Release Date: 23-Jun-2010
The Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and Solomon Islands pointed to the historical failure of PNG mining ventures to bring the promised development and prosperity to the people, in a recent statement addressing the multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas project, PNG LNG, soon to be in full swing thanks to US oil giant ExxonMobil, Australian based operators Oil Search and Santos and others, with help of a list of financiers including the Australian Government.
The project will be the biggest resource venture ever undertaken in the Pacific, but the Catholic Bishops are not convinced it will deliver the benefits being promised: “Most ordinary people haven’t benefitted at all from the mineral wealth of our nation."
“Wealth hasn’t trickled down throughout society and so urban settlements are growing and rural areas are becoming poorer,” the bishops stated in their recent message. “Thus, for many people, the most obvious outcome of the so-called development has been more negative than positive, for example, widespread corruption, poverty and violence.
The statement is timely, in light of the recent release of PNG LNG’s first official progress report, which continues to downplay risks and project generous benefits to all PNG.
In their statement the Bishops cite the decade long conflict in Bougainville, the environmental damage of Ok Tedi, ravaged forests, social turmoil, polluted waters, damaged fisheries, and more, as precedent for their doubt over the PNG LNG project.
“The resource will produce great wealth, more than doubling the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation. What is less certain is whether or not these riches will be managed wisely by national, provincial and local level governments as well as landowners, thus benefiting all of society.”
The Bishops are also concerned about the general public’s lack of knowledge and information about environment impact of projects. Similar to concerns voiced by Jubilee Australia and other civil society groups, they fear that the impacts on the fragile ecosystems, forests, waterways etc have not been adequately assessed by the project sponsors. “Most likely these [environmental impacts] will be portrayed as minimal by the developer ExxonMobil and co-developers, Oil Search Ltd, a Papua New Guinean company, Santos, Nippon Oil and the PNG Government.”
While project sponsors put heavy reliance on government and landowners to be vigilant with environmental impacts, both have significant economic interests in the project and a poor record of environmental protection in the past.
Consistent with Jubilee Australia’s December 2009 report, the Bishops expressed their most earnest concern about the potential for social conflict.
“We have seen outbreaks of violence over land ownership issues and drunken chaos after large payments of cash were distributed to people unaccustomed to such unexpected wealth. And going forward, some people will benefit greatly while others are left out.” “This is likely to cause the already existing rivalries to flare up, leading to increased violence and criminal activities.
Despite creation of wealth and increase in government GDP, the history of mining and resource extraction in countries with widespread poverty and weak regulation by government should be a adequate warning: that for the majority of people mining can deliver only inflamed social conflict, the spread of disease, disrupted family life and traditional culture, a drain of professionals, permanent loss of livelihood through water contamination and interruption to land use patterns, damage, and worsened poverty. None of which can be compensated for by cash payments.
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