The Ok Tedi Settlement:
Issues, Outcomes and Implications

Glenn Banks + Chris Ballard (editors)

National Centre for Development Studies 1997
A book review by Danny Yee © 1998
When landowners from Papua New Guinea's remote Western Province took Australia's largest mining company to court, seeking compensation for damage to the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers, there was much media interest. But the coverage was patchy at best and, when a settlement was reached, the issue quickly disappeared from sight. For those wanting more information, The Ok Tedi Settlement is a collection of papers about the background to the lawsuit and settlement, based on a workshop held in May 1997. For the curious it is an accessible and balanced survey of the issues; for those involved in similar development projects elsewhere — mining companies, NGOs, academics, indigenous peoples, and governments — it will be an invaluable resource.

The Ok Tedi Settlement contains an introduction by the editors, discussing the quality of the media coverage and describing the background to the workshop, and eleven papers by a wide range of contributors. Meg Taylor describes the legislative and constitutional protections for the environment in Papua New Guinea — and their ineffectiveness given the importance of mining to the national economy. John Burton describes the "discovery" paradigm under which mining companies operated (incorporating an idea of terra nugax or "worthless land") and how this left them unprepared for the rise of political unrest in the Ok Tedi region. And Colin Filer looks at the relationship between Ok Tedi Mining and PNG politics, provincial and national, and at the course of the unrest leading up to the lawsuit.

David King argues that the primary problem facing the people of the Fly and Ok Tedi Rivers, the one highest among their priorities, is underdevelopment, exacerbated by an influx of refugees from Indonesia. In contrast, Stuart Kirsch argues that the Ok Tedi mine is primarily an environmental and ecological issue; he also looks at the case as a legal precedent, at the strengths and weaknesses of foreign tort litigation. Two other papers focus on the legal issues, with John Gordon (from the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit) and Brian Brunton (from a Papua New Guinea environmental NGO) presenting different views of the legal proceedings.

Four shorter papers present the perspectives of other parties: Alex Maun (from the Yonggom people on the Ok Tedi river), the Mineral Resources Development Corporation (which holds Ok Tedi equity on behalf of the PNG government and landowners), the Australian mining industry (Placer Pacific), and an Australian NGO (the Mineral Policy Institute). An additional bibliography supplements the references cited in the papers and appendices contain the texts of the settlement agreement and of landowner petitions from 1988 and 1990.

April 1998

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%T The Ok Tedi Settlement
%S Issues, Outcomes and Implications
%E Banks, Glenn
%E Ballard, Chris
%I National Centre for Development Studies
%D 1997
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0731523628
%P xi,279pp