From Radio New Zealand
Conflicting accounts continue to come in about the controversial recent visit to Papua New Guinea by two Vanuatu diplomatic representatives and the country’s Foreign Minister.
PNG police and customs officials detained the passports of diplomatic representatives Pascal Anh Quan Saken and his brother Charles Henry Saken after the private jet they flew in arrived without proper clearance.
Mr Saken is the owner of the super yacht Phocea which was detained in Vanuatu in July, originally on suspicion of guns and drugs smuggling, and remains seized by the Ports Authority because it has forged documents.
Johnny Blades reports that the Phocea scandal, which continues to implicate members of Vanuatu’s Sato Kilman-led government, has also embroiled PNG’s top leadership.
Vanuatu’s government has been tight-lipped about the PNG liaison between its Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot and the two Sakens, saying it had no knowledge of their meeting.
However shortly before the chartered Boeing 737 travelled to Port Moresby’s Jackson airport, PNG officials received unusual correspondence from Vanuatu’s Ambassador to the European Union in Brussels requesting clearance for the Sakens who would be meeting Mr Carlot.
PNG Police became suspicious when the brothers, of Vietnamese ethnicity, disembarked with two large sacks, saying they would personally clean the plane.
PNG aviation authorities denied a request for crew of the 737 to sleep on board during its stopover, something which Pascal Anh Quan Saken has defended:
“The engineer and the captain wanted to stay on board because we had some technical problem, and we were not sure that in PNG we could have some assistance. And actually the sacks on board was only garbage – the handling ground staff at PNG’s airport knows about it.”
However, PNG officials decided to detain the Sakens’ passports as well as that of Mr Carlot who had also arrived in Port Moresby.
PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says the authorities had reason to believe these people had questionable backgrounds, requiring a check.
He says the jet departed on Sunday night after an investigation by officials.
“And they concluded that they have not breached any particular laws of our country other than not getting proper clearance for the plane to land in our country. The host country that has given the diplomatic passports to these persons have requested that they be allowed to transfer through our country and of course we have no choice but to comply with that.”
But PNG’s opposition has denounced the government for allowing the Sakens transit through PNG – according to Vanuatu’s Foreign Afairs department Pascal Ahn Quan Saken is wanted by Interpol on charges of drug and arms smuggling.
The opposition leader Belden Namah claims that certain PNG cabinet ministers met the two brothers on board their plane.
But Peter O’Neill says reports in PNG media that he or other ministers met the Sakens are not true.
“Nobody is authorised to meet the people who were under investigation so I’ll be very surprised if any minister or anybody other than the public servants who are carrying out the investigation met with the subjects.”
Peter O’Neill has also rejected claims by Alfred Carlot that he visited PNG at the invitation of the PNG Government.
The Vanuatu Foreign Minister is already implicated in the Phocea affair, having faced criminal charges last year for boarding the Phocea before it received clearance from customs and immigration.
The yacht remains moored in Port Vila, where the Ports Authority has refused to release it despite repeated efforts by the Kilman government to let it go.
The suspended Director of Ports and Harbours, Morris Kaloran, says his recent removal by the government is linked to the super yacht.
“Well, they give me some reasons but I think it’s only a cover-up. The reasons that were given to me for suspension, there is no ground for it. But the suspension was, I believe, politically motivated.”
Morris Kaloran says the yacht’s registration and crew documentation remain out of order and therefore the owner or owners have a case to answer.
He says the Malta Shipping Registry has confirmed that Maltese registration for the Phocea, which was obtained last year without proof of ownership and other registration requirements, was cancelled this month.
Mr Saken denies the registration is fake and says he is the victim of a conspiracy, both in Vanutau and PNG.
“I’ve been accused of being a gangster, having firearms and drugs on board. Same story for the airplane. Come on, we have to be realistic. If you find a firearm, that is a very, very big allegation… or any illegal substance, you think that for seven months the story will last? No. It would be in court, we would be prosecuted for a very serious offence. There’s nothing of that.”
Mr Saken, who says he is the Deputy Head of Vanuatu’s Embassy in Belgium, insists his work as a diplomatic representative focussing on energy projects took him to PNG.
He says he went there to talk to the US ambassador.
“And the reason why we went to PNG is because Minister Alfred Carlot was so impressed by our work that I have done in Belgium that he wanted us to go to the USA to implement the same programme. So that’s the reason why we came to PNG – because the only place for a Vanuatu citizen to get a visa for the USA is PNG.”
However his claims to have been in touch with the US Embassy come as a surprise to the embassy.
Its spokesman Regis Prevot has also denied claims from Alfred Carlot’s camp that he went to meet the ambassador.
“Most of the thing here was about the Foreign Minister coming, meeting with the US Ambassador, and no meeting took place.”Vanuatu’s Opposition leader Edward Natapei says the government is yet to answer his questions about what business Mr Carlot had with the Sakens in PNG.
The office of Vanuatu’s Prime Minister said last year it was revoking Pascal Ahn Quan Saken’s passport but he appears to still possess it, something Mr Natapei says casts the country in a poor light.
“The real concern is that the two brothers were travelling with Vanuatu diplomatic passports. Now there’s a big question about the diplomatic passports of Vanuatu and the credibility of that and our involvement as a country with people like the Sakens who are involved in other crooked deals around the world.”
Pascal Ahn Quan Saken has not been back to Vanuatu since leaving last July before he could be questioned in relation to the yacht .
For a man whose CV claims that he owns a barely known university in Vanuatu, and that he was born on Vanuatu’s main island despite claims by the local Vietnamese community to the contrary, Mr Saken remains an enigma.
He says he may return to PNG next month to complete his unfinished business with the US embassy, something which is sure to raise more questions.
From Pacific Scoop via Reporters Sans Frontières & Pacific Media Watch
Threats to the media in the South Pacific should not be taken lightly in two Melanesian countries, says the Paris-based global press freedom advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontières.
Papua New Guinea has dropped six places to 41st in the latest RSF World Press Freedom Index with the security forces being “regularly involved in attacks on journalists”.
In Fiji, in spite of a 10-place rise to 107th – explained in part by the decline of other countries in this section of the index, news organisations are threatened under the Media Industry Development Decree with exorbitant fines, or even imprisonment, as in the case of a recently convicted editor of The Fiji Times.
Elsewhere in the South Pacific did not rate a mention in the report, which highlighted the “Burmese spring” in the Asia-Pacific region.
But among other Pacific Islands Forum countries, New Zealand rose five places to eighth and Australia climbed four places to 26th.
From PNG Mine Watch
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has attacked “false and misleading claims” by a mining company as reported in the Australian Financial Review, the PNG Post-Courier reports.
O’Neill said BHP Billiton needed to get over its “colonial era” mentality, and appreciate that Papua New Guinea was an independent nation.
He said Australia should negotiate with Papua New Guinea in the “same, mature and reasonable way” numerous other Australian resource companies do.
“Instead of seeking the intervention and assistance of the Australian government, the company should negotiate with my government, and me, as Prime Minister,” O’Neill said.
“The article claims that I had blocked the granting or extension of exploration licences because it would not agree with my proposals regarding the determination of the board of PNG Sustainable Development Programme.
“This is totally and utterly false. It is just dishonest,” the prime minister said, according to the Post-Courier.
“BHP Billiton surrendered the licences entirely on its own accord. It did so when it made a decision early last year not to invest in Papua New Guinea – after I had personally invited the company to meet with senior cabinet ministers, including myself, to consider investing in PNG.
“We did everything possible to encourage the company, just as we encourage and assist other major investors all the time. They decided not to take up the offer.
“That occurred before the mid-year elections, and eight or nine months before I made my comments on Professor Ross Garnaut,” he said.
O’Neill said the central issue was not Professor Garnaut and his “inaccurate and ill-informed comments” on why he wanted the issues surrounding the way the board of PNGSDP was appointed to be changed.
“The central issue is this – 11 years ago, BHP Billiton was done an enormous favour by the then PNG government and allowed to exit ownership of the Ok Tedi Mine without accepting any financial or moral, responsibility for the enormous environmental and social damage that occurred in the 20 years it operated the mine,” he said.
“Surely, 11 years on, there can be no reasonable case made out to justify BHP Billiton continuing to exercise effective control over the PNGSDP, and as a consequence, the Ok Tedi Mine itself.
“The claim by BHP Billiton and by Professor Garnaut that I want the PNG government to get its hands on the funds of the PNGSDP is personally offensive. All I have sought, and will continue to seek, is negotiations that can lead to BHP Billiton ending a role that it is not justified to continue to play.
“My position is supported by my government, and I believe by the national Parliament and the people of the Fly River, Western Province,” he said.
O’Neill said BHP Billiton should reflect on the appalling environmental damage that occurred during its management of the Ok Tedi mine, and the terrible consequences for the people of the Fly River area – consequences which continue to be felt today.
“The PNG government of the day decided just over a decade ago to legislate to allow BHP Billiton to walk away from any responsibility for the damage that was caused during its management of the mine.
“That spared the company the massive costs, and international humiliation it faced because it effectively ended compensation claims by landowners and local communities along the Fly River.
“The provisions that allowed the company to effectively control the appointment of the board of the PNGSDP, and therefore continue its influence over Ok Tedi, were generous. There can be no justification for their continuation,” he said.
“The Australian government is well aware of the position of my government. The legislation that effectively let BHP Billiton off the hook is PNG law, not Australian law,” he said.
O’Neill said he rejected the claims in the article that his position was damaging the PNG investment climate.
“This is total nonsense. Last month I addressed 1400 mining, oil and gas leaders, and financiers and analysts, in Sydney, at the annual PNG Mining and Petroleum Conference.
“At that conference, there was strong confidence expressed about PNG as a country in which to invest, and in the range of policies my government has in place, and is committed to, to give investors confidence and certainty.
“The claim that this issue has undermined confidence could not be further from the truth,” O’Neill said.
PROFESSOR GARNAUT HAS LOST THE PLOT!
Sharon Isafe | PNG Mine Watch
Prof Ross Garnaut, perhaps Australia’s most infamous academic-entrepreneur, has lashed out at Prime Minister O’Neill for his expulsion from PNG.
He claims, “My ban was a low point for Australian diplomacy generally, a low point for PNG development, and a low point for Papua New Guinea democracy”.
Without denying the ‘trauma’ Prof Garnaut must feel at his travel ban – though he seems to forget, Australia regularly bans people from entry who fail a character test – I humbly suggest PNG may have had a few lower points than this.
- Does Prof Garnaut remember 1989? Prime Minister Namaliu, now a Director at BCL, sent in the RPNGC and PNGDF to brutalise and murder landowners who opposed the Panguna mine owned by BCL – all with a helping hand from Australia. Could this have been a lower point for democracy, diplomacy and development than Garnaut’s travel ban?
- What about 1984, this was the year Ok Tedi began producing one of the worst environmental catastrophes in the world, that will be felt for hundreds of years to come by people along the Fly River. Could this possibly be a lower point for democracy and development than Garnaut’s travel ban?
- Or what about PNG LNG? By the government’s own account the agreement with Exxon was rushed through without proper consultation. Now we are lumbered with a massive gas project, run by a company with alleged links to serious crimes against humanity in places like Indonesia, who are employing mobile squads to repress landowner dissent in the Highlands. Could this be a lower point for democracy and development in PNG than Garnaut’s travel ban?
For a corporate high flyer like Prof Garnaut I suspect the answer to all three questions is NO. How could the flagrant violation of the right to life, environment and culture, for hundreds of thousands of Papua New Guineans ever compare in gravity with a modest violation of one corporate executive’s right to exploit.
Elite hubris at its very best!
By Sharon Isafe
In a recent article published in the Global Mail, freelance journalist Jo Chandler discovers the secret behind a spate of deaths along the Fly River. Its no mystery she writes, sadly the disturbing mortality rate is a product of an absence in basic health services, combined with severe social dislocation caused by the Ok Tedi mine.
Citing evidence from a World Health Organisation briefing Chandler writes:
Their examinations identify sickness and disease emerging from years of accumulated neglect, compounded by dirty water, poor nutrition, crowded living conditions, too many babies, lack of roads and power, decaying or abandoned health facilities and hardscrabble lives made harder by shifting tides and islands of sediment, soil erosion and vegetation dieback, and the loss of fish catches and crops.
She continues several paragraphs later:
Ok Tedi’s operations over a generation have provided critical infrastructure, opportunity and services to some of the world’s most isolated and challenged communities, plus 2,000 direct jobs (95 per cent of them going to local people) and as many again spun off through local businesses and subcontractors. But in the South Fly villages I visit the only evidence of substantial trickle down from its USD1.45 billion annual revenue is the sediment. It raises the riverbed and spills water onto the land, wiping out food gardens and spoiling drinking water, even exposing old graves. Such issues are serious enough to prompt the mining company to consider relocating severely impacted communities.
One senses something calamitous when one of the most profitable mines in the world is surrounded by some of the worst displays of ‘development’-based rural impoverishment.
Yet not all journalists see things this way. With their friends smarting inside the Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF) – the ones charged with maladministering community compensation payments from Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) – some in the media fraternity have taken it upon themselves to find some good news stories, its Christmas after all. Cue Malum Nalu.
On his celebrated blog, The National’s business Editor trumpets the arrival of a Twin Otter aircraft, purchased by the OTDF. We are told “the aircraft was bought at a total cost of US$7.4 million with the funding for purchasing the aircraft coming from the CMCA Trust Investment Funds.”
Given that women along the south Fly die needlessly from cervical cancer, one would imagine that investment in rural health services may be more defensible.
Not so argues Western Province Governor, Ati Wobiro. He is quoted by Nalu as saying, “our people in Western province are very fortunate that we have money from Ok Tedi and we have very good managers like Mr Middleton and his OTDF team who can turn this money into something tangible”.
Tangible? Western Province may have an aeroplane, but some children would prefer tangible mothers.
Nevertheless, Malum Nalu reports:
“Middleton said this new aircraft including the first one which arrived in October this year, would be leased to OTML for 15 years”. OTDF’s Middleton explains, “on behalf of the CMCA communities OTDF has secured a 15-year master lease agreement with OTML with a guaranteed 8% return per annum for the aircraft with the Ok Tedi mine life extended”.
But, can this 8% return replace the lost productivity produced by the Fly River’s desecration? Nalu never asks. And what about investing in rural health services, what sort of return might this yield? Another question that is left off the agenda.
Instead, Nalu insists on reporting verbatim the carefully choreographed remarks of the mine’s corporate and political patrons, without a modicum of critical scrutiny.
It would appear Nalu reserves his criticisms for PNG’s civil society organisations.
If only he approached his journalism with the same enthusiasm for critique. But then he would not be the recipient of corporate largesse, would he.
Sadly, the people along the Fly River now return to dying in silence, until another journalist, with the tenacity to ask hard questions find their way to this neglected region. In the mean time, expect more corporate spin in PNG’s dailies.
We are all impoverished as a result.
By Gary Juffa, MP and Governor
During my election campaign, I spent many a day and many a night making my case to village elders and chiefs, informing them of what it was I believed in and wanted to do.
Traversing many a mountain, crossing several flooded rivers and moving by dinghy to remote islands, walking across plains and valleys and meeting and greeting the ordinary folk, I asked them not to kill their chickens, pigs or cows, to refrain from feasts and singing and dancing. I asked them to give me some of their precious time, to listen and discuss with me.
“There is no need for feasting, no killing of chickens, pigs or cows. Let there be no elaborate dances and merriment. I ask you not to commit any resources. If you can, share with me a coconut, sugar cane or perhaps water. Let us be sober and reflect. These days are not days of joy. They are days of bitterness and despair. There is nothing to celebrate and be joyful for. Let us take time to discuss these days. Let us reflect on where we once were, where we are now and where our children’s tomorrow will be. Will they be in charge of their destiny or will they be spectators watching while their resources are plundered by others, cheated of their rightful inheritance, relegated to be standing on the outside in the cold and rain, to be subservient slaves, awaiting the crumbs of the riches of their land?”
And they heard me, they listened and we discussed and debated often well into the night. There was no feasting and singing and dancing and certainly no beer or fatty meats or noisy merriment.
“We have a thousand journeys to walk, much work to be done, our sweat and blood and tears must flow so that we may build a better tomorrow for our children, a tomorrow that has already been pledged by selfish politicians and middlemen and their friends from afar who only speak of profit and are spurred on by greed. Let us work hard and not tarry and not delay and not fight and biker with one another or be lazy and sleep, our hand out begging for something without having done anything, let us not allow ourselves to be fooled but let us arm ourselves with education and awareness, honesty and transparency and let us encourage each other with acts of solidarity and humility.”
I was aided by many a kind citizen who made the effort to call home, remotest villages now accessible by mobile phone, internet and social networking reaching far flung hamlets and remote huts, urging one and all to think of the future, a future that had grown suddenly dark and eerie, bleak and uncertain and to awaken from our slumber and act decisively to stand up and be heard, march, prepare for war. A war not of axes or bows and arrows and or guns although that day may come, but a war of the mind, of keen planning and heightened awareness of the powerful economic and political forces that seek to displace and remove and separate us from our land and our resources and take, take with subtle cunning knowledge and where necessary extreme force, shedding blood and spreading even death. A war we must fight, if we are to have a future, if our children are to be truly free….
Yes, we fight a war, let it be clear, let there be no doubt and confusion, if we are to build a better tomorrow for our children, we must fight many battles before this war is won and the greatest weapons, are knowledge, truth and perseverance…the greatest dangers are not our enemies but ourselves, our ignorance and our inability to act…