Monday, June 28, 2010

PNG sacrifices freedom for mining

Mining has been a hot topic in New Zealand recently, with government plans to dig up our national parks. Its also been a hot topic in Papua New Guinea. There, a bunch of Chinese investors want to start a nickel mine. Because they can't be arsed running it cleanly, they want to dump the contaminated tailings in the sea. Local landowners and fishermen don't like that plan, and so they've exercised their legal right to challenge the plan in court. No problem, says the government - we'll just pass a law to forbid lawsuits over environmental damage for projects we like.

The law is hugely controversial, and has already led to one MP quitting the government. It is itself being challenged in court. And it has led to public criticism and protests. No problem, says the government - we'll just ban all that too:

Papua New Guinea’s justice minister, Ano Pala, has issued an extraordinary decree imposing a media blackout on debate over controversial legal amendments to environmental laws surrounding a Chinese-run mine.

The minister, who is also the Attorney-General, has also ordered police commanders to stop any planned protests against the laws.

Mr Pala says there is to be no more discussion, comment or reference in the media to the Environment Act amendments.

This is of course blatantly unconstitutional - the PNG Constitution affirms the freedoms of speech and assembly, just like every other modern constitutional document. But apparently all of that must be thrown away to fulfil the whims of foreign investors (who may take PNG to the cleaners if the project doesn't proceed - another example of poor countries stupidly/helplessly signing profit guarantees in an effort to attract investment). PNG is nominally a democracy - but its not looking that way at the moment. Instead its looking like a tawdry crony capitalist dictatorship, right in our backyard.