Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Prime Minister: Landowners must be aware of the consequences of court action

Landowners in major resource project areas need to be fully aware of the possible consequences of court action they take with regard to the future operation, and viability, of major projects, Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, said yesterday.
O'Neill said the national government was appealing a court decision relating to the Ok Tedi Mine, and the discharge of waste into the Fly River and tributaries in the Western province. 
The National Court last Friday ordered Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML) to refrain from dumping mine waste and tailings on the Ok Tedi Fly River systems pending the hearing of the substantive matter.
Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika ordered the Government to provide details and records of how it spent the dividends it received from OTML from 2001 to 2013.
The matter returns to court on Feb 12.
"We respect the courts, but we will fully exercise our appeal rights in relation to this decision, a decision which could well have massive, and unintended, consequences," O'Neill said.
He said landowners needed to understand that the actions they have taken, urged on by well paid lawyers, could have horrendous financial, economic and social consequences for the mine, the landowners themselves, and the nation as a whole.
"I hope the courts generally understand the consequences of claims they are hearing.,” O’Neill said.
“We don't just rely on the courts to uphold the law; we rely on the courts to appreciate the consequences of their decisions and rulings."

O'Neill said it was clear the action by so called "landowners" in the mine area, and along the Fly River, was prompted by lawyers who would end up being the main beneficiary because of the high fees they charge.
O'Neill said he was the first prime minister to address "front and centre" environment, landowner and community issues relating to the Ok Tedi mine and he appealed to genuine landowners to have confidence that the National Government was not just addressing their concerns, it was in the process of actually resolving them.
"For a start, my government has insisted that a tailings dam be built at the mine as an absolute requirement if the mine is to operate long term,” he said.
“Design work on the tailings dam has begun - and it will be built as quickly as possible."
"I froze all landowner and provincial government trust accounts until all the issues relating to the ownership, management, and operations of the mine are resolved.
“I did this when it was clear to me that the overwhelming wish of landowners, and communities, was for the funds to be frozen.”
O'Neill said all benefit sharing arrangements were being reviewed by the high level committee chaired by the Chief Secretary, and the review process was making sure the structure of landowner groups, and the election of leaders, was transparent and genuine.
"I appeal to landowners to trust me - and trust my government,” he said.
“ We are the first government to honestly address the environmental catastrophe along the Fly River, and its tributaries.
“We are the first government to take steps to ensure that the benefit sharing and other agreements benefit genuine landowners.
"The possible consequences of the court decision are absolutely massive."
"It is absolutely critical landowners understand that before they contemplate legal action from which lawyers are most likely to be the only winners.”

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