Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, in a statement to parliament on August 8, announced that the Government of Papua New Guinea will transfer 17.4 per cent Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) shares to landowners and the people of Bougainville.
The Prime Minister says with this transfer, the people of Bougainville will own a combined shareholding of 53.8 per cent of BCL.
O’Neill says that by transferring these shares to the people, this further strengthens confidence of Bougainvilleans in the peace process.
“After many months of discussion, Rio Tinto has decided that they will gift its shares to the people of Bougainville and the people of Papua New Guinea. That is the best outcome that we could gain. This Government has shown a greater commitment to Bougainville that any other Government. I want to tell the people of Bougainville that this position has not changed, and the Government will continue to work with the ABG, and the people of Bougainville, to achieve the best outcomes for them. This includes the continued roll-out of services,” the PM said.
O’Neill said that the national government will continue work with the Autonomous Bougainville Government in improving basic services and other infrastructure.
“Build more roads and other infrastructure and to work day and night with our friends in the ABG to advance the peace process. The people of Bougainville have been through too much pain over the past thirty years, and should not face further frustration and confusion because of politics.
“So today, I wish to make an announcement that should put to rest the rumours and misleading information. This is an historical announcement that will affect every man, woman and child in Bougainville,” he added.
O’Neill said Rio Tinto decided to transfer, of its own accord, its 53.8 per cent controlling interest in BCL to ABG and the state. Rio Tinto has transferred 17.4 per cent to the national government, and the remaining 36.4 per cent to the ABG without costs. These shares have now been transferred to the government of Papua New Guinea, to our trustee under the Kumul Mineral Holdings Limited. This was aimed by Rio Tinto to give an equal shareholding between the national government and the ABG.
“The national government already has a 19 per cent direct interest in BCL, so with the 17.4 per cent it was intended to take this to 36.4 per cent, and the transfer of 36.4 per cent direct to ABG was meant to balance the ownership of that mine so that we can continue to work together.
“The national government wants to ensure that we make the right decision for the people of Bougainville. We are aware of the pain and torment that the people of Bougainville have gone through, and the importance of land. They felt very strongly that they were disempowered and they did not have participation in the mine itself. Our government is concerned about the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the people of Bougainville.
“This government and this house knows that this is the right thing to do. This will ensure that for the first time in history of BCL, the landowners will be given a direct say and direct participation in the operation of the BCL mine. This will help to alleviate some of legacy issues of the past.
“This ownership will also give landowners and the people direct control over environmental issues of any future mine development that will take place. By transferring these BCL shares to the people we are further strengthening the confidence of Bougainvilleans in the peace process. We are serious about empowering communities on Bougainville, and we will continue to discuss how they want these shares transferred to them. These funds must be utilised according to the wishes of the people of Bougainville for their community benefit,” the PM stated.
Meanwhile, ABG President, Chief John Momis, speaking exclusively to EMTV News said that the Autonomous Bougainville Government has made a bold decision for Rio Tinto to hand over the 53.8 per cent shares.
Offloading shares to the national government, Momis says, was unjust because this would make them equal shareholders.
“People of Bougainville were the first once to tell them in 1968, that this law was unjust, unethical, immoral.
“Even though it’s legal, this gives them no excuse to leave without addressing the mine legacy issues,” he said.
Bougainville has its own mining law that gives power to resource owners as legitimate.
Momis says every issue concerning the Panguna Mine and Bougainville Copper Limited shares must be discussed in a win-win deal because they were deeply sensitive and could endanger peace.
“If the national government, doesn’t accept our proposal, then it could become a lose-lose deal. Because we then could invoke, the provision in the Bougainville Mining Law, to stop Bougainville Copper to operate in Bougainville,” Momis said.
Momis says mining share deals should not be conspired by, as all must abide by the spirit of the mining law.