Court refers dispute to mediation

Islands, Normal

The National, Tuesday August 07th, 2012

A LONG-STANDING dispute over the distribution of royalty funds between two groups from the Simberi Gold Mine area in New Ireland has been referred to mediation by the court.
Justice Catherine Davani yesterday said the matter could be resolved  through a mediation process after one group asked the National Court to recognise them as the rightful owners.
“I mentioned to both counsels in court that the matter may have to be mediated because the resource owners want a proper distribution of the royalties from the mine,” she said.
“I believe this can be achieved in an amicable environment. The mediation arena is such an amicable environment.”
There appears to be two groups, the SML 136 Resource Owners Association and Simberi Mining Area Association (SMAA). Both claim they should be the legitimate recipients of royalty funds.
The SML 136 group sought declaratory orders to show that SMAA was not entitled to royalties or any form of benefit from the Simberi Gold Mine operation.
They also sought orders so that the Mineral Resource Authority (MRA), then Mining Minister Byron Chan and the state, could not make royalty payments to the SMAA.
Justice Davani said Esarom Banamu, of Katatar village and a leader of the Wuitgamgam clan, took out an affidavit to show that SMAA was registered to receive and administer royalty payments on behalf of the Simberi islanders.
As there were no developments on the island, they decided that the chairman Joachim Mascar and vice-chairman Vincent Maris used the money personally.
This prompted the landowners demanding an audit for the SMAA account and although this was done, the findings have not been made known.
Banamu had claimed in court that the landowners formed the SML 136 association because SMAA was not administering funds properly.
The formation of a new association created a rift between the two groups and former mining minister John Pundari invited leaders of both groups to Port Moresby for a meeting.
Banamu said it was agreed during the meeting that the MRA would hold the royalties in a trust pending an agreement on a structure to pay landowners.
He said despite this, the MRA paid K164,000 to SMAA when Byron Chan was the minister.
MRA submitted through its lawyer that the SML 136 association comprised landowners from the Simberi mine site and that SMAA members did not have absolute right over the land on which the mine was situated because the issue of rightful landowner was yet to be determined.
Davani said this was a matter that required resolution by the parties.