In a speech that would have made former Minister of Territories, Charles Barnes blush, Project Manager for the PNG LNG project, Decie Autin, has demonstrated that neo-colonialism is alive and well (as if we didn’t know).
Presenting at a Chamber of Mines and Petroleum seminar (one organisational centre for the natural resource swindle) in early December 2011, Autin made predictable remarks about Exxon’s corporate social responsibility (we still await for the Post-Courier to transcribe these remarks as a ‘news report’) – however, punctuating her speech were a series of patronising comments and implicit threats (clothed of course in business euphemisms).
She begins with the observation:
Gas projects are very capital intensive. Unlike most mining Projects we have to build vast infrastructure up front at great costs in the expectation that we will see a return on the investment over the life of the Project. So in order to attract the huge capital investment required, and to gain the gas customers’ confidence, we have to convince them that we can do this … and we can do it on schedule, while delivering on our commitments in the areas of safety, health, environment and social management ... Reputation is everything in this business.
Autin then identifies a series of threats to the LNG operation, that she suggests could potentially undo the project’s reputation. At one stage PNG’s culture enters Autin's crosshair. She claims, “Papua New Guinea’s unique geographical, social and cultural characteristics have always presented issues and challenges for any business operating in the country”.
To flip the argument, would Americans appreciate it if a Papua New Guinean claimed that “the United States’ unique geopgraphical, social and cultural characteristics have always presented issues and challenges for any business operating in the country”. What exactly is it about Papua New Guinea’s culture and society that is so ‘challenging’? That Papua New Guineans stand up for their rights? That Papua New Guineans value their land? That Papua New Guineans protect their environment for future generations?
Austin’s speech continues:
I have been disappointed to see issues, almost completely unrelated to the Project itself, flaring up and disrupting our progress. For example, we have seen an increase in security incidents along the Highlands Highway, that is affecting our ability to transport equipment and supplies via road. Damage to bridges and infrastructure is [also] a serious issue.
Note the almost! Please Ms Autin clearly distinguish between common criminality and legitimate direction action by landowners. There is a rather large difference between landowners blockading an airstrip due to concerns over corrupt and inadequate corporate practices, and hold-ups on the Highlands Highway. Nevertheless, we suspect this is part of Exxon’s strategy, treat all forms of protest as criminal actions and demand landowners be arrested.
However, Autin is confident that these problems can be resolved by Exxon’s partner, the PNG government:
I would like to thank the Gov’t of Papua New Guinea for all of their support. You have been an instrumental partner on so many fronts, and play such a critical role in the success of the Project. We look forward to continuing to work with you as we bring this Project online.
And herein lies the problem, with corporate predators circling PNG’s national wealth, how on earth are the people to protect their rights when the regulator (the national government) is a partner and financial beneficiary of these operations.
Nevertheless, we thank Autin for finishing her speech in a language Papua New Guineans can understand (sarcasm emphasised) – clearly she has read her Lonely Planet guide to PNG: “As I have already pointed out, this is like the ‘Rugby World Cup’ of Projects – and as a team we are only as good as our weakest player so we must ensure we are all on our game, aligned and pushing forward to reach our goal”.
There is no need to use patronising sporting metaphors Ms Autin, Papua New Guineans are quite capable of understanding your arguments, and they know exactly what you are saying and to whom. Shall we summarise, “keep the locals in line, or LNG's investors will be mighty upset”! Simple.