THE CHARITABLE fund tasked with ensuring the dividends from Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi mine flow to the people is taking the PNG Government to court in Singapore.
The PNG Sustainable Development Fund (PNGSDP) has asked the Singapore Supreme Court for protection from alleged illegal action taken by the PNG government and to “safeguard its corporate integrity, its assets and its income.”
The action comes after PNGSDP, a Singapore incorporated company set up by the PNG Parliament in 2001 under the Ok Tedi Mine Continuation Ninth Supplemental Agreement Act, had its 63.4 per cent shareholding in Ok Tedi Mining Limited expropriated in September when the PNG government passed a bill allowing the state to take 100% ownership of the copper and gold mine.
PNGSDP chairman Sir Mekere Morauta said shortly after the expropriation that the court action was necessary.
“The Singapore action comes after letters from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Chief Secretary Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc last week purportedly terminating the PNGSDP board, including myself as chairman, removing the chief executive officer David Sode and appointing a transitional management team,” he said in a statement.
“These actions have no legal effect and PNGSDP is continuing to operate under its existing board and management according to its constitutional documents.
“The company is especially mindful of the need to protect the $US1.4 billion of assets in its long-term fund from misuse, abuse and misappropriation. The legal action we are taking will ensure that the company keeps control of the long-term fund so that it can be used wisely and effectively for the people of Western Province in the decades ahead.”
PNGSDP is fighting to have its shares in Ok Tedi Mining reinstated, and failing that, for compensation to be paid to PNGSDP.
The situation for PNGSDP has since escalated after its communications director, Mark Davis, was deported from PNG to Australia. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted PNG foreign affairs and immigration minister Rimbink Pato as saying that Mr Davis was deported because he had breached the conditions of his work permit and was issuing media statements on behalf of the PNGSDP which it considered to not be acting in the best interests of the country.
Speaking to PNG Resources soon after his deportation to Cairns in Queensland, Mr Davis, who had been working for PNGSDP since the beginning of 2013, said he believed he had a valid working visa and the actions by the government to remove him from the country was a way to silence his employer.
“What they [the government] had subsequently said is that I engaged in domestic politics as a foreigner,” Mr Davis told PNG Resources.
“I was simply doing my job working for a registered company in PNG.”
Sir Mekere said Mr Davis had effectively been kidnapped.
“Mark Davis was effectively smuggled out of the country by Migration and Police officers, with the assistance of Air Niugini,” he said. “He was put on a plane to Brisbane… his wallet was taken from him, so he arrived in Brisbane at night without his Australian phone, without one iota or cent, without any of his Australian bank or credit cards.”
“And what was Mark’s crime?…Mark’s crime was that he was working for Mekere Morauta and PNGSDP.”
Mr Davis, who is still working for PNGSDP from his home in Cairns, said while he has always had faith in PNG, the expropriation of its major asset by the government had done little to retain the faith held by the business community.
“The thing that the business community should be concerned about is that the government has no qualms in breaking contracts, breaking the law, treating the property rights of foreign companies as something totally meaningless,” he said shortly after his deportation.
Since PNGSDP has been in operation, about K1.2 billion has been sent on more than 600 economic development projects across the country, on top of the US$1.4 billion saved for post-mine-closure development projects
With PNGSDP’s 63.4% stake of Ok Tedi Mining recently expropriated, the not-for-profit company no longer has access to the funds to continue its sustainable economic and social development programs.
Mr Davis said the effective freeze on the funds had started to affect the people of PNG.
“The impact on the Western Province community has been very severe,” he said. “We’re looking at almost 100 projects worth about K250 million, mainly in the Western Province, that have had to close because the prime minister has stolen Ok Tedi from us and has tried to get its hands on funds held in the trust overseas.”
Mr Davis said PNGSDP remained committed to ensuring the best outcome for Papua New Guineans and would fight very hard to ensure it can continue to fulfil its commitment to provide development programs for the country.
“We’ve got a very strong commitment to social and economic development in the Western Province and when all this is over we want to go there, pick up the pieces and continue on with what we were doing,” Mr Davis said.
“We are hoping for the best outcome for the people of the Western Province.”