By STARZA PAUL
East Sepik Governor Allan Bird cautions his people to strategise and plan well for Frieda Mine in the province so that they can benefit well from the mining activity.
“Before we talk about Frieda consultations, I want everyone to know that I have listened to both sides of the argument and I have decided that the issue is too important for a small group or individual to take a decision in isolation.
“Let us start by thinking about the Sepik River people for a moment, more particularly where we see them in 20 or 30 years’ time. Where do they see themselves in that timeframe?” he said.
“Will they still be fisher folk? Living a semi subsistence life, selling carvings and other artifacts and performing traditional dances for tourists?
“Or will more of them desire a decent education, a career or start a business and move to live in a town or city? The current generation might be happy living the traditional lifestyle but what about the younger generation? Is it fair to them that those of us on land see them as suppliers of fish for our sustenance? Is that where they should remain?” he said.
Governor Bird questioned “would a large scale mine, managed safely and properly add value to this process of change or badly managed do the opposite?
“There are no easy answers. Perhaps the answer lies in between. I have no doubt the River people are best placed to tell us their views of the future,” he said.
Governor Bird said that one thing he was certain of is that the life of the river people, like all Sepiks and Papua New Guineans, is changing.
“As a child, I used to accompany my grandfather and we would walk to Pagwi where we would barter sago or yams for smoked fish once a week with river people.
“Today I see women from the river catch a PMV to Maprik and sell bags of smoked fish for cash in less an hour, buy what they need and return home daily. Things have changed,” he said.
Mr Bird said he has seen the Sepik River as the best maintenance free, low cost highway in the country that has never been used.
“My vision is that 50 years from today, the biggest port in PNG will be at Kopar and Angoram will be a city and the largest port in PNG for exports and imports. Marrienberg LLG will be the place to be.
“I expect the ESPG to do the right thing by everyone, to be fair and transparent, to give each stake holder an opportunity, without fear, without intimidation to discuss their concerns (pros and cons) regarding Frieda Mine,” he said.
“Take into account the desires of our Telefomin Sepiks, our Kopar Sepiks and every Sepik in between.
“Let us not exclude PanAust as a stakeholder. This company came into the prospect four years ago and in that time PNG Government has given them a deadline to produce an EIS and Mine Development proposal or the prospect would be given to another company.
“It would only be fair that we listen to what they have to say rather than dismiss them without a hearing. After all, our government invited them here,” he said.
“This year we will have a team of experts look at the EIS and the Mine Development Proposal. On a personal level my only concern is the safety of the river. Anything else, be they benefits for river people, landowners, etc are negotiable. The safety of the Sepik River is non -negotiable.
“I urge everyone to calm down, think rationally and contribute intelligently and constructively to the debate at the appropriate forum. I will make no more statements about Frieda until after the professional review and the public consultations are concluded.”