PORT MORESBY (PNG Post-Courier/Pacific Islands Report/Pacific Media Watch): The Papua New Guinea government has come under fire for allegedly negotiating with mining giant Rio Tinto to purchase its 53 percent stake in Bougainville Copper Limited.
But Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has denied the charge and said there were no "secret deals" relating to the future of the defunct Panguna copper mine as ultimately it would be the landowners and Bougainvilleans who would make that decision.
Autonomous Bougainville Government president John Momis has urged the prime minister to reveal any discussions between the government and Rio Tinto on the latter’s shares in BCL.
"Secret dealings of this kind are completely unacceptable to the people of Bougainville and so the ABG," Momis said.
"It would be equally unacceptable to the people of Bougainville for the national government to try to take control of Panguna.
"As I said in my public statement in December: ‘Any attempt by the national government to control mining in Bougainville could cause Bougainvilleans to lose all faith in the BPA (Bougainville Peace Agreement)," he said in a statement.
But O’Neill, in response, expressed disappointment that the president was making the Panguna mine an issue on the eve of the Bougainville presidential election.
"We have had discussions with other shareholders of BCL on a range of issues including the reopening of the mine and disposal of shares by existing shareholders including Rio Tinto," the PM said.
"There are no secret deals and we are disappointed that President Momis is trying to use this issue at the time of the election that is taking place today.
"President Momis has been informed of whatever talks we have with other shareholders of BCL, only because the state is a second biggest shareholder," said the PM.
"My statements in Arawa and Paguna remain very relevant today, that there are no mine opening talks until landowners and the people of Bougainville are ready.
"President Momis should stop blaming the Papua New Guinea government for all that is going wrong in Bougainville and accept some responsibility as he has been in charge for many years now."
Momis said he initially raised his concerns last December and sought clarification with the prime minister responding in a letter in January stating that the National Government had no plans to take control of the mine.
Rio Tinto responded on March 23, saying: "Rio Tinto … was reviewing its options with respect to its stake in Bougainville Copper Limited. This review is continuing."
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.