Rio to lose control over Panguna copper lease

A new bill passed by the Bougainville parliament has completed the drawdown of mining powers from the PNG national government to the autonomous region.

The Bougainville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Bill 2014 was passed on Friday last week, and heralded as an historic event in a region torn by ten years of civil conflict over the Panguna Copper Mine.

The new bill means Rio Tinto will lose seven exploration licences and their special mining lease for Panguna.

Pollution from the Rio Tinto/Bougainville government-owned mine had widespread effects on people and the local environment, which caused an uprising in 1988 and led to the deaths many people, reported to be anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000.

The new law means that PNG mining law no longer applies to Bougainville, and the agreement which allowed Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper to mine the Panguna open pit is now dissolved.

However, locals are concerned that the transfer of power will give greater power to Bougainville Copper, and risk destabilising the region again.

President John Momis has defended the law, reiterating that it is transitional and that long term legislation is being developed.

Momis said he expects the final bill to be ready by early next year after further community consultation.

“Mining can occur only if it is done in ways that respect our people’s rights, brings as many benefits as possible and does the least amount of damage to our land, environment and culture,” Momis said.

Islands Business said the bill is considered a world-first for the “unprecedented” rights it gives to landowners.

However, concerns have been raised about the ability of the government to approve organisations to represent owners of customary land, or any other people impacted by the mine.

The bill also cancels existing mining leases and reissues exploration leases, with companies to then apply for one or more mining leases.


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