Seven cornerstones

HOW the government, industry and the people, both expatriates and nationals, move forward in the next few years will be an important indicator of how the resource story will unfold in Papua New Guinea. By Tony Morley.
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Published in the December 2012 PNG Report magazine

Here are rules that are critical to growing the resource sector:

1. Treat resource royalty revenue as an investment in the country.

Sitting down with locals from the beach to the highlands always reveals the same impressions; they desperately want to see what the resource wealth of the country is buying them.

The government and resource sector both need to provide better public awareness of resource operations as well as where the royalties from such projects are going.

The new Oil Search sustainability report published in pidgin and distributed in the highlands is an excellent example of making an effort to bring locals back into the loop.

Sitting at dinner in Port Moresby one night and bouncing ideas off a local cook across the counter brings light to the situation.

He put it simply as "say what you do, and do what you say". Both nationals and expatriates need to ensure they are keeping their word. The government has a responsibility to steward and invest the wealth generated by resource extraction for the betterment of the people of Papua New Guinea.

2. Employ expats who are ready to commit to PNG.

One of the operating challenges faced by external developers is importing the bulk of the skills required to make technical exploration possible in a country that is geologically blessed and topographically difficult. Finding experienced crew can certainly be a difficult task and all too often expats are flown in for a tour or two, or bounced between projects never to return.

This style of employment and disposable attitude toward expats is hurting the community as well as the industry. It's vitally important that the foreigners operating in the country have experience with the people and the culture and a respect for how life operates in PNG. It's not something you acquire in a single 28-day tour.

When expats spend time living and working in close proximity with the locals associated with their projects they have a much better chance of building trust and a lasting positive relationship with the local community. Every effort should be made to create and maintain a team of people who are dedicated to a project, for the betterment of the project and the people who live around it.

Stop the temporary hire cycle, bring people in who are ready and willing to put in a least a year of working in PNG. Industry needs to be developing recruiting practices that look to invest in and train up expats. This is a difficult country to operate in and everyone suffers if workers are not trained and coached into their roles within the culture.

3. Keeping a younger generation of talented expats requires a different approach.

The older generation is retiring. The vintage explorers, expats and nationals are increasingly fading out of the field. A new generation is moving in to replace the ageing fleet of managers, tradesmen and geologists.

The expectations of this new group of pioneers have changed dramatically. They're demanding better communications. Both telecommunications and internet will need to be improved if companies wish to continue attracting the brightest foreigners and nationals.

It is no longer permissible to have talented young geologists living in a rundown container with extremely limited communications and a broken air conditioner.

There is a real outcry from new expats working within the industry.

I spoke to an electrician from the LNG project drilling division who expressed the collective sentiment of the crew drilling in the field: "We have one or two computers with limited internet access to share between perhaps 20 or 30 expats; there is no wireless [internet] to access; a single TV shared between 100 men; and no access to call home regularly other than expensive mobile calls. Being here is not a very enjoyable experience."

4. Create environmental management plans based on first-world standards.

One needn't spent a vast amount of time in the wilderness of PNG before you begin to grasp the beauty and vast diversity of the flora and fauna.

PNG is blessed with more than just geological

riches, the environment is a resource to be protected, conserved and managed correctly; managed not only for profit but also for sustainability.

The industry needs to abandon the rip and ship mentality of years past and adopt a higher level of environmental responsibility and transparency.

Real progress has been made and is being made, and it's desperately important that both sides of the resource story continue to keep an open mind.

Government and villagers need to be willing to allow new developments to continue moving forward and project developers need to prove their commitment to the environment.

If we are asking PNG for a second chance to develop resource projects in a sustainable manner, we need to make sure we're not simply paying lip service to government officials and the public. If the resource industry is saying it is serious about safety and environmental sustainability it had better follow through or risk a further loss in public trust.

5. Invest in a generation of PNG citizens who can help shape the resource boom.

The greatest resource of any country is the people who reside within its borders. Incentives need to be created by government and industry to help young PNG nationals develop into positions within the resource sector.

Developing and keeping educated nationals will be a key to reducing the amount of temporary foreign workers required to exploit the country's resources.

6. Develop cultural awareness between expats and nationals.

There is nothing quite like being stuck in a compound for a month at a time, isolated from the local village or shop by an enormous wire fence.

Expats who fly in and out of the country without getting boots on the ground, without shaking hands with the kids in the village and the men on the road, don't gain any respect for the country or its people.

The "us and them" attitude needs to be further reduced. On my first flight into PNG I was told I was flying into the real life Avatar, a world where resource development and village life were at war. It needn't be so, and we shouldn't forget we are guests in another country and conduct ourselves so we find ourselves welcomed back.

Spending just a little time in the community can have a massive impact on how foreigners conduct themselves as well as their operations. I will never forget a small boy named Max with whom I became friends with through a barbed wire fence. The last time I saw him I handed him a small dress shirt and a jar of jam from my family's orchard just outside of the Australian Capital Territory. He lived just 20m from the door of my room. I recall pondering what it would be like to grow up with a helicopter pad a few hundred metres from my home and garden.

7. Continue to encourage exploration and development.

With so much of the overall revenue coming directly and indirectly from the resource sector, PNG is in a position of relative reliance on this sector. The revenue generated each year is a nearly incalculable tangible asset for the country. Locking the gate and/or placing stringent restrictions on the industry will only see a resource recession in PNG

The government needs to continue developing plans and policies that seek to make PNG a favourable place to conduct business.

Future developments need better planning and associated oversight to correctly manage the wealth generated for the betterment of the country.

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