Leonard Fong Roka
Driving through the industrial areas of the old BCL mine, Panguna and Loloho port today, there is hardly any structure frames of those massive workshops, crushers, plants, and other smaller equipment, and yards of spare parts and old material storage areas. All that now remains is a few brick walls, rusting irons, concrete drainage systems, and the vast gravel and rock surface area of Panguna.
All these tons of BCL property went overseas as scrap metal to the benefit of us the Panguna people and a few former BRA elites around Kieta.
Scrap metal business came to Bougainville around 1995 on the small scale but erupted into a massive scale just after 2005 on. The earlier small scale operations captured foreign opportunists and genuine agents and buyers thus catapulting the business up.
There were Koreans, Indians, and Chinese groups and even a few non-Asian brokers, and all the market destinations were Asian. A few known market destinations were in Korea, Vietnam, India, China, and Malaysia.
And in Panguna, especially, company names and groups sprang us and all specialized in buying and collecting scrap metal; a few had rights over areas within the mine site, and even the former BRA had their own groups alongside the Meekamui groups. But most in common, in terms PNG law had no IPA (Investment Promotion Authority) or BCL authorization to exploit BCL property and export it.
I worked for about two years, 2008 to 2009, with a local group called Doborubu Scrap Metal Group (DSMG) that was based only in Panguna as an on-site assistant administration officer assisting our operation boss and as a tallyman keeping records of the scrap metal loads we made every day.
DSMG was owned by the Pirurari villagers who owned most lands in the Kusito area of the mine site. In this area, the DSMG just collected any metal and in others like the concentrator, the pit, the town areas.
The DSMG operated in partnership with a Korean financier and market dealer. From Korea he provided trucks, forklifts, and other heavy metal cutting equipment. In return DSMG sent scrap metal containers in his name to markets he chose.
Then the scrap buyers paid him the money and he deducted what DSMG owed him in equipment and plants with a little profit and sent what was left back to Bougainville.
DSMG with its two trucks, one a 25 ton truck and another was a 15 ton, was required to produce 15 tons for the 25 ton truck and 12 tons for the 15 ton truck. The operations had packers at Kieta port and harvesters in Panguna. Most employees were young and from a single clan extended family with only a handful of us from other clans.
Each shipment of scrap from the Kieta port in all cases must meet the required quota of scrap in tonnage. If the Korean boss wanted 150 tons of scrap metal then DSMG had to produce that or above. And working to these directives from Korea DSMG raked up every scrap in its own traditional land areas and began buying from others.
We group our boys to two groups. Some only did the cutting of buildings frames and plants; others waited for sellers who had stocked up their scrap and came to us to buy, and some had laid claim on plants or buildings and asked us to cut them down and buy them. We did just that all that for 6 days and rested only on Sundays.
In most cases we did not pay them on spot but I recorded the mass of scrap to each respective person’s name and truck it away to Kieta. In Kieta our packing boys packed the scrap in containers. We were required to pack its container with 25.5 tons of scrap metal.
It was only when this containers had left PNG then we money came into Bougainville from Korea and we paid our employees and the scrap owners.
And the most painful characteristic of all Panguna scrap metal tycoons was that it was a liars and drunkards’ business.
With cash or without cash, all weekends were wild boozing and partying. This phenomenon raised the number of retail outlets serving goods and liquor up. Nearly all residents of Panguna were a scrap metalist. Small retail businesses staggered as credit increased when workers used scrap as security to get goods.
And for DSMG we promised two Panguna District primary schools staff houses but till we ceased operations in 2011 because all stock of scrap has zeroed. Dapera Primary School had not seen a DSMG funded house and Darenai Primary School (Location 2) had not seen a DSMG house that we promised.
Promises we did to people since we, the top bosses in DSMG, were earning at the range of K600-K1000 per shipment were not realized. And today with scrap metal gone our level of financial happiness had shrink far too low than those that only lived on their gardens and we often boozed and called them penniless.