James Regan Sydney

A proposal to turn ownership of mineral rights over to landowners in Papua New Guinea would split national unity and devastate the south Pacific country’s economically vital mining sector, Papua New Guinea’s Chamber of Mines and Petroleum said yesterday.

Supporters of the move led by former prime minister Julius Chan believe it would better distribute royalties from the billions of dollars reaped each year from mining and oil directly to local communities instead of relying on the central government.

But Chamber of Mines and Petroleum executive director Greg Anderson said this would lead to chaos and could deter foreign investment in the nation’s single-largest revenue earner.

The proposal, first tabled by Mines Minister Byron Chan, the son of Julius Chan, is a key plank ahead of national elections next June in Papua New Guinea, which is often described as an island of gold, floating in a sea of oil surrounded by gas.

“The proposal is getting a high profile because we’re coming up to the elections,” Anderson said.

The country has long been a supplier of petroleum products, copper and gold and investor confidence in exploiting more reserves has been growing.

Exxon Mobil is developing a $15 billion (R122bn) liquefied natural gas project and a consortium led by Metallurgical Corporation of China is digging a nickel mine.

Anderson said direct ownership of minerals rights could fracture the country’s national identity and promote individualism and personal greed. – Reuters