No social licence and no permit extension in Papua New Guinea; legal action, again, on behalf of victims in Tanzania
As Barrick Gold executives once again face their shareholders, investors should be asking themselves why this company is continuously embroiled in conflict and legal action involving its deeply harmful relationships with the indigenous communities that surround its mines.
The callous disregard for the communities around Barrick mines has consequences. Once again, Barrick is facing legal action in the U.K. on behalf of victims of shootings and beatings by its mine security at the North Mara Gold Mine in Tanzania; the previous suit on the same issues was settled out of court just five years ago. In yearly visits since 2014, MiningWatch Canada has documented over 200 cases of excess use of force at this mine, and supports some of the victims through the current legal action by Cardiff-based firm Hugh James.
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), Barrick is on the verge of losing access to what CEO Mark Bristow calls a mine with “tier one potential.” The country’s Prime Minister, James Marape, has pointed to environmental and legacy issues as factors for denying Barrick’s subsidiary a renewed 20-year licence. As a leading partner in the Porgera Joint Venture mine for 14 years, Barrick has been at the helm as the environmental impacts have become overwhelming and the social “legacy issues,” including brutal human rights abuses committed by the mine's private and public security forces, have deeply angered the local indigenous landowners.
“You know something is wrong when Barrick has been negotiating to get its licence expansion approved since June 2017, with both the government of PNG’s negotiating team and with the Porgera Landowners Association (PLOA), only to see the licence lapse in August of last year without a deal and now be denied,” says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch, who has visited the mine many times since 2006.
While Barrick and its subsidiary Barrick Niugini Limited touted a recent “deal” with the landowners, the April 14 letter announcing this deal to Prime Minster Marape was signed by only two of the 24 “agents” that represent the landowners and by Barrick CEO Bristow, but not by anyone representing partner Zijin Mining.
“This looks like a last ditch attempt to head off the Government of Papua New Guinea’s decision not to grant the licence extension – a decision that was made as far back as March 11 by the country’s National Executive Council.” says Coumans. “Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the 24 landowner agents are very much divided and definitely not, as Bristow says, overwhelmingly in favour of seeing Barrick continue to mine in Porgera.”
While media focus has been on Barrick, the PNG government and the landowner agents, in order to understand the breadth and depth of disillusion with the mine one must turn to the Porgera grassroots organizations that have fought for human rights and environmental justice for Porgerans for over 15 years. In a newly released statement from the leadership of six local organizations they say:
As Barrick Gold and the Chinese government, on behalf of its corporate national Zijin Mining, threaten our Prime Minister as though they have some kind of right to the gold under our feet, and as our own 24 landowner agents argue amongst themselves about how to get the best financial deal out of the mine, we raise our voices on behalf of too many Porgerans who have suffered human rights abuses and very serious environmental impacts because of 30 years of reckless mining led by Canada’s Placer Dome and now Barrick Gold.
These organizations, and the human rights victims they represent, need to be included in the court ordered negotiations now underway and in any further discussions about the future of the mine.
Background – Porgera Lease Denial
- Barrick Gold’s subsidiary, Barrick Niugini Limited (BNL) and Mineral Resources Enga Ltd., applied for a 20 year extension of the Porgera Joint Venture (Porgera) gold mine’s lease in June 2017. On August 2, 2019, with no mine lease extension in sight, the mine sought and received a declaration from a PNG National Court to continue mining lawfully on the original lease area until there would be a determination of the application lodged in 2017. On August 16, 2019, the Porgera mine’s 30-year lease, granted in 1989, expired.
- Barrick’s CEO, Mark Bristow, made four visits to Papua New Guinea in an effort to secure a 20-year mine lease extension.
- Barrick and BNL negotiated for over two years with the Porgera Landowners Association (PLOA) without reaching an agreement with the relevant landowners. The 24 landowner representatives, known as agents, are seriously divided over the future of the mine.
- On March 11, 2020, the country’s National Executive Council decided to refuse the application for a mine lease renewal.
- On April 24, 2020, Barrick’s Mark Bristow and Porgera Joint Venture announced that an agreement had been reached with the Porgera landowners on benefit sharing in case of a mine extension in line with “proposals BNL presented to the State Negotiating Team (SNT) last July” 2019, and declared the landowners to be in favour of the mine extension.
- However, a letter of April 14, 2020, from the PLOA and BNL to Prime Minister James Marape, is signed by only two of the 24 landowner agents and by Barrick CEO Mark Bristow. There is no signature from Zijin Mining, Barrick’s joint venture partner.
- On April 27, 2020, Governor General Sir Bob Dadae announced through National Gazette that effective April 24, the mine’s extension application was refused and that the existing mine development contract was terminated.
- On April 28, 2020, Prime Minster Marape wrote to Barrick CEO, Mark Bristow, to confirm that the National Executive Council had decided to refuse the mine’s extension application, pursuant to provisions in the Mining Act of 1992, and urged Bristow to work with the State Negotiation Team to “frame an exit strategy,” while committing to “outstanding commitments and post-closure obligations.”
- Barrick and BNL again sought recourse in the PNG National Court, resulting in court ordered discussions among the parties, to commence on May 1, 2020 to attempt to resolve differences.