Porgera: Barrick can challenge decision to end mining lease


Papua New Guinea’s National Court has granted Barrick Niugini leave for a review of the decision not to extend the Special Mining Lease for the Porgera gold mine. Related disputes have also arisen, however, and the Prime Minister has flagged ‘minor amendments’ to PNG’s Mining Act.

Porgera mine

Porgera gold mine. Credit: Barrick

The decision by PNG’s National Court allows Barrick to proceed with its legal challenge over the government’s decision. The court reportedly ruled that Barrick has ‘sufficiently pleaded its grounds’ for leave to be granted to challenge the decision not to renew the special mining lease for Porgera gold mine in Enga Province.

The Marape government announced on April 24 that it would not renew Barrick’s lease, citing recommendations from the Mining Advisory Committee. Barrick subsequently suspended its operations and commenced legal proceedings against the government.

Government land grab?

In another unexpected development, a National Gazette publication of 28 April stated that the Minister for Mining, Johnson Tuke, would ‘reserve from exploration or mining’ an area of land in the Porgera Valley.

‘We will progress Porgera at the very earliest we can’

The Porgera Landowners Association (PLA) ‘expressed disdain’ at the initiative, saying that the PNG government had ‘disenfranchised the people of the valley’, adding that the move ‘effectively stops landowners from entering our own land.’ The association described it as ‘expropriation of indigenous lands by the State.’

Dispute over exports

The government has accused Barrick of illegally exporting gold, a charge the company strongly denies. Credit: Pixabay

Meanwhile, a dispute has broken out about exports of gold from Porgera. On June 5, the Mineral Resources Authority alleged that Barrick Niugini had illegally attempted to export gold bars. ‘The 23 gold bars about to be exported belong to the State,’ the statement said.

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It went on to say that the alleged action circumvented government processes ‘without any respect for the laws of this land,’ adding that the Authority would ‘seize the product and forfeit the commodities.’

In response, Barrick Niugini (BNL) claimed the allegations were incorrect.

‘As acknowledged in the MRA press statement, BNL exported gold on April 29th following the same process and with the same governmental approvals it has obtained for all gold shipments over many years,’ a BNL statement said.

‘As BNL was compelled to put the mine into care and maintenance as a result of the government’s decision not to extend the Special Mining Lease on April 24, 2020, the Porgera Joint Venture immediately stopped mining, and worked over subsequent weeks to clean out the processing facilities. This is consistent with international standards for placing a mine on care and maintenance, and results in the production of the remaining gold ore that is now ready to be shipped for refining.

‘This in-process material has been generated by the efforts of, and at the expense of, the Porgera Joint Venture, and is the property of BNL and its partner Mineral Resources Enga.’

Mining Act

Legislative changes may also be in the offing. In response to a question from MP Charles Abel (a former Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister), Prime Minister Marape reportedly flagged possible changes to the Mining Act, calling for some ‘minor amendments that will put into perspective the future resources in our country.’

Marape reportedly said that BNL had the opportunity to negotiate further.

‘Let us go through this phase and see what lies ahead of us against what will be felt for five years, 10 years or 15 years – and not just in two years from now. We will progress Porgera at the very earliest we can.’

The announcement of the court case, which is to be held next month, means that the dispute is sub judice, which restricts anyone in PNG commenting publicly on the proceedings.

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