While the facts surrounding the tragic Hides landslide remain sketchy, prima facie evidence is being produced which indicates this was not purely a natural disaster. While it is important at this stage that people remain focused on the rescue efforts, serious attention must be given to the cause of this disaster. LNG Watch, therefore, fully supports James Marape's (Hela Transitional Authority Chairman) call for an independent investigation into the landslide.
While the geophysics of the area may have made the landslide an inherent risk, the critical question is - did the work of ExxonMobil (or its subsidaries) increase the risk of the landslide? If so, why did the company fail to identify this risk, and put in place the proper safety measures? Moreover, the investigation must also focus on the state. It has a regulatory duty to the citizens of PNG to ensure industry conducts itself in a safe and competent manner.
We know from recent events in Madang involving the Ramu mine, that the national government prefers to see itself as a business partner, not a regulator. Has this attitude helped create the environment in which unsafe industrial practices can proliferate, leading to events such as the recent landslide?
Of course, we must be clear, LNG Watch is not accusing ExxonMobil of criminal conduct; however, fundamental questions need to be answered. The only way they can be answered to a standard that will give peace to the relatives of victims, is if an independent inquiry takes place. Moreover, this independent inquiry needs to include a broad range of experts from a variety of fields if it is to be robust. We hope the O'Neil government has the courage to break with the past business-partner model, so that this event can be scrutinised properly.