Panguna share value doubles overnight after landowners opt to reopen mine

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Guarding Panguna mine
A PNG Defence Force soldier guarding Panguna mine in the early stages of the Bougainville civil war in 1989. Image: David Robie/APR

By Gorethy Kenneth in Port Moresby

The dormant Bougainville Copper Limited share value has more than doubled overnight on the Australian Stock Exchange following a resolution to reopen the rich but controversial Panguna copper mine.

Landowners from the mine area and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) signed a joint resolution last Friday to reopen the mine, causing the leap in its share price.

The ABG’s current 36.4 percent (146,175,449 shares) shareholding was worth K146.2 million (NZ$63 million) when the shares were worth 40 cents each on Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, however, the share value was worth K325.2 million (NZ$152 million) when they increased and closed at 89 cents, a jump of 122.5 per cent.

That is an increase of K179 million (NZ$89 million).

It shows what a little bit of good news and perhaps a demonstration of confidence in Bougainville can do.

ABG President Ishmael Toroama acknowledged and congratulated the five clans and their respective leadership for taking the bold stand to reopen the mine.

Facilitate reopening process
Toroama said that following the signing of the joint resolutions, the ABG through the Department of Mineral and Energy Resources and other relevant departments, would now work together with the landowner groups to facilitate the process towards the reopening.

The ABG government is confident that the mine reopening would be a major boost for Bougainville’s economic future and at the same time guarantee Bougainville’s political independence.

“Today marks the ending and the beginning of a new chapter, a chapter to realize Bougainville’s independence,” Toroama said.

BCL general manager and secretary Mark Hitchcock said the significant increase in the volume of BOC’s securities traded from 10 February 2022 to 11 February 2022 and the article published on the Autonomous Bougainville Government website entitled “Panguna Landowners and ABG agree to reopen Panguna Mine” dated 11 February 2022 contributed to the latter.

“We understand the article published relates to resolutions passed during a Panguna landowner summit that was supported by the ABG,” he said.

“The landowners appear to have agreed to work co-operatively with the ABG to reopen the Panguna Mine.

“According to the article the resolutions were endorsed by the chiefs of the five major Panguna clans and the ABG will now work with landowners to facilitate a process towards reopening.

Fair representation of events
“If the article is a fair representation of the events, then this would appear to demonstrate unity amongst the landowners and, would also boost confidence in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville as it pursues economic independence.

“Bougainville Copper Limited is engaged in investment activities.

The company’s assets include the Panguna mine and associated facilities on Bougainville, and equities listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.

“There is no change in the status of the shareholdings of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and PNG shareholdings in BOC.

The PNG government’s commitment to transfer their shares to the ABG remains pending and both governments continue to hold 36.4 percent each of the shares in BOC.

“The judicial review of the ABG’s decision not to renew the exploration licence over Panguna remains in process and we anticipate proceedings to commence in the first quarter of 2022.”

The ABG has a 36.4 percent ownership stake in BCL, which is set to become a 72.8 percent majority share with the PNG national government committed to transferring over its 36.4 percent share.

Active presence on the ground
Hitchcock said BCL had long had an active presence on the ground in Bougainville with a locally engaged team.

It had continued supporting community projects and other initiatives.

Bougainville Copper’s board has strong levels of local representation with four prominent Bougainvillean directors – Sir Mel Togolo, David Osikore, James Rutana and Kearnneth Nanei.

Other board members are Sir Rabbie Namaliu, Sir Moi Avei, Dame Carol Kidu and Peter Graham.

“Over time, BCL has transformed into a truly local company,” Hitchcock said.

Decade-long civil war
Panguna mine was at the centre of a decade-long civil war between rebels in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea security forces, reports The Guardian.

It was once one of the world’s largest and most profitable copper and goldmines and still contains an estimated 5.3 mllion tonnes of copper and 19.3m ounces of gold, which would make the reserves worth about $60 billion at today’s prices.

In 1989, amid rising community anger at the environmental damage and the inequitable division of the mine’s profits, locals forced closure of the mine, blowing up Panguna’s power lines and sabotaging operations.

The PNG government sent in troops against its own citizens to restart the foreign-owned mine, sparking a bloody, decade-long civil war. A peace settlement was brokered by New Zealand in 2001.

Gorethy Kenneth is a senior PNG Post-Courier journalist. This article is republished with permission.

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