By Duncan Gabi/ Project Sepik
Governor Bird was welcomed into Korogu village by a singing group from Korogu village. He was accompanied by his wife Joanne and daughter Michelle. The President of Gawi LLG, Mr. Leo Singut was also part of the official team which attended to officiate at the closing ceremony of The Supreme Sukundimi Declaration Follow Up workshop in Korogu Village, Wosera-Gawi District.
The workshop was organized by Project Sepik from the 27th of April to 2nd of May. It was attended by community, spiritual, and clan leaders of 49 villages on the Sepik River.
Governor Bird was overwhelmed by the significance of the event. He acknowledged Project Sepik and the leaders for the invitation to officiate at the event.
In his remarks, Governor Bird acknowledged Mr. Singut who was also the East Sepik Provincial Mining Minister and the team of experts who were given the task to oversee and review the Frieda Mine Environmental Impact statement (EIS). The acknowledgment included the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) members for the decision on the Frieda Mine EIS. After reviewing the EIS, the PEC proceeded to unanimously vote against accepting it in 2020. The decision by the PEC was the first of its kind in PNG for a provincial assembly to unanimously vote against any form of mining.
Governor Bird was proud of the outcome of the findings into the EIS and his PEC for representing the people well in their decision. The review of the EIS by the experts engaged by the East Sepik Provincial Government (ESPG) was submitted to the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) in 2020.
Project Sepik also consulted ten independent and international experts to review the EIS. Their analysis found the EIS to be defective and unfit for purpose.
The Feedback on the EIS from Project Sepik was submitted to CEPA on March 31 st 2020. The people of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Project Sepik and ESPG are waiting for CEPA to give an answer to the r esponses of the EIS by interested members of the public. All feedback of the EIS was submitted at the close of business on the 31st of March 2020.
The governor and his PEC’s decision and stance on the Frieda Gold and Copper mine remains unchanged. Governor Bird issued a strong statement that as long as he is Governor of ESP, the Frieda Mine will not get off the ground. This statement received loud cheers and claps from the people who had gathered. He stressed the importance of protecting the natural environment and the Sepik river when engaging in development activities saying ‘Yumi mas putim banis raunim Sepik wara so nogat bagarap bai kam antap long em’.
Governor Bird stated in his opposition to Frieda mine that ‘East Sepik Province (ESP) must show the National government that we can grow our economy on agriculture and bring about sustainable economic development.
Governor Bird expressed that he understands and believes in the economic value of agriculture. This was brought about by his vast years of experience in the agriculture industry. ‘My only focus has been on agriculture, not mining’ he said.
Governor Bird and his administration have been working to unlock the agricultural potential of East Sepik. To achieve this, he negotiated the European Union (EU) Grant of K340 million for agriculture and fisheries in 2019. The EU grant-funded programs like The Support to Rural Entrepreneurship, Investment and Trade in PNG Program (Streit PNG) to boost agricultural activities in ESP.
The ESPG administration has been working in collaboration with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Labor Organization (ILO) to roll out the Streit PNG in assisting growers, farmers and fisherwomen and fishermen. Governor Bird has visited rural areas in the province to assist farmers and see their level of engagement in the agriculture sector said he wanted more people involved in the sector to better their livelihood. The Streit PNG program has proven to be a success with more people engaged in agriculture and with increased volumes of sales and exports.
He also encouraged local landowners to register their lands and acquire titles to it. Having titles and knowing land boundaries will lower any potential land conflicts among the tribes and also provide opportunities for them to develop their land, sustainably. Furthermore, he asked the people of Sepik river not to depend solely on fish trading as their only source of income, rather work together with the Streit PNG and venture into agriculture to sustain themselves.
After the officiation, Governor Bird was invited into the Korogu n’gego (Haus Tambaran/spirit haus/haus of Governance/haus of assembly) to engage more informally with all the leaders before departing. The leaders were grateful that Governor Bird made time to participate in their workshop. They were happy that his vision and his views on Frieda Mine was mutual.
The leaders of the 49 villages, 52 n’gegos, and 416 clans thanked Governor Bird and his PEC for standing with the people in supporting their call to reject the EIS Mine Development Proposal. The leaders also pledged their support to Governor Bird and his government saying ‘Like Late GC Sir Michael Somare, you will never be replaced until you retire’.
Project Sepik Coordinator Emmanuel Peni (Manu) said he was happy that the Governor accepted the invitation of the people through Project Sepik. The governor’s presence among his people meant a lot. Manu said “We celebrate the decisions of the Governor and his PEC. We are also happy to know that he is with the people and does not want the mine”.