Managing LNG-related conflicts

Editorial, Normal

The National- Monday, January 17, 2011

 THE National Court last week made a number of significant decisions pertaining to conflict resolution surrounding the liquefied natural gas project.

At a time when there are runaway lists of court cases filing up and with limited time and number of judges to hear the cases, it is important that matters are dealt with quickly and comprehensively.

Justice Ambeng Kandakasi announced last Friday that the National Court would develop a system of conflict management to address all matters in court relating to the LNG project.

This is important because there is a whole host of matters that are going before the courts and be sure that there will be more to come as the project progresses from early works to construction and operation and shipment. It seems a pity, speaking with hindsight, that the project has been rushed at breakneck speed to project agreement because in the process many of the stakeholders have been left far behind – not only in terms of trying to come to grips with what is happening but also in the benefits that are being dished out in the millions of kina.

Many of the genuine landowners are still very much bewildered and if they make a lot of threats and seemingly stupid remarks well after the project has been signed into existence, it is because nobody took the time to explain it to them.

While many genuine landowners are confused, it is rich pickings for the con-artists and fly by night self proclaimed experts and consultants. Almost all the benefits owing to the people have been paid out in Kokopo or in Port Moresby – two places that are so far removed from the oil, gas and condensate rich areas of the Southern Highlands and Hela provinces and the pipeline route in the Gulf Province.

It is anybody’s guess but we can comfortably say that quite a bit of these payments are ending up in the wrong hands. These payments will increasingly be queried and those queries will end up in court.

All the more reason to welcome Kandakasi’s initiative.

Kandakasi’s idea to identify correct parties to LNG related court matters is praise worthy but at the same time it is tremendous hard work that should never be placed at the feet of the judiciary. Landowner identification is the job of the department of Petroleum and Energy and to an extent the project developer.

Every group within the project area should already be identified. Be that as it may, the Justice’s proposal to draw all parties to a round table should always include those departments which role it is to identify the landowners and those companies and entities that represent the various landowning groups.

We share Kandakasi’s skepticism that representation in court by those people who are resident in Port Moresby leaves us wondering whether or not there are people left back in the villages.

If it is necessary and the Justice is willing to commit judicial time to travel to the affected areas then so be it.

Funding should be made available by government so that justice is seen to be dispensed with right in the village where the people are. It might turn out that this would be a far quicker way to resolve the issue because everyone in the village would know who is genuine and who is not.

And finally, there is a particular ruling that His Honor made also on Friday in relation to the LNG project that is noteworthy.

He refused an appeal by the Bank of South Pacific to be omitted as a respondent to a court case where LNG grant (seed capital) had allegedly made its way into the wrong hands.

andakasi made the refusal after finding that K20 000 from a seed capital of K1.95 million had been allowed by the bank to be withdrawn by an individual before the lapsing of the clearance date of the cheque.

Far too much of this kind of short cuts has been taken with these particular payments, always with the concurrence of some bank official. A bank has to be involved because otherwise how can a cheque be cashed.

Many banks retreat into that sacrosanct pedestal where they hide behind the client confidentiality principle. That is all very well but they do not help erase corruption and indeed they might be helping condone such practices by being too secretive.

Even if it is not condoned by management, there exists a network in the banking system who ensure that big multi million cheques are cleared over the counter with days and even hours. This has to stop and the best way might be to haul the banks before the courts and asked to reveal what is actually going on.