"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

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Uniting World says PNG LNG project fuelling community tensions

Radio Australia, 30 May 2012

The release of the report "The Community Good" by the charity organisation Uniting World in Canberra Tuesday, has drawn a lot of comment.

The report claims that, although the PNG LNG project has boosted the local economy through employment, it is fuelling community tensions because of inadequate awareness-raising about the project.

The Director of Uniting World Dr Kerry Enright explains the significant points raised in the report.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr Kerry Enright, Uniting World director

ENRIGHT: So here is a report which looks at the impact of the PNG LNG Project on the Hela region in particular, one part of where the project is having an impact. And it identifies that there are significant challenges, and there's an opportunity to improve the information flow from the government and the mining companies to the community. So there's a significant communication gap. The second thing it identifies is that this is actually an opportunity to make more for the public good, to make more for community health, community education, community development. So the report really focuses on those two things.

COUTTS: A fairly thorough report of course, positive and challenging, what are some of the challenges?

ENRIGHT: Well the challenges are things like landholder registration and ensuring that there is a better process for people who believe that their landowners to be registered, to be acknowledged, and that is causing quite a lot of conflict. This is a situation where the community is quite remote, where there isn't opportunity as there are in neighbouring communities for economic development to the same degree, but there are still opportunities there. And so the report is saying look this is the time, this is the time we've got until construction ends in 2014 when tens of thousands of people, 11 or 12 or 13-thousand people up there working, when the construction ends then it will reduce back to a much smaller figure. So now is the time and also when the opportunity is there, now is the time to actually make more of the community engagement that has been to date.

COUTTS: And it's about gas production of course in PNG, how does your organisation, the Uniting World fit into that?

ENRIGHT: Well we're the partnerships part of the Uniting Church in Australia, and our partner in Papua New Guinea is the United Church of Papua New Guinea. And in the Hela region it has 50-thousand members. So the project already is having a significant impact on those 50-thousand people. Also in this area the church is by far the largest provider of health care. So one of the opportunities identified in the report is for a significant improvement in the provision of health services and an education as well, the literacy rate is large, it's something like 60 per cent. So the church is also a provider of education. So here is an opportunity for the government and the proceeds of the gas project to come in behind and to facilitate much better provision of resources than have been possible to date.

COUTTS: Well it's a nice thought, we can indulge ourselves in that, but as we've seen in the past that quite often the billions that will come from these projects don't flow down to the community?

ENRIGHT: Indeed, extractive industries aren't always pro-poor and you've identified a dynamic. But Esso Highlands Limited, which is the company that's at the centre of all this and Papua New Guinea appears to show a willingness to engage on these issues. They were part of the conference that we held yesterday looking at the report and identifying what the next steps might be as a result of it. And the report itself shows that they are, at least to some extent it appears people of goodwill and that's how we want to regard them. We don't see them as just attempting to make the most of their opportunity from a commercial perspective. But of course it's our responsibility also to help them work out how they can make the most of the community engagement, and there's the churches particularly need to step up to the mark.

COUTTS: Well if the Uniting World or Uniting Church is already providing much of the healthcare, why should the government step in and cough up more money?

ENRIGHT: Because it is inadequate, it's the government's responsibility to provide services. Sure they're doing it through the churches and that's true right across Papua New Guinea, not just in this region. But it is the government who will be taking a lot of the benefit from this in terms of monetary, in terms of tax and that kind of thing. So they need to be able to channel that money back into the community, and that's what we're asking them to do.

COUTTS: There's also been reports that there's fear that there could be tension, if not violence in these areas where the mining is taking place because the landowners feel aggrieved because they weren't consulted enough, and others feel that they haven't got their share of the big whack of money that's coming forward. Do you see that as a potential problem?

ENRIGHT: Well indeed I mean it already is an issue. The company is employing its own police, I think 300 something like that, so conflict is already a major challenge in the area, and this is already exacerbating that, and potentially could get much worse because the division between those who will benefit more immediately from the royalties and that kind of thing because they're landowners, and those who will not benefit in the same direct way, that gap between the have and have nots we know with extractive industries becomes a major dynamic in a community. One of the points made yesterday in the conference that was held in Canberra was that there is an organisation that we support and in fact formed, called Young Ambassadors for Peace, and that is having a signficant impact in this area in trying to help bring conflict resolution processes and conflict management in a different way than traditionally has been the case where people have been very violent and there's been a lot of destruction. And this of course greatly to the benefit of the company itself. I mean a high level of conflict will simply jeopardise the project and potentially jeopardise it to the point that it wouldn't be able to proceed in anywhere near the way it is at the moment.

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