Bougainville: Women's Minister fired for speaking out against mining company

On Monday 3 June 2008, the Women’s Minister of the Bougainville Autonomous Government was sacked from her Cabinet position. Magdalene Toroansi was the lone voice in the Cabinet to oppose President Kabui’s signature to a mining contract with Canadian mining company, Invincible which would reopen the Panguna Mine in Central Bougainville, taking 70 per cent of the profits offshore.
President Kabui had not consulted the women landowners. He had not even consulted the parliament about this contract.

Magdalene Toroansi was sacked because she represented the valid fears and concerns in Bougainville that conflict that could occur if this controversial mine is reopened without proper consultation.

The Panguna mine is very sensitive and significant because this mine was at the centre of fighting in Bougainville between1989 and 2002. At that time, another foreign company, Australian owned Rio Tinto subsidiary CRA, was extracting a million dollars worth of copper per day. While obscene amounts of toxins and tailings polluted the rivers, Bougainvilleans received very, very little of the profits from this mine, which was closed by the people against great odds. The militarised response by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, strongly supported by Australia, caused divisions in the society, and terrible killings; a civil war. A blockade imposed by Australia stopped medicines coming in, causing many people, thousands of children, to die of malaria and other easily preventable diseases. A lot of guns managed to make it through the blockade, however, many are still there today, strongly impacting Bougainville today. People are scared to speak their minds, make decisions, and move freely. Women are being raped at gunpoint.

Please can the international sisters and friends stand in solidarity with the women of Bougainville to help prevent more mining-driven conflict in Bougainville?


The Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency (LNWDA) deeply concerned about the tension brewing in Bougainville, urges the President to reinstate sacked Women’s Minister

President Kabui of the Bougainville Autonomous Government has endangered our fragile peace by entering into a contract with Canadian mining company, Invincible. This contract was not discussed in parliament and results in Bougainville receiving 30 per cent of the proceeds, and the company taking 70 per cent, an unfair deal.

Helen Hakena, Executive Director of Leitana Nehan said, “Women own the land in Bougainville. They own the land on which the Panguna mine is situated. For too long, men have negotiated and made agreements about our land without our input or permission.

“From 1989 until it finally ended in 2002, a devastating war was fought over the Panguna mine and claimed the lives of thousands of women, men and children. The suffering and the trauma continues today.

“Bougainvillean women and men have learned lessons from this war experience. We have learned that the government must consult the people before signing contracts with foreign companies who stand to make massive profits from our rich land.

We have also learned that conflict can be prevented, and that our children, our land and our society is badly damaged by violence and must be spared from war. That is why we in Leitana stood up and opposed this illegal agreement which was not even discussed by the parliament.

The Women’s Minister, Magdalene Toroansi, also opposed the Bougainville Resource Investment Corporation’s plans to reopen the Panguna mine, the only person to oppose this in the Cabinet. She bravely spoke for many Bougainvilleans with her vote and voice. For representing the people, for being a woman of integrity, for sensing the danger and the possibility to prevent conflict, she was sacked.

This is a shocking reflection on the state of our democracy, and we urge the President to reverse this decision.

We also urge the President to understand that the Panguna mine is a sensitive and potentially explosive issue in our country. If we are to keep the fragile peace and avoid descending once more into violence, an open, accountable, transparent decision-making process must occur about any decision to mine in Bougainville.

To contact Helen Hakena currently in Fiji for comment: +679 937 8070
Bougainville Inter-Church Women’s Forum, Monica Taga in Bougainville: +675 973 9062

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