People of PNG question whether LNG boom will help them

This is the key question for poor nations with resource wealth. Beyond all the energy company rhetoric and government spin, how do average people benefit?

This report, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, asks the same kind of questions I discussed recently with Green Left Weekly:

A failure to work with the community could undermine the $16 billion project.

”Hela society is very unpredictable, like the weather is unpredictable. But one thing I can say is that if the people see they have been cheated, if the people see that their rights have been deprived, then there may be problems.”

Community leader from Hela Province, the heartland of the $16 billion PNG LNG project.

Three years after work began in earnest building the hardware to extract and pipe gas from the mountains of Papua New Guinea, initiating what is spruiked as a game-changing bonanza for the fragile nation, many local people remain excluded, frustrated and suspicious about the $US16 billion project.

The PNG LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project has already utterly changed their lives, according to an academic investigation.

Failures to better inform the local Hela community about the project, together with flaws in the critical processes of identifying landowners entitled to a share of the windfall and concerns about how the benefits will ultimately be shared, are identified in the new report as potentially damaging concerns in a region infamous for volatility and violence.

Causing particular anxiety was that the failure – blamed largely on the PNG government – to facilitate a full landowner identification process and legislate around creating landowner companies threatened to ”undermine the LNGP and future progress”.

The report – to be launched in Canberra today by parliamentary secretary for Pacific island affairs Richard Marles – says that although the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project represents a significant opportunity for PNG, one which has already yielded benefits for some in local jobs and a boosted economy, these gains are at risk of being undermined if local disenchantment and simmering social tensions ignite the powderkeg Highlands region.

The report lays out a detailed examination of some of the challenges to development in a country such as PNG.
Despite its bountiful resources – PNG is an island of gold, floating in a sea of oil, surrounded by gas, so the ritual boast goes – in terms of exploitation the result over the years ”has at best been mixed, with few long-term benefits being passed on to the wider population”, the authors write.

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