Oct 22, 2019 Last Updated 2:59 AM, Oct 16, 2019

PNG journo reinstated

Two days after terminating his employment, Papua New Guinea’s EMTV has re-instated News and Current Affairs manager Neville Choi, and he says he will be back at work this morning.

Choi was sacked for what EMTV management alleged were human resources breaches.

However the action against the respected journalist created a storm of protest from his local and international colleagues and EMTV viewers.

The President of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Kora Nou had urged the parties in to quickly meet and resolve the issue, and offered to act as a mediator.

The Pacific Freedom Forum, a media rights watchdog, took a stronger line:  “We stand in solidarity with Neville, who is a well respected and leading Pacific journalist who has mentored and trained journalists across his nation. We also call on PNG Communications Minister Renbo Paita --given his powers over board appointments for EMTV's parent company--  to support a swift and independent mediation between all parties to resolve an escalating issue ,” said PFF Chair Bernadette Carreon of Palau.

“Our concern at this time is that a quality news service cannot be suspended because news workers feel intimidated, unheard and unable to report without fear or favour,  in the current environment,” says Melanesia PFF co-chair Ofani Eremae of the Solomon Islands. 

Senior members of the EMTV newsroom, including  Meriba Tulo- the journalist named to replace him, called for his re-instatement and asked that EMTV’s Acting CEO be sidelined, as they “no longer have confidence in her leadersihip.”

In a statement, newsroom leaders Tulo,  Scott Waide and Sincha Dimara said: “The action to terminate Mr Choi is one that is wrong, and in direct challenge to the separation, and indepdence of the News Media Code of Ethics.”

Their support for Choi meant there was no news bulletin aired on Monday night.

EMTV's coverage of expenditure related to last year's APEC meeting and industrial action by the PNG Defence Force raised the government's ire.

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has again called for a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining, at a time that many Pacific island nations are preparing for new frontiers of resource exploitation in the marine environment.

Speaking in Tuvalu this week before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on fellow Forum island states to “support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.”

There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and US corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.

Fiji’s call for a moratorium comes as community groups across the region are campaigning against potential environmental hazards of deep-sea mining, especially to ecologically sensitive hydrothermal vents. A report from the Guam-based Blue Ocean Law argues: “There is a general failure to incorporate sufficient environmental protections, as well as the norm of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples, who are most likely to be impacted by DSM. In the 21st century, and under well-established norms of international law, these omissions represent serious violations of international legal obligations.”

Bainimarama’s call comes the same week as major restructuring of the Nautilus Minerals corporation, which has been planning to commence mining off the coast of Papua New Guinea, under a world-first licence issued by the PNG government.

Fiji and oceans policy

In recent years, Fiji has taken a leading role in ocean policy at the United Nations, working with other Forum island countries through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group.

In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed former Fiji UN Ambassador Peter Thomson as the UN Special Envoy on the Ocean.

This global campaigning is also translating into domestic legislation. Speaking in Tuvalu this week, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed  Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030.”

Under the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, island nations are seeking to draw the links between oceans and climate policy. Bainimarama noted that Fiji was working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership to develop “a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.”

Pacific DSM initiatives

Under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), many Forum island countries with large EEZs have been in discussions with transnational corporations to partner in deep sea exploration for maritime resources. Under UNCLOS and the authority of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing countries can also partner with overseas corporations to licence exploration in “The Area”, international waters that include vast arrays of minerals in Pacific Ocean areas such as the Clarion-Clipperton zone.

Nauru has long been a champion of DSM – at last year’s Forum leaders’ meeting, Nauru President Baron Waqa hosted a side even with ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge and Samantha Smith, the former Head of Environment and Social Responsibility with the deep-sea mining corporation DeepGreen.

This new frontier has drawn in regional organisations, to address legal, technical and regulatory issues around DSM. Boundary limitation is a vital concern as Pacific nations seek to increase potential revenues from fisheries and seabed mining in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). From 2010-16, the European Union funded the Pacific Community (SPC) to develop model DSM legislation for Forum member states, with many civil society groups concerned this work was promoting rather than regulating DSM.

The SPC Maritime Boundaries Division has also been engaged in technical work to clarify borders between independent island states as well as with colonial powers like France and the United States (for example, Vanuatu and France have been involved in a decades-long dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands).

There are tensions between the administering powers and territorial governments over the control of seabed minerals in the remaining colonies in the region. With an EEZ of nearly 5 million square kilometres, ocean-floor resources could be vitally important for the newest Forum member, French Polynesia. However, as the French government moved to amend French Polynesia’s autonomy statue earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that rare earths can be classified as “strategic metals”, which come under the control of the French State rather than the Government of French Polynesia.   

Independence leaders have long argued against the French State’s control of strategic metals, with former Senator for French Polynesia Richard Ariihau Tuheiava telling the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 2017: “We have continually emphasised the critical nature of the resource question as a core issue for our future development. Whether or not these resources are considered in Paris to be ‘strategic’ is irrelevant to the applicability of international legal decisions which place the ownership of natural resources with the people of the non-self-governing territories.”

Collapse of PNG initiative

Early initiatives to begin sea-bed mining in the Pacific have not come to fruition. This week’s set-back to a major project in Papua New Guinea provides a salutary warning about the complexity and potential costs of DSM.

Under a licence issued by the PNG government, Nautilus Minerals has long planned to mine seabed minerals beneath PNG’s Bismarck Sea. However, with widespread community resistance, falling share prices and the loss of a specialised support vessel, Nautilus constantly pushed out the date for commencement of mining.

In February this year, Nautilus filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and the Canadian-based company was later delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This week, major shareholders MB Holding and Metalloinvest have moved to take control of company assets at the expense of major creditors and smaller shareholders (The PNG Government holds 15 per cent equity in Nautilus’ PNG subsidiary and the Solwara 1 project through the company Eda Kopa).

The looming collapse of the Solwara seabed mining initiative has been welcomed by civil society groups in Papua New Guinea, which have been campaigning against potential adverse impacts on ocean ecology.

Jonathan Mesulam of PNG’s Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated: “We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinea want to see the nightmare of deep-sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”

Fiji’s call for a moratorium on DSM will be debated in the corridors at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, but there’s a way to go before all Forum member countries are willing to delay action on the supposed ocean El Dorado.

Papua New Guinea has been advised to tweak its macroeconomic policy and throw more weight behind agriculture, as it has the potential to enable more diversified and inclusive development.  

The World Bank makes this recommendation  in its latest newsletter Pacific Possible. It warns of rising economic uncertainty and fragile growth in PNG and recommends that authorities focus on structural transformation of the economy, especially in the agriculture sector, to help absorb any shocks.  

"Around 87 per cent of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas, and 75 per cent of these are engaged in a variety of subsistence and cash income agriculture activities. Staple products are the main source of subsistence, provide food energy and protein, and are a source of food security for rural villagers when income-earning opportunities are limited," the reports states.

"While most rural villagers combine these traditional subsistence and cash income activities, there is a small but increasing number producing value-added products such as high-value coconut products and spices."

Agriculture is one of the priority sectors in the government’s Medium-Term Development Plan for 2018–22 (MTDP III.

"To utilise the potential of agriculture as a source of income and job creation, the authorities should consider a proposed set of policy options and responses for securing sustainable rural livelihoods in food and agriculture," the World Bank says.

The resource-rich nation of over eight million people is home to a number of multi-billion dollar minerals projects and is vulnerable to substantial commodity price shocks, natural disasters and uncertainty in the performance of new and existing minerals projects. 

Its agricultural sector includes fresh food and export products like coffee, cocoa, palm oil, and copra and copra oil. 

By Usa Koto

Haroon Ali is to be the new Country Head of Bank South Pacific in Fiji, the bank has just announced in a statement released a short while ago.

He succeeds Kevin McCarthy when he retires at the end of 2018.

Ali is currently BSP Group's chief risk officer currently based at bank headquarters in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and when the changeover starts in June, he will become the first Fijian to head BSP's business in Fiji.

“As a village boy from Vunimoli in Labasa, my dream has always been to become a bank’s country head in Fiji. I have worked hard over the years since joining Bank of New Zealand in 1980 and today I am really excited to have finally realised that dream. I am very passionate about this job and would like to thank the Group Chairman, Group CEO and the BSP Board for giving me this great opportunity to lead BSP in Fiji," the BSP statement quoted Ali as saying.

"I would also like to thank Mr McCarthy firstly for recruiting me to this great organisation and secondly for his outstanding leadership at BSP that has seen the Bank grow from strength to strength," added Ali.

He has 38 years of banking experience in Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea, and prior to joining BSP, Ali had worked for the ANZ Banking group.

PETER O’Neill starts 2018 on a high note with the country’s supreme court removing the threat of court action that has been hovering over his head since 2014. With his arrest warrant for official corruption quashed, the PNG Prime Minister can now concentrate on what is poised to be a crucial year with his hosting in November of APEC that is likely to bring to Port Moresby leaders of this 21-member organisation that will most probably include American President Donald Trump and Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan and Justin Trudeau of Canada.

Economists are attributing the flurry of construction activities in the lead up to the APEC Summit as a key contributing factor in the 2.2 per cent economic growth rate projected for PNG this year. The O’Neill Government is also hoping to see the progress of the controversial Solwara 1 seabed mining project this year. Despite opposition from local community groups who are backed by NGOs in Australia, the Nautilus Mineral owned project seeks to mine gold and copper in the Bismarck Sea, in PNG’s northeast waters. 

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