By Harlyne Joku
The Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea’s violence-prone Enga province will resume operations later this month after a hiatus of several years, a joint venture partner said, amid promises that higher local ownership of the venture will produce an economic windfall.
Mine operator Barrick Niugini said the mine will officially reopen on Dec. 22 and “with the ramp up of operations, first gold is expected to be poured in the first quarter of 2024,” according to a statement from the company on Sunday.
Originally opened in 1990, the Porgera mine, about 600 kilometers (373 miles) northwest of Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby, was a source of conflict and human rights abuses for years.
Its owners, Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. and China’s Zijin Mining, agreed in 2021 to halve their combined stake in the mine to just under 50% following the Papua New Guinea government’s refusal to renew Porgera’s license. Local interests including landowners, the national government and Enga province now own 53%.
Maha Lelai, Barrick Niugini’s country manager for Papua New Guinea, said the mine will return billions of dollars to the Pacific island nation over the next 20 years.
“New Porgera will deliver unprecedented benefits to the people of Papua New Guinea,” she said.
Papua New Guinea’s police chief in August told officers to use “lethal force” to quell violence in remote Enga province, which suffers regular spasms of tribal conflict.
The country’s mining minister Ano Pala said at a forum in July on reopening the mine that maintenance of law and order is critical to its operations, according to a Barrick statement at that time.
Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape acknowledged the importance of the mine in a speech Monday to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, in Canberra.
He said Porgera’s new ownership is a benchmark that is “consistent with our take back PNG philosophy, without harming investors.”
“You win, we win; simply on the basis that safety and better work environment is [the] government’s business,” Marape said.
“The better we earn the more we plough back to law and order and enabling infrastructure.”
Papua New Guinea has one police officer for about every 1,800 people, nearly four times less than the level recommended by the United Nations to ensure law and order, according to a Griffith Asia Institute report earlier this year by researcher Sean Jacobs.
The research estimated the ratio of police to people has declined substantially in the past half century as Papua New Guinea’s population tripled to more than nine million.
Stability for the country, which gained its independence from Australia in 1975, has remained elusive as it grapples with tribal violence and challenges such as corruption and lack of roads and basic healthcare in many regions.
Lelai said the Papua New Guinea shareholders will receive 10.6 billion kina [$2.8 billion] in the first ten years and 27.6 billion kina [$7.3 billion] over 20 years, based on an assumed gold price of $1,800 an ounce.
She said the mine would employ more than 3,000 people by the end of next year.