Finance Finance News Peter O’Neill warns landowners PNG Government won’t be held to ransom over Ok Tedi

Peter O’Neill warns landowners PNG Government won’t be held to ransom over Ok Tedi

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Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has warned landowners from PNG’s Ok Tedi Mine area that they risk being left out of negotiations and benefits for threatening to forcefully close the mine.

Representatives from communities along the Fly River, who are badly affected by the mine’s waste, are asking for more than 63 per cent shares in the mine.

Landowners from the 162 mine-affected communities are threatening to close the mine itself if the PNG government does not give in to its demands.

Mr O’Neill says the government is willing to negotiate with landowners, but won’t respond to threats.

“No government should be held to ransom by any landowners,” he said.

“No government agencies will be held to ransom so they have to be very careful in what they should say and what they do.

“There is a lawful means for attending to your own issues – don’t take the law into your own hands.”

In September, the PNG government passed legislation to take over the mine.

For many years, Ok Tedi has been the biggest single contributor to PNG Government revenue, and Mr O’Neill says the landowners cannot hold that revenue hostage.

“We need money to develop our country, we need money to educate our people, we need money to put services like health care to our people,” he said.

“Where are you going to get the money to do this job? It is by developing those resources, collecting those taxes, making sure the revenue is collected on time so you can start spending on these services.

“We are trying to do the right thing…if they don’t want to be a participant in the negotiations for the shareholders we will do a deal with the mine site landowners and then if they are not on the party we will leave them behind.

“It is entirely up to them – I am not going to wait forever.”

The charitable trust PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP) had owned 63 per cent of the mine, with the state owning the rest.

The new laws cancelled the PNGSDP’s shares and issued new shares to the state, giving it complete ownership.

The company’s Chairman, Sir Mekere Morauta, has announced that almost 100 development projects, worth $AU96 million, have been put on hold due to lack of funds.

They include help for schools, hospitals and aid posts across the country, as well as water, sanitation and solar energy projects.

The Program says without dividends from Ok Tedi it doesn’t have the funds to continue with the project.

But Mr O’Neill says the Program has the funds to continue.

“There is sufficient money, hundreds of millions of kina in the account that Sustainable is managing to finish all these projects,” he said.

“It is quite obvious they are not genuine about trying to protect the interests of the Western Province people and the interests of Papua New Guineans.”

Mr O’Neill says Sir Mekere has a conflict of interest and should resign from his post with the SDP.