THE Bougainville region’s autonomous government (ABG) has lifted a decades-long moratorium on mining and exploration in sections of the region. The ABG says its bureaucracy has built the skills to handle applications.

ABG president John Momis made the announcement after the Bougainville executive council carefully considered the implications of developing the capacity of the government to manage exploration applications and the people’s needs.

He said the decision applied to Mt Tore in the north of the main island, and Jaba and Isina in central Bougainville but not Panguna.

Since development of the Panguna mine more than 40 years ago, the rest of Bougainville has been covered by the moratorium.

In 2006, the ABG requested a drawdown of mining, oil and gas powers and functions from the national government. In 2008, the ABG and government signed the Alotau agreement that established the road map for the transfer of these powers and functions.

Although the process was slow, the ABG enacted its own Mining Act in 2015, which paved the way for regulation of its own mining sector.

“The Bougainville Constitution and the Bougainville Mining Act 2015 clearly define the people as owner of all minerals found on all the land in Bougainville,” John Momis said. “It is significantly important that the people’s consent must be given before any mine is developed.

“Without capacity we would be inundated with applications and we would be drowned. I think there is some confidence now in the Mining Department to handle the applications so we have decided to lift the moratorium, partially, in these three restricted areas.”

He also said the Bougainville Mining Act gave the ABG the opportunity to preserve and reserve certain areas from mineral exploration and mining to develop mineral resources for current and future generations.

The Bougainville executive council has the final authority to grant mining licences in Bougainville and in this way it will scrutinise every would-be investor well to ensure only genuine investors invest.

“We have learnt our lessons from the Panguna experience and now have the opportunity to do a better job,” John Momis said. “On behalf of the people of Bougainville, I invite and welcome applications from prospective applicants to invest in our mining sector.”

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