Released under the GIC Framework
Below is a blog post written by Dr. David Martin regarding ignorance and transparency in the Panguna Mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.
In 1967, under the UN-authorized colonial custodianship of Papua New Guinea by the Australian government, and eight years before independence, the Bougainville Copper Agreement was executed, granting occupiers the control of one of the world’s largest copper (and other mineral) assets.
This agreement, forced into the “peaceful” independence agreement in 1975, granted a company (now Bougainville Copper Ltd – majority owned by Rio Tinto) rights to 42 years of mining with compulsory 21 year renewals irrespective of any law or Act of the government. This provision, in a letter to then Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, was invoked by BCL Chairman Peter Taylor demanding that the Company enjoy renewal of its mining license prior to its expiration at the end of 2011. Peter was simply reminding Sir Michael Somare of the agreement he had signed with R.W. Ballmer of BCL in 1967.
In the late 1980s, a landowner conflict erupted into a war in which the Company was forced to cease its operations and over 20,000 people were abducted, tortured and killed.
To listen to the international media regarding Bougainville since the conflict in 1989 is to see images of fierce armed fighters, destroyed infrastructure, and destitute living conditions. To hear BCL speak of the mine and the project is to hear about the need to pacify people for which they’ve exhibited nothing but contempt for 45 years. The vitriolic propaganda spewing from remote shareholders is only outdone by opportunistic bureaucrats seeking to use their public office to pander to would-be operators who would love to rip new holes in the fabric of the land and its people with just another destructive operation.
This week, the story has changed: during the consummation of a six week global financial and corporate literacy program that our team at M-CAM helped develop and deploy, we spent time in Panguna and Arawa to meet the people that have been the object of Australian, UN, and global contempt for decades.
Teaching them about the unconscionable acts that formed the BCA prior to independence and the intolerable supra-national rights granted to a company by a custodial administrator acting under the authority of the UN, we saw hundreds of people realize that those who they were told were “development partners” had in fact been complicit in grave injustices.
Showing them a corporate structure (like many in Papuan New Guinea and around the world), where equity, financing, leasing, taxation, and self-dealing arrangements aid in the misappropriation of assets to the detriment of the people, awakened a level of passion unseen since the beginning of this stain on humanity’s record.
And, much to the surprise of the common narrative promoted by remote privateers, the people did not resort to violence. Rather, they sought more information. Abusers maintain their power by the persistence of ignorance, not by transparency and full exchange of facts.
Chris Uma, the General of the Mekamui Defense Force, most often pictured with battle-hardened visage and armed with automatic weapons, is someone the outside has been told to fear. After the conclusion of the seminar he spoke: “We know that we’ve been lied to for all these years,” he said, “but now finally someone has come and told us the truth that we all knew must be out there.” And after that statement, Chris, many of his men, and our delegation, had a long conversation about what true resource development could look like.
Together we went to the “NO GO ZONE” on the road to Panguna. And when there – a world away from the terror that has been promoted by so many who have so much to hide – we had fun. We picked flowers and put them into the barrels of the weapons that, in a moment of honest exchange, served no hostile purpose. We sat together and talked about a future built on mutual respect. And best of all, we agreed that it was time for the world to see a new picture of Bougainville. Rather than the story of brokenness, violence, death, and treachery, an image of what happens when people sit together with mutual respect was allowed to emerge.
And then, the man the world has been told to fear; the man who has been enraged by the injustice meted to him and the people living around him; the man who only saw violence as a means to have a voice; that man removed his hat and placed a flower in his hair while the gun barrels that once blocked a hostile world became vases for the flowers of a new day.
We, the Citizens of the World, are better than colonial privateering and plunder. We are better than violence fueled by willfully perpetuated ignorance. We are better than standing idly by while corporations – aided by their servant governments – act with complete impunity and derision knowing that half a world away, no one is watching. Whether it’s in Bougainville or in the Rio Tinto sponsored Olympics in London, it is time for us all to realize that violence is the fruit borne of a Tree of Willful Ignorance and productive futures are harvested from those who plant the Seeds of Knowledge and Mutual Respect. Please share this story, so that we can show the world another picture of Bougainville: not one defined by violence but one that holds the fragile blossom of hope!
- David Martin