Home > Corruption, Logging, mining, Papua New Guinea > A Tale of Two Fly Rivers – A Tale of Two Journalists

A Tale of Two Fly Rivers – A Tale of Two Journalists

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.

Malum Nalu 1


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.

  1. bhassy Koizag
    January 4, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Can journalists and freelance writers identify the key roles and responsibilities of various development partners such as the Ok Tedi Mine, OTDF and Fly River Provincial Government. What has Fly River Provincial Government done with the money that it has given as royalties in the past on the last 30 years before the new Governor? After all OTML is not a government to plan and implement governments services. Analyse properly the strenghts and weaknesses of the past Fly River Provincial Government. Do not read the book by its cover. Make balance reporting.

  2. Sick of pretentious and corrupt expats in PNG
    January 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Senior PNG journos, the likes of Malum Nalu, make poor journalism in their stories as they copy word for word/phrase from phrase, from PR material released to them. It makes me wonder if they have any idea as to how to tell a story. With Ok Tedi mine and the Fly River story, there are lots of angles a serious journo could attack from instead of feeding out of the hands of their PR friends. A good angle would be to find out exactly how much compensation money is paid to individuals in a family who has lost his piece of waterfront land to erosion as a result of Ok Tedi’s operations. How much does Ian Middleton receive as his daily wage compared to the landowner mother in the Middle Fly who now has to paddle a longer distance to harvest sago because the continuous rising water level in the Fly (as a result of Ok Tedi’s increased sedimentation in the river) has destroyed all nearby sago gardens? While the mother is paddling a long way in search of sago, Mr Middleton has got his white bum nice dry and comfortable in the seat of the OTML Dash 8 charter service to Cairns where he shops safely and comfortably at Coles. How much does OTML CEO Nigel Parker receive compared to the South Fly father who now has to travel a long way to get to a trade store because of rising water levels to spend his limited daily kina compensation on a parcel of rice? While he is doing that Mr Parker is swiping his credit card in the comforts of a classy Bangkok restaurant to enjoy a luscious Thai meal. Malum Nalu, if you are an award winning journalist, try and look for different and interesting angles to a very long and sad running story. More tips for you Mr Top Journalist: How about finding out whether landowners can sue OTML executives. BHP shut out that option by getting landowners and the PNG government to sign agreements but OTML has not done that so find out if OTML executives and OTDF CEO can be sued if Boka Kondra and his investigators find acid in the Fly River when the next El Nino strikes. And by the way, is Mr Middleton, the same man who set up a family business and got over a K1 million to build baramundi farms in Daru and the Fly River region? What happened to that contract? Now we see Mr Middleton dumping that venture, having raised a lot of bullshit about it and has jumped onto the gravy train (having kissed the right arses up in Tabubil) to see if he can make more money to fund his expensive lifestyle at the expense of landowners. He is full of patronising PNG Pidgin (I know he grew up in PNG) but he is nonetheless patronising and is an attention seeker and tries to be more Papua New Guinean than the Papua New Guinean in the company of his fellow Australians. One thing that is for sure is that he cannot find a job back in his home country of Australia so is hanging on in PNG to scratch every penny he can. No-one has asked him to account for the millions he got from the PNGSDPL. Perhaps Mr Nalu can ask him next time he sees him.

    • nationalist
      February 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      My goodness, are we all asleep? There must and should be more like minded to see, to think, like you. I’m lost for words as you have done so well, a description that irritates the like minded. Now I wonder what the new Chairman of PNGSDC (or whatever name ) is going to do for the sake of those poor people you’ve described, Who are these characters like Middleton? Such greedy, money hungry so and so s should not be around. Then again I cannot blame these kind, no hopers from wherever they appeared, it’s our own Waigani fat cats, title seeking, also money hungry have led us astray. As long as the same old names continue to appear on Boards and take up management roles, we have no hope unfortunately for our people.

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