By SINCLAIRE SOLOMON
A HIGH-powered ministerial committee, set up four years ago to expedite the K3.2 billion Ramu nickel project in the Bismarck Range of Madang, has never met, The National reports.
The project, Papua New Guinea’s first nickel and cobalt mine, is already 12 months behind schedule and costing developer Ramu NiCo (MCC) more than K7 million a day.
The committee was set up by a special meeting of the national executive council on April 13, 2006, after ministers were given a background brief of the mining at Kurumbukari in Usino-Bundi electorate and refinery operations at
Its job was to “oversee and expedite the finalisation and implementation of the Ramu nickel-cobalt project” and be led by the mining minister as chairman. The minister at the time was Michael Ogio.
Other ministers in the committee were from works, national planning and monitoring, labour and industrial relations, foreign affairs and immigration, environment and conservation, lands and physical planning and health.
The fact that its existence was not widely known was evident in labour and industrial relations’ moves last year to remove some Chinese workers from Ramu NiCo for failing to fulfil PNG work permit requirements.
Unbeknownst to the department, the special NEC meeting had also directed the foreign affairs and immigration minister to use his powers under relevant legislation “to give appropriate visas to foreign nationals with relevant qualifications and experience required in the construction and development phase of the project”.
The man responsible for all mining and exploration activities in Madang, John Bivi, last week confirmed the formation of the ministerial committee exclusively for the Ramu nickel project but had not received any correspondence and deliberations to date.
“As far as I know, it has never sat,” Bivi, who heads a one-man provincial mines office, said. “It shows clearly the government’s lack of total commitment to the project which the provincial government fully backs.
“It is another case of too much talk, too much promises and no action to back them up,” he said.
Similarly, a spokesman for Ramu NiCo said at the weekend they were not aware that such a ministerial committee existed.
Ramu NiCo is already locked in a court battle with a group of landowners from the
The latter has been granted an interim injunction stopping work on the tailings system until the substantive issue is heard by Justice David Cannings in Madang this week.
To add to Ramu NiCo’s woes, the acting chief commissioner of the Land Titles Commission Benedict Batata had refused Madang provincial administration’s request for the special land titles commissioners to resume hearing outstanding Ramu nickel project land disputes.
Bivi said they had been informed by the department of justice and attorney-general that the disputes, being heard by the LTC until the death of its chairman, would be listed as an ordinary application for land tenure conversion to be deliberated on at a later date.
“It is obvious that we have not been supportive of this project from day one,” he said.
Bivi said they had noted new Mining Minister John Pundari’s pledge to fast-track the Ramu nickel project, hoping he would revive the ministerial committee and not sit back like his predecessors.