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The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 268-271

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Book Review

Dilemmas of Development: The Social and Economic Impact of the Porgera Gold Mine 1989-1994

Dilemmas of Development: The Social and Economic Impact of the Porgera Gold Mine 1989-1994, edited by Colin Filer. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press (Asia Pacific School of Economics and Management, Australian National University) and Boroko: National Research Institute, 1999. ISBN paper 0-7315-3606-1; xiii + 319 pages, tables, figures, maps, notes, references, index. Paper, A$20.

Papua New Guinea's Environmental Planning Act requires developers to fund social impact studies as a precondition for mining operations, and the minerals boom of the 1980s and 1990s has also been a boom for social research: for every new mining project, somebody will have written a social impact report. Despite the volume of consulting, however, little of this work has found its way into the mainstream literature. Some of this difficulty may rest with the traditional estrangement between academic and applied research, but much of it lies with the terms of consultancy agreements between researchers and their clients. Developers view consultants' reports as proprietary information and are reluctant to make them public, partly out of nervousness about publicity and partly out of habit: why, after all, should they give away something they spent shareholders' money on? [End Page 268]

For this and other reasons, Dilemmas of Development breaks important ground in the anthropology of contemporary Papua New Guinea. The editor, Colin Filer, is the former head of the Social and Environmental Studies Division of that country's National Research Institute. From this vantage point he brokered a significant share of the studies carried out on Papua New Guinea's minerals frontier, and one major achievement of the current volume was securing the publication of material that might otherwise have remained in corporate files. What Dilemmas of Development makes available is a fascinating look at what consultants' research shows about the effects of the Porgera mine on the people living around it.

The book's core consists of reports by Susanne Bonnell and Glenn Banks, consultants with long local experience. Bonnell focuses on social impact with close attention to women's perspectives. Porgera's mine was established on Ipili land, entailing the displacement of people living within the Special Mining Lease. Once plans for mining were announced, people rushed to establish house and garden sites within the lease area in hopes of claiming a share of the compensation expected to flow from a mining agreement. The outcome was a complex exercise in negotiating cash entitlements and relocation housing. Although the developers, Porgera Joint Venture (PJV), spent far more on these arrangements than anticipated, they inevitably introduced cleavages between haves and have-nots. Families relocated to permanent housing ended up hosting numbers of kin and affines, and the pressure on housing was intensified by the company's failure to make provision for landowners' children as they grew and married. The impact on domestic life is a textbook case of the unintended consequences of the ameliorative provisions of mining agreements.

Bonnell's review of health and education sheds light on why people in Papua New Guinea so often embrace resource developments, for the minerals boom coincided with the state's retreat from rural services. The decline of government is evident in absent or unpaid staff, deteriorating facilities, and the lack of basic administration. No surprise, then, that one of Porgera's major attractions is the availability of schools and medical services that the government fails to provide. Porgera has become a de facto site of sovereignty in the face of the state's ineffectiveness.

A major worry for local people and Porgera Joint Venture alike is the high level of violence fueled by unemployment and a burgeoning black market in alcohol, a situation resistant to increased policing. The lack of basic security has also demoralized public servants and undermined efforts to develop the local township. As Banks points out, this situation has an economic impact: expatriate employees cite local crime in choosing to...


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