The legal structure by which the Lihir gold mine agreement was designed and operating today does not have space for another body other than the Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association (LMALA).
This was the observation by the Londolovit Sagomana Association (LSA) which comprise 14 clans of Londolovit village on Lihir island, whom their traditional Londolovit river is been used by Lihir Gold Limited (LGL) to extract water for its operations.
LSA was reacting to a news article in the Post Courier on Mar 20 which claimed that “Leaders welcome bid for Lihir Foundation”.
LSA Chairlady, Ms. Roselyne Arau said the report was misleading because not all landowners on the island have agreed to or have welcome the proposal by LGL and Newcrest to create a “Lihir Foundation” that will take over the functions of LMALA.
She said LMALA which represents all landowner groups is a signatory and party in the Lihir agreement together with the State and LGL.
“The current legal structure is like a triangle; on the top is LGL and on the bottom is the State and LMALA.
“It was during the time when LMALA was suspended on June 19, 2017 by IPA in collaboration with LGL, the idea of a ‘foundation’ was first mooted, a body that was proposed to take the place of LMALA.
“There is no room for such move because another body other than LMALA will be illegally in the place of LMALA on the triangle.
“As such the proposed ‘Lihir Foundation’ is unacceptable, it is legally incorrect and must be rejected byall Lihirians, it is not a legal body nor was it a signatory and party in the Lihir agreement. How can it assume or subsume the role of LMALA in managing landowners’ funds and deliver projects under the IBP and various other MOAs under the Lihir agreement?
“LMALA is the only legitimate body for LO’s to work with and not the proposed Lihir Foundation,” Ms. Arau said.
She said following a Court order,LMALA has held an AGM and on Feb 21, 2019 it elected new executives during which a woman was elected as Secretary for the first time in 22 years.
Mr. James Laketan was re-elected unopposed as Chairman of LMALA while Raymond Vinaulin was elected Vice Chairman and Ben Tientien Junior was elected Public Officer.
She said the new look LMALA executives are currently engaged in the LAR (Lihir Agreement Review) process and consultation with LOs for signing of the new Lihir agreement, if ever there is going to be one.
Ms. Arau raised very grave concerns about the long delay in LAR which signing was prolonged since 2017.
In the new “proposed terms” of the Compensation & Relocation Agreements (CRA), LGL seeks to:
- scratch LMALA out of the original Lihir Agreement of 1995 & 2007;
- put in place “direct relationship” with tenement holders (LO’s) and disregarding affected communities;
- establish a new “Foundation” in place of LMALA to “ensure effective operational governance, discipline, and accountability” of all parties;
- remove the current 5 year cycle of review meaning there shall be no more reviews for the “life of the mine”.
LGL’s new terms had caused so much anxiety among LO factions.
“The proposed terms will remove landowners’ right to arbitration and dispute resolution guaranteed in our Constitution and democracy.
“Associations such as LMALA and LSA were created under laws of PNG and are legal entities who can sue and be sued.
“These associations represent collective views, interest, traditional values and norms of their people in their respective communities.
“In the event where people are affected, it is these associations that will represent them, people find protection and take solace through these associations.
“But when a multi-national such as Newcrest avoid and bypass the collective interest of an association such as LMALA or LSA and deal direct with individual landowners, it is genocide, it is“divide and rule” technique imposed on tribal groupings who are communal in nature in a Melanesian setting.
“I strongly called on the State to be diligent when choosing between the health of a society and profit. It is not people breaking the law, it is the law breaking them.
“We will fight it tooth and nail and will not bow down. Our heritage, our traditional rights to property ownership is guaranteed in the National Constitution and Customary Law of PNG,we will not compromise with Newcrest because our children will curse us for our inaction today”.
Lawyers assisting LMALA has written to Newcrest’s Chairman, Peter Hay expressing grave concern about the application of the CRA by LGL, asking whether CRA was company policy and if not, it must be withdrawn.
Mr. Hay has responded saying he will ask LGL to “engage with LMALA”.
LAR/CRA independent chairman, Sir Paul Songo admitted that “LMALA was not part of the TOR”.
Ms. Arau accused the State’s Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) for siding with Newcrest instead of LMALA and people of Lihir.
She said only time will tell whether State and Newcrest were genuine in the push for a ‘Lihir Foundation’ as landowners in resource development areas in the country are today conscious and refused to be fooled any longer.
The LAR/CRA final discussions scheduled for March has been further postponed even so much anxiety is in the air and bearing on a final decider by Lihir LOs whether to sign the Lihir agreement review at all.