrity of the office they hold and respect for the due process of law,” the Supreme Court ruled.

The court ruled that the tradition of voluntary stepping down in the light of allegations and accusations of misconduct in office or criminal conduct of a public office holder became part of PNG’s democracy and tradition. 

It cited two cases involving sitting MPs stepping aside, the first being Opai Kunangel and then Sir Julius Chan.

“It is becoming a norm for most leaders in PNG who are subject of allegations and investigations for misconduct in office or criminal offences to continue to occupy their offices and are readily applying for injunctive orders,” the court ruled. 

“Some of them are interfering into the proper conduct of investigations. Others are doing everything they possibly can to remain in office, continue to function and in most instances are either committing more misconduct in office from tampering with evidence, interfering with witnesses, swindling of funds or abusing their powers knowing that they may not last long in those offices.”

The court touched on the first case involving Pruaitch and reaffirmed what the first judgment highlighted about duly appointed tribunals being left frustrated and unable to perform.

“This will make a mockery of the Leadership Code, particularly the work of the Ombudsman Commission in enforcing the Leadership Code. The inquiries will continue to be stalled and the leaders whose integrities are already called into question will continue to discharge leadership responsibilities,” the court ruled.

The three-man bench upheld the ruling in the first Pruaitch case that a leader who is referred to a leadership tribunal is automatically suspended from office if the leader had not already stood down voluntary. The court stated that the decision in the second Pruaitch case did not refer to any authorities in the way the decision in Pruaitch case No. 1 did and arrived at the view that, the question of suspension does not arise until the charges and statement of reasons are presented to the leadership tribunal. 

It observed that Pruaitch case No. 2 did not refer, discuss and demonstrate how various authorities and provisions of the Constitution and the Organic Law on the Duties and Responsibilities of Leaders Decision No. 1 referred to and relied upon, were wrong and therefore no good law for them to follow.

The court also ruled that Pruaitch case No. 2 failed to note that the Constitution provides for automatic suspension of leaders that were subject of investigations and referred to a leadership tribunal except for the Prime Minister and others covered under specific provisions, given the importance of the office they held.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Exxon Spill Damages Iconic Yellowstone River

Teams of federal and state workers have fanned out along Montana's Yellowstone River to gauge the environmental damage from a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline that spewed crude into the famous waterway.
An Environmental Protection Agency representative said on Sunday only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of gallons of spilled oil is likely to be recovered.
Agency on-scene coordinator Steve Way said fast flows along the flooding river are spreading the oil, making it harder to capture, but that also could reduce damage to wildlife and cropland along the river.
A 40-km slick of oil had reached as far west as Hysham on Saturday night. An estimated 1000 barrels spilled on Saturday before the flow was stopped.
Yellowstone County disaster coordinator Duane Winslow says dozens more ExxonMobil clean-up workers began to arrive in Montana on Sunday morning.
The break near Billings in south-central Montana fouled the riverbank and forced municipalities on Saturday to close intakes.
The river has no dams on its way to its confluence with the Missouri River just across the Montana border in North Dakota.
Winslow said the plume was dissipating as it moved downstream. "We're just kind of waiting for it to move on down while Exxon is trying to figure out how to corral this monster," he said.
"The timing couldn't be worse," said Steve Knecht, chief of operations for Montana Disaster and Emergency Services. He said the plume was measured at 40km near Pompeys Pillar National Monument.
"With the Yellowstone running at flood stage and all the debris, it makes it dang tough to get out there to do anything."
Brent Peters, the fire chief for the city of Laurel, about 20km west of Billings, said the rupture in the 30.5-cm diameter pipe occurred late on Friday about 1.6km south of Laurel.
About 140 people in the Laurel area were evacuated early on Saturday on concerns about possible explosions and overpowering fumes. They were allowed to return about 4am after fumes had decreased.
Winslow said hundreds of residents downstream were told to evacuate in the early morning hours.
ExxonMobil said it was sending a team to help with clean-up, and that state and federal authorities had been alerted to the spill. The ExxonMobil Pipeline Company "deeply regrets this release", it said.
Crews were putting out absorbent material along stretches of the river in Billings and near Laurel, but there were no attempts at capturing oil farther out in the river. In some areas oil flowed underneath booms and continued downstream.
The smell of oil permeated the air for kilometres downstream and through the city of Billings.
"Right now, the Yellowstone River is at flood stage," Peters said. "The bank isn't stable enough for anybody to get close."
The cause of the rupture in the pipe carrying crude oil from Belfry, Montana, to the company's refinery in Billings wasn't known. Peters and Malek said speculation involved high water that might have gouged out the riverbed and exposed the pipe, which was possibly hit by debris.
"I haven't seen it this high for at least 15 years," Peters said.
Jeb Montgomery of ExxonMobil said the pipe was buried 1.8m below the riverbed.
Laurel, which has about 6500 residents, is known for a huge Fourth of July fireworks display put on by the fire department. Peters said the town can swell to as many as 50,000 people for the event.
He said the fire department plans to hold the event on Monday