AUSTRALIAN miner BHP came under heavy fire in Parliament yesterday with legislators describing the PNG Sustainable Development Program as only a clever ploy.
The legislators are claiming the mining giant came up with the program to escape prosecution for massive environmental damage from Ok Tedi mining operations.
In 2011, the Government of Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, who is now chairman of PNGSDP, passed a legislation that allowed BHP to exit the mine, with a blanket immunity that protected the company from prosecution for the environmental damage.
The running of the mine was handed to program company PNGSDP, a company registered in Singapore with majority board members nominated by BHP.
The debate, on a statement to Parliament by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill yesterday, was fiery and at times emotional, with calls for Sir Mekere and his appointees to the board to step down voluntarily.
The call by the legislators was unanimous – bring BHP to account and return the PNGSDP and the Long Term Fund to the people of Western province and PNG.
Former Attorney General Kerenga Kua opened the assault on BHP by calling on the PM to fight the global mining giant, and ensure the fund set up and controlled by third parties be returned to the independent state of PNG.
"The setting up of PNGSDP and the long term fund is typical of global multinational corporations around the world, setting up complicated structures to escape responsibilities for damages they do to the environment and the lives of people," Mr Kua said.
"The real issue was the massive damage done to the environment by its mining activity, and the potential massive liability they faced.
"They forced us into a clever deal, so that Parliament gave them immunity upon exit. But they did not live up to their part of the bargain by paying the compensation they promised. They instead met us halfway, by setting up this fund overseas and placed it in the hands of independent nonelected people who represent no one and report to nobody."
Mr Kua said BHP and PNGSDP do not need to be compensated. What the government has started, in removing BHP’s immunity from prosecution, and the legal battle against PNGSDP is part of a process to undo a clever and complicated structure.
"The Prime Minister and govern-ment have my support to get to the bottom of this, and to return to the State what it deserves," he said. Public Service Minister Sir Puka Temu, who was a member of the Eminent Persons Group that negotiated without success with Sir Mekere’s board, told Parliament in one of those meetings he almost leaned over to punch Sir Mekere.
"We were genuine and we made concessions to PNGSDP. But Sir Mekere and his group were not. I don’t know who they represent. "We should have struck a deal in February, but we did not. The people of Western province are still waiting to benefit from what is rightfully theirs. I call on Sir Mekere to step down voluntarily," Sir Puka said.
He said PNGSDP must be handed back so it can be restructured and run in a way that delivers the aspirations of the people of Western province and PNG. NCD governor Powes Parkop said the government must do all it can to return the assets to the people of Western province.