Garnaut and BHP criticized by PNG Government


By Ilya Gridneff, Papua New Guinea Correspondent PORT MORESBY, Oct 20 AAP -

The Papua New Guinea government has attacked the development group headed by Australia's climate change expert Ross Garnaut for failing to deliver improvements needed after BHP Biliton's environmental disaster at the Ok Tedi copper mine.

Professor Garnaut is chairman of the billion dollar PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP) that is responsible for overseeing aid and income generating programs across PNG.   PNGSDP was set up by BHP Billiton after their Ok Tedi mine, in PNG's Western Province, caused devastating environmental damage to surroundingriver systems in the late 1990s.  BHP Billiton divested its 52 per cent Ok Tedi shareholding and established the PNGSDP in 2002.

This month PNG Treasurer Peter O'Neill wrote to BHP Billiton, that picks three of the six PNGSDP board members, calling for Professor Garnaut and his team to be sacked for failing the country's most deprived.

Mr O'Neill told AAP there were growing concerns amongst PNG leaders and citizens that PNGSDP had achieved little after nearly a decade.  "Professor Garnaut is appointed by BHP and his tenure is a matter for BHP," he said.

"I met with Garnaut and raised these issues, he is fully aware. "BHP needs to review the whole structure that's what we are encouraging them to do. "The reality is the people on the ground are not satisfied. The potential of such a large program, it is not delivering.

"We also want to ensure there is new blood at board membership level that will create a new sense of direction for the organisation, we raised it with BHP, changes need to come." It's worrying there has only been one new board member since 2002, he said. BHP Billiton's spokeswoman said they are in "ongoing correspondence" with the PNG government.  "BHP Billiton is committed to ensuring that PNGSDP remains effectively governed for the benefit of the people of PNG and the Western Province in particular," she said.

"The performance of the company to date speaks for itself. This is clearly documented in the projects showcased within the company's public annual reports." BHP is completing a board skills review as part of the recruitment process for a new board member to replace Jim Carlton who leaves at the end of this year, she said.

Professor Garnaut, who is also director of the Ok Tedi mine, said an independent review of the PNGSDP, undertaken by Harvard Institute of International Development director, Professor Dwight Perkins, has been made public.

"At various times, people in the PNG Government have proposed that they take over control of the assets of PNG SDP and upon consideration have dropped the proposals," he said. "Such a takeover would require the agreement of BHP Billiton and the Independent State of PNG. "Others can judge whether the PNGSDP directors have discharged their heavy responsibilities well and whether the current attempt to take over the assets of PNGSDP is at all related to the performance of the company."

Despite billions in international donor money yearly going to PNG, the Pacific island country languishes at 148th on the UN's Human Development Index, two places below Bangladesh and trailing 40 places behind Fiji. Development in PNG is incredibly complex issue with a recent review of Australia's $457 million annual aid to PNG finding both sides share "widespread dissatisfaction" with the program.