Maru challenges Lihirians

Minister for International Trade and Investment Richard Maru has challenged the current generation of Lihir to think about the future of the community and what will happen once the mine is closed.

He made the challenge to the Lihirians at the recent launching of the Lihir Investment Fund (LIF) in Lihir, New Ireland Province.

Minister Maru said, “I have a fear that when all the gold in Lihir runs out, Lihir will become just like Misima- there will be a black hole and nothing here. This will become a reality unless the landowners, the people of Lihir, and the local Member and the Provincial Government think about the future of Lihir and do something about it. Our country has to learn from the past and not repeat the same mistake. We need to make sure to build sustainable communities beyond mine closure.”

He then provided the statistics of Lihir Island saying it currently had a population of about 60, 000 with half the population being children (up to 18 years old), 10, 000 in formal employment directly with the Gold Mine or with companies that were involved with the mine, and about 20, 000 unemployed.

“Whether you like it or not, Lihir already has 20, 000 people who are unemployed. The mine has not transformed their lives and given them opportunities. But we cannot blame the mine because a mine is not a big employer generator anywhere in the world. PNG LNG Project only employs 4, 000 Papua New Guineans."

He further said, "We have been so over dependent on the resource sector for the last 49 years and look at where we are now today; the resource sector has never been the answer for Papua New Guinea. So, the question is: what will happen to Lihir when the mine closes? The current generation of Lihir must think of the next generation beyond the mine life.” 

Minister Maru told the Lihirians that there was a window of opportunity for them to do something today with well over 20 years left of the mine.

“This is the time for you to step up and talk about how we can chart a new future in the next 20 years you have left of the mine. We all know that Lihir gold is very expensive to extract but the price is also very good, and this is the time to talk to Newmont, your local Member, your Provincial Government, and the State about the future of Lihir,” said Minister Maru.

Minister Maru called on Lihirians to seriously look at establishing new sustainable industries.

“You must seriously look at new industries apart form the mine that must be located here which will make use of the wharf, and the electricity and water supply that you already have. What is stopping your company to establish a fishing business here in Lihir? You are sitting on some of the most fertile fishing grounds of the world. One cannery can produce 5, 000 new jobs. We do not have to continue to send 80 per cent of our catch overseas, we need canning industry here including in Lihir. These are sustainable industries beyond mine closure.”

Before he ended his address he encouraged the Board and Management MRL Funds Limited to grow the capital and to take advantage of the investment opportunities in PNG.

“I want to congratulate the Board and Management of MRL Funds Limited who, under their management, the assets of the Lihirian’s Equity Trust (LET) have grown from K430 million in 2006 to almost K700 million as at March 2023. Given the success of their management of the LET, we are happy that they are starting the LIF so that investors who make money from royalties and others can invest in this fund. This fund is basically for individuals and families. However, whilst I commend them, the start of this fund with a seed capital of K40 million is insufficient for any serious investments like the new hotel development at Paga Hill and other emerging investment opportunities as they will require more than K50 million investment. I want to encourage the manager and trustee of the LIF to open up shareholding for other Papua New Guineans to also buy units into the fund so they can grow the fund quickly and be able to invest in many exciting investment opportunities that will be emerging especially in the Special Economic Zones where we are giving special incentives including tax holidays,” said Minister Maru.

Minister Maru once again commended the Board and Management MRL Funds Limited for the launch of LIF and said it was very timely because PNG needed investment funds that Papua New Guineans could invest in. Minister Maru also assured them of the Government’s support.

“Lihir has been generating employment and tax for our country and we are grateful for that. We are concerned about your future and we are ready to back you. We have a responsibility to look after the communities who are now looking after PNG. There must be a new dream including sustainable industries in Lihir to sustain you. The fund that we are launching today must find its way back to building sustainable industries in this island. Let’s come up with a new dream- a new destiny for Lihir,” said Minsiter Maru.

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