|Papua removes BHP’s cover from pollution damages
Papua New Guinea's government has wrested full control of BHP Billiton's controversial Ok Tedi copper and gold mine and quashed the mining giant's legal immunity for environmental damage, officials said.
Prime Minister Peter O'Neill suspended standing orders to push through laws late Wednesday giving the government 100 percent ownership of Ok Tedi, which was involved in a major waterways pollution scandal in the 1990s.
Anglo-Australian BHP withdrew from the mine in 2001, divesting its majority stake to the Singapore-based PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP) Limited to administer the project's future profits to the local Western Province people.
As part of the deal BHP was given immunity from prosecution by landholders for the damage from the collapse of its tailings dam and flow of hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste into local waterways, inundating villages and destroying vast tracts of forest.
O'Neill ripped up that immunity Wednesday, taking full control of the mine and opening the door to compensation claims, PNGSDP confirmed to AFP Thursday.
A PNGSDP spokesman said legal advice was being sought on the move, which chairman Mekere Morauta condemned as a “blatant grab for power and money'' that would have serious consequences for the resource-rich Pacific island.
“We have a duty to the people of Western Province who own the mine and receive the dividends paid to PNGSDP in the form of social and economic development to protect their rights and their assets,'' Morauta said.
“I guarantee them that we will do all that we can.''
BHP Billiton declined to comment.
O'Neill said the government had been attempting to negotiate the purchase of the Ok Tedi shares but talks with BHP had broken down. Lawmakers unanimously voted 62-0 in favor of the new laws.
“This parliament has done gross injustice to our people, denying their right to have access to have their say and have their claims against the damage that was done to the environment and themselves,'' O'Neill told parliament, according to Australian media reports.
“This proposed bill now removes that waiver for BHP Billiton, meaning that the land owners or any other affected party are free to bring any action or enforce any right.''
PNGSDP estimates the mine to be worth some two billion kina (US$804 million), plus 450 million kina in annual dividends to the local people, and has described the government's takeover as legally and morally unacceptable and unconstitutional.