The court deadlock over the Wafi-Golpu project has ended with the National Court in Lae throwing out the injunction relating to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that had brought the project to a halt. It opens the door for a potential US$5.4 billion (K18 billion) investment into Papua New Guinea.
In some much-needed good news for PNG’s resources sector, the National Court in Lae has paved the way to get the Wafi-Golpu copper-gold project on track again.
The National Government and the Governor of Morobe were locked into a legal battle over the MOU, which was dismissed by the National Court sitting in Lae yesterday.
The lifting of the injunction was reported by Newcrest Mining, which said that ‘as a consequence, the stay order restricting the WGJV partners from engaging in discussions with the state of PNG has been lifted’.
The mine was described as one of the ‘premier undeveloped gold–copper projects in the world,’ by Michael Nossal, Chief Development Officer for Newcrest Mining Ltd. The company’s aim is to start production five years after a Special Mining Lease is granted.
‘Newcrest, together with its WGJV partner Harmony, look forward to re-engaging with the State of PNG and progressing discussions on the Special Mining Lease for the Wafi-Golpu Project,’ the release said.
The decision is timely. Earlier this month, the project announced it would lay off 37 employees at the end of January because of the continued delays to the project.
Much need cash injection for PNG
The unincorporated Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture between Harmony and Newcrest Mining seeks to develop the prospective Wafi-Golpu gold and copper mine, which has estimated reserves of 13 million ounces of gold and 4.4 million tonnes of copper.
According to Newcrest, the mine has a net present value of US$2.6 billion (K8.8 billion). The capital expenditure over the life of the mine is expected to be approximately US$5.4 billion (K18.2 billion).
Should this investment receive the green light, it will provide a much-needed injection of foreign exchange into PNG, which has been experiencing foreign exchange shortages for several years. It will also provide a boost to the economy of Morobe Province, where the mine is situated.
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the developers and the State in December 2018. At the time, Newcrest described it as ‘an affirmation of the parties’ intent to proceed with the Wafi-Golpu Project, subject to finalisation of the permitting process and Newcrest and Harmony Board approvals.’
It was emphasised at the time that it was not a final benefit sharing agreement, as required under PNG’s Mining Act.
‘The MOU does not determine any issues of benefit sharing between the National and Provincial Governments or landowners: it only deals with matters between the PNG State and the Developers,’ said Grant Batterham, WGJV General Manager, Social Performance & External Affairs at the time.
‘All matters relating to Morobe Province and the landowners are being dealt with via a separate negotiation and consultation process.”
‘The main opportunity for Provincial and landowner and aspirations to be discussed is through the Development Forum process facilitated by the Mineral Resources Authority,’ he went on to say.
The benefits-sharing agreements reached through the Development Forum process will be documented in a final memorandum of agreement.
With the injunction lifted yesterday, it is this process that should now be able to proceed.
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