The Lihir Destiny Plan evolved over several decades, and coincided with the discovery of massive reserves of gold on the main islands of Lihir Group in Papua New Guinea, and the establishment of one of the world’s great gold mines, which appeared to many Lihirians to be the fulfilment of Lihir prophesies. The discovery of gold was no accident, they believed: it was unalterably pre-determined and would become the vehicle for transforming the Lihirian society.
The Lihir Destiny is a doctrine put together by a small group of educated, idealistic young Lihirians, who were determined to see their people receive their rightful share of the outpouring of wealth that would accompany the operation of a huge gold mine on their land.
They knew that most mining ventures in PNG benefitted a relatively small number of people: those directly affected by the mining. Yet the coming of large-scale mining had brought massive social and cultural upheaval to the wider community, changing their lives forever.
The young Lihirians were determined not to allow the same from happening on Lihir. They banded together, and formed what amounted to a Lihirian lobby and group called LMALA (Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association). The leaders knew gold mining wouldn’t be sustainable into the indefinite future. The day would come when mining would cease, and with it, gold revenues. They were determined to prepare for that day.
With discipline and passion, they slowly gained what they were seeking: the Lihir Sustainable Development Plan (LSDP) which charted a course they believed would deliver self-reliance and financial independence to all Lihirians, not just landowners, after mine closure.
The Mining Act provided that landowners were entitled to fair compensation for the loss of their land and the environmental damage large-scale mining inevitably produces, but did not offer any specific means by which this could be achieved. So the Lihirian leaders developed their unique formula.
The Plan came to life after many years of negotiations between the LMALA, the mining company joint venture, and various levels of government, before the initial compensation package was agreed.
In 1995, an Integrated Benefits Package (IBP) was signed providing a range of payments and benefits on a scale previously unknown in PNG mining negotiations, based on four principles:
- Compensation to the immediate landowners for the destruction of the land being mined.
- Development to provide programs, funds and facilities to assist the wider Lihirian community during the mining operations.
- Security to provide the future needs of Lihirians after mine cessation.
- Rehabilitation to restore the land, for local Lihirians to use after mine closure.
The above would ensure Lihirians received their full share of economic benefits resulting from gold mining on their land. The goal was to achieve self-reliance, sustainable development and financial independence for all Lihirians into the future.
On May 2nd 2007, former Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare officially signed a revised IBP which captured a key element that is needed to achieve the four principles in the 1995 IBP – machinery for the LMALA.
The new agreement resulted in the adoption by all stakeholders of the LSDP or the “Lihir Destiny Plan”- a plan for Lihirians to become self-reliant and financially independent after mine closure.
Mark Soipang, co-founder of LMALA and the driving force behind the goals of achieving the Lihir Destiny, acknowledged the need to immediately adopt the four objectives he considers vital to the success of the Lihir Destiny plan and more so the success of the Lihirian community now and into the future.
He identifies these objectives as being:
- Parallel Development: Development on Lihir must happen in parallel to mining development, while mining is taking place;
- Balanced Development: Development must be spread throughout all the 15 wards in Lihir and not just in mine affected communities;
- Sustainable Development: Development must continue after mine closure; and
- Stable Development: Development must be holistic, based on the principles of unity, goodwill and bring peace to communities.
The Lihir Destiny is a living document, evolving to meet changing circumstances and is a tremendous opportunity for Lihir and Lihirians to become a role model for other Papua New Guinean landowner communities.