"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!

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