Staking his claim: Kumul Minerals Holdings’ Peter Graham talks exclusively about the mining entity’s future


In this exclusive interview with Business Advantage PNG, Peter Graham, Chairman of state-owned mining company Kumul Minerals Holdings, talks extensively about the company’s plans for the future, the state of Papua New Guinea’s mining sector, and the future of some of PNG’s key mining projects.

Kumul Minerals Holdings’ Peter Graham

Business Advantage PNG (BAPNG): How are you getting ready for the next phase of Kumul Minerals Holdings?

Peter Graham (PG): In terms of our corporate structure, we have established a number of subsidiary companies under the holding company so that we are positioned to hold interests in significant mining projects. For example, Kumul Minerals Ok Tedi Ltd will hold the State’s 67 per cent interest in OTML; Kumul Minerals Porgera Ltd will hold any interest that the State may acquire in Porgera; and Kumul Minerals Exploration Ltd will hold investments in exploration.

Other subsidiaries will be established as needed. So, we are positioned to move quickly as attractive investment opportunities develop.

BAPNG: What is the reason for the restructure and refocus of Kumul Minerals?

PG: The main challenge for Kumul Minerals over the last several years has been the financial impacts of legacy investments made by Petromin PNG Holdings Limited, the predecessor of Kumul Minerals, which have been a drain on the business.

Tolukuma Gold Mine, the first mining investment made by Petromin, was loss-making and represented a significant drain on cash. Tolukuma was sold for a nominal sum to a shelf company which was subsequently liquidated without paying the purchase price. Petromin was left holding a tax liability and nothing else.

‘We will only participate in mining investments that achieve industry-competitive returns through the price cycles.’

However, the more troubling investment was in the Solwara 1 Deep Sea Mining project. Petromin was a reluctant participant in a ‘proof of concept’ project which had negative economics from the outset. Participation required a State-guaranteed loan of US$120 million (K375 million). To limit the risk of cost growth, Petromin paid the complete sum on day one. Nautilus failed to secure its share of funding and used our contribution in lieu of their funding. For Kumul Minerals, it has been a long struggle to limit our exposures. Attempts to recover some funds were unsuccessful. Kumul Minerals has written off the investment and currently holds a debt of US$120 million.

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BAPNG: How have you dealt with these problems?

PG: In a general sense, these problems have reinforced the importance of investment discipline – thorough technical, commercial and legal assessments and engagement of people with significant industry experience. We will only participate in mining investments that achieve industry-competitive returns through the price cycles. With regards to the US$120 million loan, it was covered by a State guarantee and the loan is now being transferred to Treasury. This paves the way for the transfer of the State’s 67 per cent equity holding in Ok Tedi Mining Limited, which will further strengthen our balance sheet.

‘Given the substantial investments typically required for mining projects, we will look to share risk – which frequently involves joint ventures.’

BAPNG: What do the recent changes in PNG’s Mining Act mean for Kumul Minerals?

PG: The recent amendments to the Mining Act effectively gave the State (through Kumul Minerals as an applicant) the legal right to apply for a tenement and develop a mine. In terms of process, there were some amendments that facilitate this outcome. These amendments will, for example, allow Kumul Minerals to make application for a mining license if it is vacant. Other amendments to the Mining Act are under consideration. It’s important to note that the Prime Minister has given an assurance to Newcrest and Harmony (owners of the Wafi-Golpu project) that the project will be developed under the provisions of the current Mining Act and the State is currently targeting award of an SML by September 2020.

BAPNG: Is your strategy similar to that being adopted by Kumul Petroleum, PNG’s national oil company?

PG: In the near term at least, Kumul Minerals will be an investor in mining, rather than an operator of mining projects. That‘s not to say we would not take on the role of project operator if it made sense in particular circumstances. New Tier 1 mining projects require several billion dollars to develop and we don’t currently have access to funds for a significant equity holding to assume the role of operator. In the near term, we will have a small number of staff and retain access to people and expertise under a Services Agreement with Ok Tedi Mining Limited or selected industry advisers.

BAPNG: Will you be pursuing partnerships?

PG: Given the substantial investments typically required for mining projects we will look to share risk – which frequently involves joint ventures. We will look to some exploration opportunities as well as mining developments.

BAPNG: What is your view about the best use of debt and equity when investing in resources projects?

PG: In PNG, there is a strong (cultural) desire to hold ownership in assets rather than, or in addition to, royalties and taxes. Project financing that ownership is frequently challenging for state-owned-entities like Kumul Minerals, who likely have to borrow to cover their share of both equity and debt. To restart the Bougainville mine at previous production levels, for example, might require up to US$6 billion (K20 billion). Repayment of loans for a participating interest would consume much of the equity share of operating cash flows for many years. This has caused the current Marape-Steven government to consider alternate arrangements such as Production Sharing Contracts, which are less common in the mining industry. There is no single best answer and some combination of available regimes frequently works best.

BAPNG: You are on the board of Bougainville Copper. Have there been any significant developments?

The Panguna mine

PG: Kumul Minerals holds 17.39 per cent equity in Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), which has been promised to Panguna landowners and peoples of Bougainville more generally. The State holds an additional 19.06 per cent. While continuing with small-scale community development projects on site, BCL has recently completed a screening level review of mine redevelopment strategies and identified several interesting economic alternatives. Progress has been impacted by the referendum and now the general election. The results of the election and decisions of the elected leadership will shape the future of the mine and BCL.

BANG: What observations do you have about the level of resources expertise within PNG?

PG: Large-scale mines have been in operation in PNG for more than 30 years and there is now a wealth of expertise – operators and professionals, and an emerging group of seasoned managers. Ok Tedi Mining for example has a very strong management team and a Papua New Guinean as MD/CEO. Ok Tedi’s workforce has about four per cent of expatriates and aims to reduce further. The local talent exists, it just takes time to develop. As an industry, we need to do more on the inclusion and development of females, particularly for leadership roles.

‘Wafi-Golpu is a strong project and one Kumul Minerals wants to be part of.’

BAPNG: Will you be going for a more traditional equity arrangement with the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine?

PG: The State has set a target for award of an SML in September 2020. Construction is then expected to take about six years and cost about US$2.8 billion (K10 billion). The State has a right but not an obligation to take up to 30 per cent equity in the project on payment of a share of past costs. At 30 per cent that would mean about USD250 million for past costs and almost USD1 billion for project construction. With no revenue for almost six years, that represents a challenge for Kumul Minerals. Project financing may be difficult given the operational risks of block cave mining, until proven at this site.

How this plays out will be the subject of negotiations between the State Negotiating Team and owners Newcrest and Harmony in coming months. Kumul Minerals has some ideas about its preferred level of participation and how it might be funded, but this isn’t the appropriate time to outline those plans. Wafi-Golpu is a strong project and one Kumul Minerals wants to be part of.

BAPNG: What about other projects?

PG: Frieda River is the next large project in the queue, but I don’t see this development as likely to progress in the near term. The problem is the remote location, and the associated infrastructure which the project must therefore carry almost doubles the project cost. The project will have its day, but this is a challenging project. There are several smaller operations like Woodlark that are moving forward but we have not pursued an interest at this time.

BAPNG: What else are you looking to do?

PG: Kumul Minerals is planning to start some exploration activities. We plan to start with exploration licences surrounding Ok Tedi’s Special Mining Lease. We are about to start seeking interest from potential partners to join us on drilling and development work, particularly on the interesting Townsville deposit, which has the potential for an underground gold development.


  1. Koiti Mel says

    It is interesting to note that PG is focused on the long term especially on development and production of mineral resources which may include developed and undeveloped deposits discovered.

    However, little is mentioned about the upstream exploration industry where lots of foreign funds are sunk to discover new deposits. Some of the deposits currently in operation are old and undeveloped deposits pending approval for construction. The vast green fields are open. In the recent amendments are there any incentive provisions to enhance exploration by others if KMHL has little interest in this area.

    The future of the industry remains on exploration and discovery of new mineral deposits. PNG has some of the best geologists who have put in a lot of efforts in making these foreign companies discover and deliver rich ore bodies. How do the state and KMHL help enhance local entrepreneurs that take the risk to do their own mineral exploration with sunk costs? We certainly have the skills to explore and discover mineral deposits but we lack financial capacity especially when exploration funds are sunk costs in risky uncharted waters (exploration fields). What are some policy incentives to SMEs or JV with KMHL? Or what about providing opportunities for local entrepreneurs to identify ‘tier 1’ projects to meet foreign listing requirements for IPO?

  2. Tony Charles Wattz says

    With the current awarding of the Porgera SML to KMHL, can KMHL float shares openly for Papua New Guineans to buy shares?

  3. Alex Lalup says

    Good to note that Kumul Minerals Holdings has the upper hand now after the review of the Mining Act.

    In the above statements made by Peter Graham on the current mining projects in PNG, there was nothing mentioned abut Tolukuma Gold Mines.

    Can we have some status developments on the acquisition and the developments of the mine going forward.

  4. Gilbert Hamambi says

    GoPNG’s & Kumul Mineral Holding MD’s Strategy Discourse

    When we have a plan we will not be working to fulfill other peoples’ plans. Taking back PNG Mining Sector strategically! Strategy is the long term direction of an organisation (or a sector in this case). Students of strategic management will recognised the two (in fact three) key terms in the preceding sentence: 1. Long Term, 2. Direction and 3. Organisation. In long term there are three time horizons: Horizon 1 – extend and defend core business; Horizon 2 – build emerging businesses and; Horizon 3 – create viable options. As professionals in the sector we have to read into GoPNG strategy discourses (such as this narrative) and find alignment with the ‘big picture’ in our day to day professional work and organisational/sector goals.

  5. Robin Nangu says

    Interesting but challenging from a seasoned mining executive. Interesting because the state wants to be an active investor in our mineral resources but at the same time it is challenging as it requires billions of foreign dollars (our local financial market does not have the financial instruments to finance mega projects) to develop tier 1 mines like Wafi & Frieda so the state entity can not go alone and will need for partners to share the risk. The state via Kumul Minerals must also explore investments in the downstream processing from the mining sector (e.g. gold refining from the current gold dore to pure gold ) to create spin off industries, new skills and jobs. Take Niu Power as a case in point where it takes refined gas from PNG LNG to supply energy to POM grind via their power plant at Papa Lealea. I think this is possible with gold refinery in PNG as we export around +2million ounces of gold, surely we can refine some of it in PNG. Over to you Mr Peter Graham, take on the challenge and make it happen.

  6. This interview with Peter Graham is quite interesting yet very challenging! The recent review on the Mining, Oil And Gas Acts has some merits in it.

    The government decision and intention to engage with potential intvester rather than regular is very welcoming!

    However, there is a great challenges ahead for the current Marape-Steven government because her decision to effect the reviews would determine the outcome of those in the near future.

    Therefore, the current government should continue to steadfast and ensure those new thoughts and strategies in developing the resources in the country be materialised to reality.

    One of the obvious challenges of the National Government would be to secure cspital funding to own and operate some of the Mining in the country.

    As stated by Peter Graham, PNG has the local expertise in the area of mining development and therefore, the government should look for alternative means to find where she can funding to finance construction and extractions of some mines in the near future.

    With the required funding, the government is apptopriately positioning herself to finance and operate a mining herself! Such coukd become realistic in the near future.

    Let’s wait patiently, should the Marape Government have on store some good plans come September 2020 in line with the review and amendments in the Mining, Oil and Gas Acts

  7. Yalo Kapili says

    The Q & A session between BAPNG and Mr. Peter Graham is very interesting. It basically tells us of what our Kumul Minerals Holdings Limited will be doing in the Mineral Resources sector in the country. That’s the way to go.

  8. Philip Eludeme says

    It is very interesting to see the states eagerness to be an investor rather than regulator and Tax collector.
    Only time will tell if there’s light of success in a long dark tunnel of failures so far.

    • Peter Joseph says

      Peter Graham is a seasoned intelligent and a very experience business leader. He has proven his worthyness in both current multibillion lng project and ok tedi. God bless him n his team!

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