"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

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Carve-Up of PNG: Western Province is Next

It would appear official, PNG is for sale and investors are excited. Writing in the Wall Street Journal David Winning claims: “Papua New Guinea has been transformed into a playground for the energy industry’s big beasts seeking gas reserves that can be developed and shipped to Asia’s booming economies”. Now the ‘big beasts’ have set their sites on Western Province, which contains a major gas reserve which Talisman Energy hopes to tap.
To date Talisman state they have acquired interests in 12 licences covering an area of more than 15 million acres. The company’s Vice President Dave Nolan claims: “The government and  communities within our licence  areas are keen on development.  We are working with all stakeholders to ensure social and environmental impacts are assessed and addressed”.
Of course, communities in Western Province are keen on development (especially the glossy version sold by eager mining companies), after all this is one of the ‘poorest’ and most remote regions in PNG. To this end, investments from foreign capital may be welcomed by some landowners. However, given the Exxonmobil LNG project experience, where even by the national government’s own admission* the memorandum of agreement with landowners was rushed, we hypothesise that villagers will not be empowered to make well-informed choices.
Indeed, this is part of the charm perhaps. With a government who acts as an investment partner, and not a regulator, landowners are left in the position where they have to try and negotiate with both state and capital. Given the complex legal and economic calculations this involves, a well resourced country would find this difficult, let alone village people who have poor access to education, information-technology or for that matter roads. As a result, they may sign, but this does not equal consent, something which Exxonmobil are discovering, much to the horror of their senior management, who are attempting to keep landowner resistance quite.
Now that the sharks are circling Western Province, this is clearly an issue to watch in 2012!

*It was stated in January 2011 by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Sam Abal: "Mipela government i tok sori long rasim PNG LNG agreement mipela i sainim (we, in government, are sorry for the rushed PNG LNG agreement that was signed)".

Appendix - General Information on Western Province

Source: National Research Institute (2010)

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