I was appalled and concerned to wake up this morning to Post Courier front-page headlines: ‘Aussie stole my wife’.
Firstly, the story is not news – Mr Goimba’s story has had a considerable airing over the years on various blogs that will mindlessly publish anything.
None, to my knowledge have ever questioned the paradigm that Mr Goimba is entitled to have his wife back – even if it would be, clearly, against her will. Although, I would have expected better standards of analysis and social responsibility of Post Courier.
This is a long-running domestic saga where Mr. Goimba has been trying to manipulate a positive outcome, for himself, for, at least, six years – which is getting his wife sent back to him – as if she’s his possession that he has a right to.
It’s become an obsession – and it shouldn’t be encouraged by front-page, uncritical headlines.
Over two or three years, I have been given this story many times, quite possibly by Mr. Goimba himself – but who can remember, it happened so long ago.
I declined to publish every time because the issues that Mr Goimba wishes to pursue are so mindboggingly twisted – his sense of entitlement to another human being so very warped and, sadly, so symptomatic of PNGs problem with domestic violence.
Fact: Mr Goimba, no one “stole” your wife. Your wife has left you. That she has never attempted to get in touch with either yourself or her children since she initially fled suggests she had some compelling reasons to do so.
As it’s only a select few that are privy to her reasons, including the Australian Refugee Panel, one can only guess at them.
But let’s be logical here. “A loving wife” (Mr Goimba did not call himself a loving husband) does not leave a marriage and children for nothing and seek a protection visa overseas. It’s hardly likely that she was kidnapped by Australians, is it?
At the very worse, she is an unhappy but calculating woman who has manipulated the Australian authorities to grant her a protection visa for her own selfish reasons – maybe in order to find herself a better life.
But the chances of this scenario are negligible.
Any PNGean who has ever tried to obtain any sort of visa from Australian authorities will attest to the rigor of the process. Many complain that the process is unreasonably onerous. What’s more, with the refugee situation in Australia being a political hot potato, there is no way that this woman’s claim would not have been minutely scrutinized before the visa was granted.
So, chances are she has a genuine claim.
Australia is a signatory to the International Convention on Refugees that explicitly outlaws “refoulement” or repatriation to a country where the refugee’s life is in danger. This is likely the scenario that the Panel found.
Consequences of an unresaonable sense of entitlement
Either way, this woman patently does not want is to be married any more to you, Mr Goimba. And she is entitled to both her freedom and her pursuit of happiness – as a human being not as a chattel of you, her rejected husband.
To have pursued this matter so vigorously, without giving up in six years, I find frightening.
This puts Mr Goimba in the ‘stalker’ category, by any reasonable measure and his behaviour would, by now, be ringing many alarm bells with people who deal with domestic violence on a day-to-day basis. He’s clearly obsessed.
The attitude: she’s mine, I want her, she has to stay put, or else is a very dangerous one for the women involved.
I mean, what does Mr Goimba intend to do with his reluctant spouse if she is made to return to him? Will he hold her captive? Will he assault and murder her if she tries to leave him, again?
Because this is what this sense of entitlement often leads to – the statistics of the occurrence of the murder of a female by her intimate partner or former partner are frightening in Australia, who knows what would be found in PNG if statistics were kept?
Mr Gomba, you need to accept that your wife was, at the very least, unhappy being your wife and was wishing for her freedom. That’s not a crime. What is criminal is that you are trying to demonize the Australian authorities that have given your wife protection – most likely from you.
All women and indeed human beings have the right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness – Mr Goimba, you need to respect that is what your former wife is pursuing – without you.
Post Courier – wake up to your ethical and journalistic responsibilities
Post Courier should be ashamed of themselves for their lack of analysis concerning this matter.
Presenting the story, on the front page, as if the complainant has a genuine gripe against the Australian authorities when, in this instance, they are merely fulfilling their international obligations under the refugee convention is unconscionable.
Post Courier by their tacit sympathy with Mr Goimba’s plight to have his wife returned just perpetuates the attitudes that keep many women subjugated, beaten and broken in a society where many believe there is not a lot wrong with that. She is not a human being, but a possession.
You are feeding Mr. Goimba’s obsession and that’s, at the very least, cruel.
Could it be that some PNG men see that their unhappy wives and partners have now identified a viable road to freedom and they want the pathway blocked lest it upset the very favourable-to-men status quo?
Why is Post Courier uncritically aiding and abetting this agenda?
The Fraud Squad is either grossly incompetent or corrupt – there is no third way.
…companies related to Mr Tangit [CEO of PNG Power Ltd (PPL)]and his close relatives have received payment of K16 million from from PPL. Combined with the K15 million received from both the [East Sepik] Provincial (K10 million) and [Angoram] District Government (K5 million), it appears that Mr. Tangit and his close relatives have received K31 million through various entities for the period, 19 February 2009 to 30 September 2015.
As CEO of PPL, this represents a serious conflict of interests, even if that were all there was to it – but it’s not – the money has all been paid out, but as of October 2015 there was no evidence of even the commencement of the project referred to anywhere.
Highly confidential (and why’s that?)
The above quote was taken from a 35-page report marked ‘HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL’ of which I am in receipt.
It was commissioned as a result of questions being asked in parliament as to why, when funds had been allocated and deposited by Members of Parliament into the coffers of PPL for the Rural Electrification Project (RE Project), these projects were not completed, were behind schedule or significantly over budget. It was the July 2015 session of parliament.
In response, on 15 September, 2015, the Minister then responsible, Hon Ben Micah along with Mr Garry Hersey Managing Director (MD) and Chief executive officer (CEO) of the IPBC and Mr John Mangos, then Executive Director of PPL engaged an Australian forensic investigation company to look into allegations of corporate impropriety at PPL.
I have read this report in detail, with a pervasive feeling of déjà vu: I’ve heard it all before: it was in different times and different places but a very familiar modus operandi.
It evokes the non-existent Wasa Bridge in Kandep, associated with Don Polye and the non-existent community colleges – a fraud for which the Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare and certain members of his family have been implicated in the Singapore courts.
Coincidentally (or not?), the RE [non] Project also involves the Somares as the project was to be undertaken in the district of Angoram (Arthur Somare’s seat at the time) and involved the East Sepik Provincial Government.
The Angoram RE Project
It is the K15 million paid out to two contractors to which the report dedicates much investigation.
K10 million was from the coffers of East Sepik Administration that had been deposited by Sir Michael Somare into that account (it is not stipulated under what authority and from whence it came but the K10 million was earmarked for the project) and over K5 million that was received by the contractor from the Angoram District Administration for alleged variations to this non-existent project of which the investigators admitted finding no evidence (and they looked)
The K10 million remained with the Provincial Government until the contracts to carry out the project were awarded and then it was transferred to PPL.
The report highlights the gross abuses of process that allowed vested interests to win the tendering process and commandeer the project without fulfilling the contract.
The tendering process
Implicated in just about everything – is John Tangit CEO of PNG Power whose ‘wantoks’ were the proprietors of the companies that won the four-part Angoram RE Project – three parts to PNG Engineering – the registered owner being Mr Richard Pii, brother-in-law of John Tangit and one part to Sepik Metal the registered owner being Mr Patrick Wolly Tangit, the brother of John Tangit.
The investigation team found evidence of John Tangit’s direct involvement with the tendering process on his desktop computer.
What’s more, these two companies seemed to have been made aware of the exact amount of money allocated for the project and their estimates coincided exactly (similar to insider trading). The three-parts of the project for which PNG Engineering won the tender were split into K3 million each, notwithstanding the very different parameters of each individual part. In other words the tender was neither accurate nor competent.
Further to the questionable estimates of PNG Engineering, the investigation teams noticed an assessment of 15/15 that had been awarded by the tenders’ assessment team to PNG Engineering for experience, a ridiculous score when the company was only five months old.
As for Sepik Metal, the other successful tenderer, they did not even gain the highest score in the assessment but got the contract because they came in exactly on budget – a little insider knowledge goes a long way.
As such, it could not be confidently asserted that either of these two companies were the best companies for the job regardless of conflicts of interest.
What’s more, on digging deeper into these two companies and their affiliates, many more links of John Tangit’s pecuniary involvement were uncovered.
John Tangit has been much more brazen even than Don Polye was when he awarded the Wasa Bridge contract to a crony – at least he didn’t ostensibly hand the contract to himself.
There’s nothing new here
Of the three issues, Wasa Bridge, Community Colleges and now the Angoram RE Project, there is nothing new.
In Kandep, an estimate K71 million has been allocated to the project and the contractors – and no bridge.
In 17 districts of PNG a whopping K156 million has been allocated and spent – and not one Community College to show for it. (“Leave the Grand Chief alone – he’s the Father of the nation,” you say– where’s that ironic font?)
In comparison, the K31 million gone missing from the Angoram RE Project is a mere bagatelle but a huge amount none the less in any context, but especially in one where many people exist on a couple of kina a day and women still die in childbirth at alarming rates through lack of governmental services (maybe in Angoram it’s from lack of electricity.)
This was brutally brought home to me recently when I heard that there was a drive to vaccinate potential mothers in PNG against tetanus. What on earth for?
In my world, tetanus is not considered a risk factor for birthing mothers. But it is where mothers habitually give birth on the ground in the dust and the dirt or the mud and the filth.
Yet here we are – talking of K31 million as if it were nothing – because everything is relative and the relationship of various acts of thievery is regularly and usually counted in millions in PNG.
To date, no one has found a way or a will to successfully prosecute these crimes. Why not?
Inadequacy of the agencies of the state.
For a journalist, once is an incident, twice is suspect and by the third time, it’s a trend. And this mode of corruption is quite the trend in PNG. Yet it’s brazen, and not even particularly sophisticated.
What’s more, in two of these cases, there has either been a very competent Singapore court (Community Colleges) that has done the hard investigative work or a thorough investigation by a reputable independent investigator (Angoram RE Project). As for the Wasa Bridge, if the authorities wanted some evidence of where to look – they could do worse than start with PNG Echo’s own investigation.
Yet it doesn’t happen, does it? Why not?
If the agencies of the state, and the state itself, cannot recognise this brazen and obvious trend and put in place ways to successfully prevent and prosecute the crimes, then the agencies are either incompetent or corrupt themselves.
I find it hard to believe that in the PNG Power saga ,all Fraud Squad’s energies were put into prosecuting John Mangos for alleged visa infringements and an alleged K62,000 for which there was no viable evidence – Mangos would argue that it doesn’t exist – yet with all the credible evidence available to them – nothing has been done on the missing millions.
I re-iterate – the Fraud Squad is either grossly incompetent or corrupt – there is no third way.
It has been difficult to unravel the many and varied thrusts and counter thrusts of the cases of John Mangos and John Tangit when they were both working at PNG Power Ltd (PPL). So, perhaps it’s best to start with the current state of play and work backwards.
John Mangos was charged twice with various offences, firstly relating to his employment contract with PPL and secondly with the allegedly illegal payment to a third party amounting to K62,000. Neither raft of charges got past a committal hearing where the both were found to be lacking in evidence. They were thrown out. Mangos is no longer with PPL.
John Tangit, having been stood down then reinstated, only to be terminated and who is implicated in corruption amounting to millions of dollars (by an independent investigation commissioned by Kumul Holdings and undertaken by a reputable Australian firm of investigators) is now back as at PPL (unconfirmed) having faced no criminal charges whatsoever – scot free – for now. How can this be?
From this information alone, it is reasonable to assume that the charges against Mangos were specious – and that’s certainly what the courts found when they threw them out.
It was Tangit that was the informant who commenced the second raft of charges against Mangos in a letter at the beginning of March this year, that he copied to various people, including the then appropriate Minister Hon William Duma, Paul Nerau, Chairman Kumul Holdings and Fraud Squad officer, Matthew Damaru – that stalwart supporter and enforcer to Sam Koim and the Task Force Sweep team.
So what would have precipitated this malicious and abortive prosecution?
Why would these Fraud Squad officers, who are lauded as exemplary and expert investigators by many, instigate proceedings against someone with so little and such flimsy evidence?
It just could be because the perception of integrity and competency is, in reality…well…just perception. The competency and the motivations of these officers has been seriously impugned by the fact that they, along with Sam Koim’s Task Force Sweep, have lost up to 50% of their cases at committal. Is this incompetence or something far more sinister – because it is either one or the other, there is no third way.
It seems the malicious litigation against Mangos was all to do with the findings of the abovementioned commissioned investigation that Mangos, as Director of PPL, was about to act on.
You see, the Mangos’ arrest and charges strikes a familiar chord – there is a precedent . It has all the hallmarks of a pre-emptive strike to suppress information becoming public – as surely as the ‘arrest’ of Tiffany Twivey was.
NEXT PART: What Tangit did and how did he get away with it? The case against John Tangit
Who can forget the mayhem and the abject misery as the bulldozers rolled onto Paga Hill and razed the houses and shelters of a long-established community – albeit a settlement.
Women were screaming, men were shouting but to no avail.
The police had been deployed to keep them in line; to keep the way clear for the bulldozing contractors to ply their heartless trade.
I remember a valiant Dame Carol Kidu standing in front of bulldozers trying to stop them only to be manhandled out of the way by the police. Her standing in the community meant nothing. These men had their orders and come hell or high water, they were going to carry them out.
This land now belonged to a foreign developer – and he had gotten ample assistance to stake his questionable claim, seemingly from all quarters – including some that will surprise you.
For Task-Force Sweep, under the direction of Sam Koim, had been arguably in a position to stop the purchase of the land by this foreign investor – but instead, they tacitly endorsed it.
It has been exactly a year (to the day) that I published the details of 57-page report of Dr Kristian Lasslett from the International State Crime Initiative see article here on the subject of Paga Hill.
In the report, Lasslett made a scathing attack on Task Force Sweep and Sam Koim saying that their assessment (which exonerated the developer – although other inquiries had not), had errors that were “seismic” and “can’t be put down to mere ignorance or inexperience.” Clearly he was suggesting corruption.
But in a new document to hand, he goes further.
In a letter from the International State Crime Initiative in November 2015 to the National Executive Council, Dr Lasslett says that Mr Fridrikssen (the proposed developer of Paga Hill) told his colleagues during an interview that “friends” inside Task Force Sweep had tipped him off to their investigation.
It seems to me that Fridrikssen needn’t have worried because, to sum up Dr Lasslett’s expert opinion formed as the result of the agency’s thorough investigation: Task Force Sweep’s investigation of the matter was at best, incompetent and at worst (and the indications are there) corrupt.
He goes on to warn of the
unsuitability of current Task Force Sweep management for any leadership position within the proposed Independent Commission Against Corruption.
To my knowledge, the NEC has taken no action on this matter although I’m sure the findings of Dr Laslett’s extensive report would be made readily available to them.
The Paga Hill development is in partnership with the government of PNG, I’m told
The issue of Paga Hill has drawn much international attention, including the production of a documentary The Opposition which is itself steeped in all sorts of controversy itself read here
It could have been headed off at the pass, had Sam Koim been doing his job
So the big question is: Was Sam Koim merely incompetent or worse? In view of the inaction on the Somare case, is he a serial offender – who has danced to the tune of whoever played the prettiest music?
By PNG Echo
(Keep reading to the end where the document that answers the question is supplied.)
It was the National Executive Council (NEC) that established Task Force Sweep and it was the NEC that terminated the agency.
But Sam Koim couldn’t accept the inevitable. He was enjoying his elevated and internationally lauded position, notwithstanding his inexperienced and inept management of the agency that saw only half of his prosecutions make it through a committal hearing and of many of those that have, have been an unnecessary failure, according to a concerned legal expert.
Koim recently stated of the decommissioning of the agency:
It’s like the accusers threw us out of the ship in the middle of the deep ocean and expected us to drown and die, but when we made it to the shore alive, they then turned around and accused us saying “why are you still surviving?”
Actually, the situation was anything but.
They were let out of a very leaky, inadequate boat on the Jetty and told to go home – but Koim kept wading back into the sea then expecting someone to pay for expensive lifeguards to get into the surf with him and keep his head above water. It has been a wilful and continuing act.
The analogy is plain: We are talking about his many and various attempts to keep the agency afloat using expensive and illegally hired lawyers and barristers. Recently, for the third time, the Supreme Court made the ruling of their illegality bringing into question every and any court victory he may have obtained using the expensive counsel
Anyway, the question of who has been funding the agency as well as funding the litigation has been the burning question.
Ask no more.
Hereunder is an account from the Grand Papua Hotel for Mr Greg Egan, Koim’s senior counsel of choice, accomodation and food. The entity that was picking up the tab was Posman Kua, Aisi – Kerenga Kua’s old law firm.
I am also reliably informed that the ‘Dream Inn’ a Kua enterprise has also been used extensively – but that will remain speculation until someone can find an account I can publish. For now, let’s go with the one we have.
This is page 6 of Mr Egan’s accommodation bill with the final amount disclosed. I have receipt of the other five pages. Please note who’s picking up the tab.
I am about to publish a series of three articles, of varying lengths, which provide some of the answers we’ve all been wanting.
I have obtained documents, two with irrefutable evidence and another, from a credible (named) source that claims he has irrefutable evidence, that he can produce.
All three have a connection to Sam Koim, some directly some indirectly.
All of them serve to take the gloss off the pious ‘anti-corruption’ fighter and bring up very urgent reasons why he should be made to answer all the questions that these documents raise, on the witness stand, with his hand on that bible he purports to love and honour.
How many times can he have lawyer, Tiffany Twivey, arrested at the eleventh hour, to save his bacon?
You asked for it – here is is. Another nail in the coffin of the Grand Chief’s aspirations to cover up the Singapore dealings. When he asks that advise he says he’s going to of his lawyers, I wonder what they’ll tell him?
What we know so far is that 3 cheques made out to Sir Michael Thomas Somare were deposited in Singapore bank account No 0374026963
Dated 16.08.10 and was for $US280,000 – it was deposited on 16.08.10
Dated 01.09.10 for $US280,000 – it was deposited on 02.09.10
Dated 12.11.10 for $US224,000 and was deposited on 15.11.10
The Standard Chartered Bank “One Account” of Sir Michael Thomas Somare, for which PNG Echo has two bank statements, one can assume is a different account to the one that the cheques written out to Sir Michael Somare were deposited into as one of the transfers in the Oneaccount came from 0374026963
Hereunder, Sir Michael Thomas Somare’s “Oneaccount’ bank statements for the end of 2010
Transactions of interest
9 September 2010 Statement
17 August – Bulk cheque deposit – $280,000
1 September – Cash withdrawal – $260,000
3 September – Bulk cheque deposit – $200,000
3 September – Cash Withdrawal – $125,000
3 September – Transfer 0309980593 – $125,000
3 September – Transfer of $165,500 from account 0374026963 (see above)
3 September – Cash withdrawal $165,500
9 December 2010 Statement
16 November – Bulk cheque deposit – $224,000
7 December – Clearing cheque – $220,000
In August/September there were three large deposits (and other small ones that I have not taken into account). The total of those cheques was $645,000.
In November there was another for $224,000 – making the grand total $869,000.
In the space of 3 days (1-3 September) an astounding $550,500 was withdrawn in cash, $125,000 was transferred into another account (recipient unknown), then in December a cheque was written on the account for $220,000
In – $869,500
Out – $895,500
NOTE; Incomings are in blue, outgoings in red for ease of reading.
The thought that is exercising my mind is how do you move that amount of cash? What does $550,500 cash even look like? How many suitcases would it fill? How were those funds moved internationally? Was it legal?
Disclaimer: Owing to the indistinct printing of some of the documents, although all care has been taken, we bear no responsibility for any inadvertent mistakes. People should rely on their own reading of the documents that are hereunder provided.
The recent revelation that PNG’s former Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, was named in a Singapore criminal prosecution as a recipient of $US784, 000.00 (K2, 540,000.00) has exposed Sam Koim’s position as a so-called anti-corruption fighter in PNG, as fundamentally compromised.
Since Task Force sweep was decommissioned by the NEC, Koim has been kept afloat by unknown private sources.
Is it Somare himself, or Somare’s political allies who are providing this funding?
It’s really time Koim came clean with the people of PNG about who is funding his operations. If Koim is, in fact funded by Somare or Somare’s political allies, this may explain Koim’s failure to prosecute or pursue Somare for this Singapore sling, wouldn’t it?
It might also suggest that the purpose of Koim’s relentless and well-funded attempts to remove O’Neill from his office as Prime Minister, is to install Koim’s pro-Somare benefactors in office, to protect him from prosecution for this crime?
Somare’s involvement in this scam, and the evidence required to conclusively prove it was provided to Sam Koim at the beginning of 2013, and Koim himself has publicly stated that he undertook some sort of official investigation . He declined to comment to the ABC reporter on whether or not Sir Michael had been interviewed by the Task Force.
The prosecution in Singapore was commenced in 2012, and Koim was provided with the evidence in 2013. Why has it taken so long for Koim to act in this matter? Has he even undertaken that basic, fundamental step of interviewing Somare in the investigation process?
According to Koim, he was unable to institute any prosecution in this matter because he was “defunded” by the O’Neill government. Again, given his pursuit of the current Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill through the courts of PNG since 2014, this is also hard to accept.
He seems to have garnered sufficient funds to maintain his home, his office and his own sustenance. He had sufficient funds available to illegally engage an expensive team of international and local lawyers, including Greg Egan, and Terry Lambert from Brisbane.
He had sufficient funds to orchestrate the unsuccessful prosecution of the Attorney General, a Supreme Court Judge, and several Police Commissioners, and anyone else who stood in the way of his contrived attack on the Prime Minister.
So Koim had no trouble financing these prosecutions, all of which failed. At best, they wasted precious resources (wherever they may have come from) which could have been more successfully spent prosecuting Somare.
Koim’s antics since 2013 have all been financed by persons unknown, bent on seeing O’Neill stood aside from the office of Prime Minister, at all costs, including the corruption of the prosecutorial and judicial systems.
Who would benefit from such a thing? Why, Somare and his political supporters would, of course. It’s time Koim revealed who is paying him.
By PNG Echo. Sir Michael Somare claims he has never received illegal payments. Oh, really?
The Community Colleges rort – and the proof of the pudding…
On 16th August 2010, the then Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, received the sum of $US280,000 into his personal account (#0374026963) at the Scott’s Mall branch of the Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore, drawn on the account of M/S Questzone Offshore Limited (“Questzone”). See below.
Then, on the 1st September 2010, Somare received a further $US 280,000 into the same personal account from the same drawer. See below.
Finally, on the 12th November 2010, he also received a further sum of $US 224,000 from the same drawer into his personal account. See Below
Each of these annexures have the full tracing details endorsed by the bank on the copies produced here, so there can be no denying the funds were received by him.
I am told Sir Michael spent some of the money paying the builder of his Wewak residence and the rest has been frozen in this account (I believe the residual is around $300,000)
The enormity of this crime cannot be underestimated. I am reliably informed that it is the most serious “white collar” crime on the statute books and carries a term of imprisonment of 25 years in prison.
Furthermore, under oath before a Leadership Tribunal in 2010, Somare was required to disclose all of his bank accounts and other assets. He failed to disclose his Singapore account, and consequently perjured himself.
This account was not disclosed in his Leadership returns for 2010 or any other year subsequently, which constitutes a serial breaching of the Leadership Code.
Somare also failed to disclose this income to the Internal Revenue Commission, which is a fraud.
A cold political wind is blowing on the islands of Bougainville that’s fuelling a cold war.
This wayward wind, which was downgraded to a tropical breeze at the cessation of hostilities in the bloody civil war on Bougainville at the end of the 1990s, has never been tamed but held in check by a peace agreement signed by most of the warring parties.
The keystone of the accord was the promised plebiscite for an independent state, to take place within 20 years of the agreement. The promise effectively took the wind out of the sails of the immediate call for independence, just as surely as Federation did similarly to the Republican movement in Australia at the beginning of the 20th Century.
This future vision watered down many Bougainvilleans’ commitment and backing for the Me’ekamui State, (declared during the hostilities by the rebels). Within Me’ekamui dwell the more militant Bougainvillean rebels. Me’ekamui refuses to die.
The possibility of independence without bloodshed was an attractive proposition for many who had lived through the war; who had suffered its deprivations and lost loved ones – as brother fought against brother.
It was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, analogous with the biblical ‘promised land’ for those that had also suffered the loss and pollution of their precious lands at the hands of foreign interests that were supported by a government who were prepared to sacrifice Bougainville and Bougainvilleans on the altar of national economic interests.
As the twenty-year time frame enters its final years, all the old wounds that the peace agreement managed to stitch together are being torn apart by the same old issues – for they were never resolved, just postponed.
The Panguna copper mine is the single most pressing of those issues and the peace agreement did not address it at all or any of the concerns over mining in Bougainville. The sensitivity of the issue, that had been the catalyst for the civil war, was the elephant in the room that needed to be ignored to effect an agreement – and it was. But, like M’ekamui, it never went away.
Bougainvillean independence and Panguna are irrevocably interlinked
Panguna – to mine or not to mine
When the Bougainville rebels shut down Panguna in 1989, it was supplying PNG with 45% of its national export revenue and was the single biggest contributor to the economic viability of the Independent state of Papua New Guinea hence the national government’s interest. It was also the biggest polluter and cause of unrest on the island of Bougainville.
The issues surrounding Panguna were the causal link to the beginning of the hostilities – with the rebels closing the mine and the PNG Defence force being deployed to Bougainville to open the mine – forcibly if necessary. The rebels didn’t budge. There followed, on Bougainville, nine years of war that included a blockade and that pitted the PNG Defence Force against its own people.
Even though the war has been over now for almost 20 years, Panguna has never re-opened, although it’s potential output and profitability remains unchanged. There is wealth in Panguna of unrealised proportions estimated to be in the vicinity of 5 million tonnes of copper and 19 million ounces of gold.
That the mine has been closed for so long is a testimony to just how polarising the issues still are – the mine is considered a jinx.
I have visited Panguna, it’s eerie: there is a chill in the air that is not explained by the weather, I was glad to leave. Having been there, I can well understand the sentiments of a populace far more prone to the belief in the supernatural than I.
Nevertheless, to expect that it will remain closed is not realistic for if Bougainville opts for independence without reopening Panguna, how will the new State sustain itself?
This notwithstanding, none of the main actors in the cold war that’s developing, many of whom are the mandated leaders of Bougainville, have yet been willing to nail their colours to the mast about the mine’s future. But if there is a Bougainvillean, economic Holy Grail, this is it. Politically, it’s a poison chalice.
Into the fray recently, whipping up the already restless political air currents, has come mining giant Rio Tinto, who had controlling stock in Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), the company that worked Panguna copper mine until its forced closure by the rebels in 1989 – BCL still holds the lease although its mining rights were downgraded to that of an exploration licence, after the new Bougainville Mining Laws were enacted in 2014.
In an interesting piece of timing, (why now?) Rio Tinto has gifted all of their shares in BCL: some to the PNG government and some to the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG – autonomy being another condition of the peace agreement).
The ‘gift’ has pitted these potential protagonists against each other and managed to seemingly divest Rio Tinto of all further responsibility to clean up their mess.
While the gift of the shares to the ABG comes with all the controversy surrounding Rio Tinto’s stubborn refusal to effect reparations, both it terms of repatriation of the mining site and compensation – the shares gifted to the PNG government have the added controversy of having been gifted to an inappropriate entity.
Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, has recognised that the PNG government is not the correct recipient of the BCL shares: that they rightfully belong to Bougainville. In a politically provocative move, he announced he would re-gift these shares to the affected landowners of Panguna but not through their political representatives, the ABG, but directly –there is 17.4% of the company in the offing.
President Momis was not amused: the Prime Minister had decided to by-pass the ABG – Momis suggested that the Prime Minister seemed to believe that he knew better than the ABG, saying:
You substitute your view for ours.
Prime Minister O’Neill retaliated by accusing President Momis of playing “petty politics” that undermined the peace agreement.
In reality, the politics are not petty and it would seem that the Prime Minister is himself engaging in politics using a Napoleonic ‘divide and conquer’ tactic. With his action, Mr O’Neill has diluted the power of any one BCL shareholder and denied the ABG a controlling interest.
Being an astute politician, O’Neill would be aware that the gift is good public relations for his erstwhile flagging image. It portrays him as a benevolent and generous leader (a Bik Man, if you like) while also ensuring that some time in the future, if the mine is opened under BCL, the PNG Government can form a coalition with one or a few of the other shareholders to gain control (the PNG Government has held a 19% share interest in BCL for many years). Mr O’Neill is a master in the dynamics of coalitions.
For while Mr O’Neill justified his expropriation of OkTedi, as the right of a mandated government acting on behalf of its people, he has denied controlling interest in BCL to the ABG. He can do that because Bougainville is not yet a sovereign state (and may never be).
There are other interested parties that have weighed in on the issue too, not least of all the Minster for Communications in the national government and member for Central Bougainville, Jimmy Miringtoro.
In a press statement, Miringtoro attacked the past record of the ABG and, in particular, President Momis whose involvement in the national government goes back to 1972. (Momis was one of the drafters of the PNG constitution).
Miringtoro asserted that, from his position in the national government, Momis
…could have prevented the war if he’d been honest from the start.
The only way for Momis to make peace with the people of Panguna, according to Miringtoro, was to admit that he’d “failed them,” and he recommended that:
… the President cede control of Bougainville to someone who has the energy, commitment and vision to move Bougainville forward instead of wasting time…
The Minister reminded his readers, on two occasions, that he was a mandated leader of Bougainville – seemingly to add weight to his argument. Yet, in spite of the Minister’s stated opinion on the track record of the President, it was just last year that Momis won the Presidential election on Bougainville. It was a landslide victory.
Coming a distant second was former rebel leader, Ismael Toroama who polled 18,466 votes to Momis’ 51,382 – with such a decisive result, so who is really speaking for the people?
Such is the complexity of the Bougainville issues that a simple dichotomy between PNG and Bougainville cannot be taken for granted – for, at present the only position that can be relied upon is that PNG does not want to cede independence to Bougainville – and the irony is that it doesn’t ever have to thanks to that inadequate but temporarily effective peace agreement that gave PNG a veto
There is, however, no doubt that Momis and O’Neill are jockeying for position as the Supremo of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (AROB), especially considering the upcoming plebiscite and the fact that the BCL shares would prove worthless if their mining licence in Panguna is revoked – and it could be, President Momis has already threatened the Prime Minister with this consequence.
Is this a portent of things to come and is Panguna set to become the battleground?
For questions over the future of the mine remain unanswered: should it re-open? If so, when – before the plebiscite or after? …if the plebiscite is successful? …if it’s not? Which company will mine Panguna? What of the shares in BCL …and many other considerations too numerous to mention?
Independence – who wants it?
By 2019, Bougainvilleans will all have to consider this question.
We know what O’Neill thinks but we are, as yet, not aware of the position of President Momis nor of such MPs as the aforementioned Jimmy Miringtoro who may be against Momis but may still favour independence (clearly without Momis) – who knows?
In parliament last week, O’Neill highlighted how the PNG government is helping Bougainville rebuild its infrastructure (as destroyed during the war, I suppose) that he stated was needed far more urgently than independence (I am left wondering why this wasn’t attended to many years ago – is the answer because the plebiscite was not imminent then?) He also highlighted the reforms in education and health taking place on Bougainville thanks to the PNG government.
His one erroneous assertion was that a country with a population of 200,000 (Bougainville) is unlikely to be able to survive because “the economy may not be strong enough.”
Yet, the Bougainvillean copper mine Panguna, once propped up the whole of Papua New Guinea economically, of which O’Neill would be well aware. Without Panguna, in 1976, PNG independence would not have been viable. This single asset is more than able to provide a solid economic basis for a new independent state. The Prime Minister is also well aware of what re-opening of the mine under favourable conditions would mean for Papua New Guinea who still retain 19% share in BCL – and he seems to be trying to force these conditions.
It is, however, reasonable to expect that Mr O’Neill would not want Bougainville to secede – no country or nation willing cedes territory – and it might be equally reasonable to assume that, on the opposite side of the tracks, the ABG would want it – but in that assumption you’d be wrong.
It is not yet known what position the ABG favours, it seems to be sitting back waiting for the best offer – Momis vacillates. At present he is saying that the people will decide, as indeed they will – but leaders should lead from the front, not behind.
If all that is not confusing enough, we have not yet taken into account the other important and major stakeholders in Panguna, the affected landowners who are holding some of the trump cards. Do they want independence and/or the mine to reopen? Well, yes, no and that depends.
The gifting of BCL shares from Rio Tinto and the subsequent re-gifting of them directly from the PNG government has managed to stir up a hornets nest in Bougainville.
To resolve the situation, the ABG government called a meeting of all the landowning stakeholders ,on 26th August, with a view to obtaining a consensus that favoured the government’s position. Momis got it. A resolution was signed by 10 parties including a signature purportedly from the Chief of Chief’s of the Me’ekamui Government of Unity (MGU).
The resolution refused the shares from the PNG government on behalf of the landowners and suggested that they gift them to the ABG instead.
In reality, there was no consensus.
By 28 August, the chairman of one of the affected landowner groups – a group that had signed the resolution, described a social media posting by a chairperson of another group that was a signatory, as being “misleading.”
In the same email he stated that Mr Philip Miriori, President of Me’ekamui did not sign the resolution supporting the ABG’s stance. This notwithstanding, there is a signature above the title ‘MGU Chief of Chiefs’ on the resolution. The signature is too long to be that of Chris Uma, it is otherwise illegible – I don’t know who signed it.
(I am becoming terminally confused about who is the head of Me’eakamui – Philip Miriori, Chris Uma, or this Chief of Chiefs that signed the resolution.)
The original aforementioned chairman finishes his email by saying:
As people mandated [there’s that word again] by our long-suffering Landowners of Panguna…we will not stand by and watch our ABG Government become a monster by convincing our ignorant people by so much sweet talk especially up to date our legacy issues are still evident on the ground.”
The legacy issues
The legacy issues consist of the reparation to the Panguna site and/or compensation that is owed for damages. Rio Tinto has not made any, nor has it offered to do so in the future.
Many of the landowners want this issue pursued vigorously.
One leader of a landowner group expressed the view that both the National Government of PNG and Rio Tinto be sued for the environmental damage but in a separate legal opinion I have sighted, addressed to some of the affected landowners, BCL is identified as the correct entity to sue.
How ironic, with this new share transfer/gift, the landowners could be potentially suing themselves and the ABG for damages, if they take up the proffered shares they would own 53% of the company.
Legal opinion to the chairman of a landowner group stated that the divestment of Rio Tinto of its interests in BCL makes the prospect of compensation unlikely and the writer goes on to warn that the share transfer potentially creates a conflict of interests between the ABG and the landowners
The interests of the ABG and the Landowners are not aligned and potentially diverge rather than converge.
Mining is, once again, polarising the people of Bougainville. How this will be resolved is anyone’s guess and throw an independence vote into the fray for good measure and there’s cause for concern.
For while some stakeholders have expressed the opinion that maintaining the peace on Bougainville is the single and most important task of the ABG in Bougainville at present, others have been far more belligerent.
In a recent interview with Radio NZ, John Jaintang, described as a special envoy to Mr Chris Uma the leader of Bougainville’s Me’ekamui rebel group, has accused Bougainville’s leaders of breaking the peace process by engaging with Rio Tinto and BCL. Mr Jaintang says that “the leaders of Bougainville have gone back to bed with the enemy.”
Ominously, he goes on to state that Me’ekamui remains “outside the peace process, ” and warns that “Me’ekamui has 100% of the arms.”
There are many self-confessed mandated leaders in this melee who are refusing to lead. While the minutiae is being attended to, the big picture is being neglected.
How to vote responsibly in the plebiscite, taking into account all of the possible issues, is a vital measure to disseminate and they need to hear it from their government. They know where the national government stands but, to date, they are getting conflicting messages from the ABG.
Yet, coming through loud and clear was the special envoy from Me’ekamui whose point, if I’m not mistaken, in saying that Me’ekamui has all the guns, is that the rest of you had better watch out.
This could well be an ominous threat if O’Neill, on a successful vote of ‘yes’ to independence, decides to exercise the ultimate folly of the peace agreement: the proverbial ‘get out of jail free’ card for the Government of PNG – the right of veto over the decision. In my opinion, O’Neill will not hesitate to use it.
Having said that, clearly a ‘no’ vote would be less problematic for the Government of Papua New Guinea as it would give them the renewed mandate in Bougainville – a clear indication of their right to rule.
And so the ‘courting period’ between PNG and Bougainville intensifies. It’s a period when it’s likely that PNG, like an anxious suitor, will be especially considerate of the needs of Bougainville, even generous.
When and if Bougainville succumbs to seduction and the courting period is over, with no more political leverage left, what then? Those who do not heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.