By Hon. Sam Basil, MP
The Department of Conservation (DEC) is failing to properly regulate the mining industry in Papua New Guinea and ensure mine operations are environmentally safe.
DEC has a responsibility on behalf of the Nation to ensure that mining operations are safe and will not damage the environment. Yet time and again the mines end up causing massive pollution problems while DEC sits by and watches.
With pollution from the Bougainville, Ok Tedi, Misima and Pogera mines, among others, and now the Hidden Valley project it seems that the government, through DEC, is telling the world that mining with pollution in PNG is normal business practice so all environmental cowboys are welcome to come and dig.
I have recently filed legal proceedings against the Hidden Valley mine over its pollution of the Watut river. It is not good enough for Environment Minister Benny Allen to say DEC received an environmental audit report on the Hidden Valley mine in May this year and will be working on an environmental improvement plan.
If the Minister is serious about re-inventing another environmental improvement plan to supersede the failed plan then he should shut down the mine and a complete river rehabilitation must be his priority.
But the guns for hire environmental consultants will just report what DEC wants them to say to water down the situation, But we will not buy that cheaply, they must remember that the Bouganville and Ok Tedi days are long gone and we will not repeat the same mistakes and be fooled again.
If the Minister's sponsored audit report says the river is safe then I invite the minister and his DEC Secretary to consume a liter of water each collected from the Watut River in front of the people to prove to them that their river is safe.
If they are not prepared to prove any report by consuming water from Watut then I am cautioning the Minister in advance to be very careful about pushing a report that he himself does not understand.
And where is the report? Why have I not been given a copy? Why don't the landowners who are suffering the impacts of the pollution have a copy? Is DEC trying to cover up things for the mining company? The report should be released immediately.
DEC should also explain why it gave the Hidden Valley mine an environmental permit in the first instance when they already know that almost all of their environmental approval plans have been a failure.
It can only prove that DEC doesn't know what they are approving and must be held liable together with the operator.
The current pollution in the Watut river system without DEC noticing anything wrong until recently is very bad for the future of the mining industry and the development of the up and coming Wafi Golpu project which is also in my electorate.
DEC only acts when the community mobilizes and with this court action we are going all the way to make DEC and Morobe Mining Joint Venture accountable to the people of Watut and the nation.
The same goes for the approval of the deep-sea mining permit that has recently been granted by DEC, it must be stopped at all costs until a thorough investigation by scientists is sought.
The National Fisheries Authority (NFA) must also be involved in that matter because the impact on our tuna stocks and its breeding ground is still not yet known and will be a threat to our growing tuna industry.
DEC, like the Mineral Resources Authority, is supposed to be protecting landowners, their resources and the environment, not facilitating mining on the cheap.
I also suggest that in the future it would be good to have Ministers appointed to their ministerial portfolios only if their electorate plays host to such projects. Ministers from un-impacted areas which has no mine and pollution will simply make their portfolios another rubber stamp which we are currently experiencing in PNG.
That is why we see endless writers writing to the newspapers showing their endless frustrations against many unpopular decisions of Departmental heads and their Ministers.
I can assure the public that when government changes the new government will give priority to replace complacent and incompetent Department Secretaries and overhaul Departments to honestly operate to protect the independent state of Papua New Guinea and its people.