Landowners talk about the impact the PNG LNG project | Pacific Beat

Landowners talk about the impact the PNG LNG project

Landowners talk about the impact the PNG LNG project

Updated 15 February 2012, 12:29 AEDT

ExxonMobil's Papua New Guinea Liquid Natural Gas project has been in the news lately because of the troubles it is having with landowners in the PNG highlands.

But that is not the only site where the project - the biggest ever in PNG - is changing lives.

The highlands gas wells and conditioning plant are to be connected by a pipeline to a massive gas liquification plant and loading facility near the PNG capital, Port Moresby.

That area is home to more than 20,000 landowners who live in four villages.

Presenter:Jemima Garrett

Speakers:Jack Rex, trainer, Port Moresby Construction Training Facility; Heu Vagi, Trainee construction worker, Lea Lea village; Rausi Doko, Village Recruitment Officer, Lea Lea; Bonnie Gabe, Women's spokesperson, Lea Lea village; Bisia Lahui, Papa village's Director of the landowner company, Laba Holdings; Ata Lahui, Elementary School Teacher, Papa village; Albert Guba, Boera village leader; Kohu Seneka, Director of Laba Holdings and Boera Holdings; Raho Kevau, managing director, Laba Holdings; Sidney Isaiah, trainee, ExxonMobil Operations college; Isabelle Mogia, trainee, ExxonMobil Operations college

GARRETT: The PNG LNG plant is being built on a 700 hectare site on the shore of Caution Bay 20 kilometres west of Port Moresby.

Already the first foundations have been laid and it is during the labour-intensive construction phase that most job opportunities are available.

People from the 4 impacted villages get preference but most have no experience.

As you travel out of the PNG capital towards the LNG plant site, the first sign of the huge changes that are afoot, is at POMTECH - the Port Moresby Technical college.

Right next to its ramshackle campus is the PNG LNG project's brand new Construction Training Facility, which is taking unskilled people from the 4 villages and turning them into construction workers.

Jack Rex, one of the construction trainers, showed me around.

REX: You can see the students' projects and they are desk projects which are for a school near the project site. the particular school is Boera Primary school, yeah!

GARRETT: So now we've come up to the second big shed. what do you see in here?

REX: Well, most of the work you see in here is metalworks. It all belongs the mechanical piping and welding trade.

GARRETT: Over 1000 students have graduated from the Construction Training Facility.

Heu Vagi is a construction student, from Lea Lea village, who hopes to join her brother on the plant site shortly.

VAGI: My brother, my small brother, he is at the PNG LNG project there. He's an electrician.

GARRETT: What difference has the PNG LNG project made to your village?

VAGI: It made a very big change to our living.

GARRETT: So what sort of things, particularly, in your household?

VAGI: At the moment my brother is working. In the past, nobody was working. And today, we are feeling excited.

GARRETT: You are doing carpentry. How much longer have you got before you finish the course?

VAGI: Qualifications ..we are going to get today!

GARRETT: Oh you are graduating today, congratulations!

VAGI: Thank you very much (laugh)

GARRETT: So what has it taken. How long has it taken you to get to today, your graduation day?

VAGI: It took me 6 weeks here training on civil and this basic safety.

GARRETT: Do you have kids?

VAGI: Yeah, i got kids. i have 3 boys and they are schooling and a baby. He's in the house with Mum.

GARRETT: And are they proud of you graduating today?

VAGI: Oh, they are really proud! They wanted me to carry our a table for them. (giggle)

GARRETT: From the Construction training facility I make my way down to Heu Vagi's village.

Lea Lea is a picturesque spot by the seashore, famous for its crabs.

As you drive in, its is clear from the distinctive blue and orange overalls hanging on the washing lines, just how many people have jobs at the PNG LNG plant site.

Rausi Doko is Lea Lea's Village Recruitment Officer.

DOKO: I am very, very interested in this project because new things happening. Example, young ones working. And the biggest thing is the living standard of the people are changing.

GARRETT: How are you seeing that?

DOKO: People are building new good houses, and also paying their school fees and contributing to the church. All these things are happening. before it wasn't good but now we can see things are rolling well.

GARRETT:The scale of the change is enormous.

People from the 4 impacted villages who have been away working elsewhere in PNG are returning hoping to get one of the high paid jobs at the plant site.

But Bonnie Gabe says not all the changes are for the better.

GABE: There is now marital problem in the village. So many people are now employed at the project and because of the money, billion Kina project, there is a lot of adultery cases on at the site and families breaking up and also it contributes to drinking and lawlessness in the village. There is a lot of alcohol because people can now afford to buy this. especially beer.

GARRETT: You mentioned the marital problems. What happens to the women whose men have left or are causing trouble?

GABE: They've sought legal advice, or some of them have turned to our village elders. We have our own law and order committees and they try and seek assistance form them. Sometimes there are counselling sessions held by the village elders or pastor.

GARRETT: The vast bulk of the unskilled workers who work on the PNG LNG Plant site are provided by a brand new landowner company, called Laba Holdings, which is owned by all 4 impacted villages.

Bisia Lahui is from Papa village.

BISIA LAHUI: In my view the impact of this LNG is a good opportunity to the 4 villages.

GARRETT: You are a Director of Laba holdings, which is the umbrella landowner company. What has that involved?

BISIA LAHUI: Well, i have to be a fiar person to my community and also to bring good opportunities to my people and also bring good business to sustain my community.

GARRETT: What sort of jobs have your community had with the project?

BISIA LAHUI: Well, right now, some of my village people, they are working as caterers and working in the project site as labour, and also some of them are operators or drivers.

GARRETT: Ata Lahui is a Treacher at Papa Elementary School.

ATA LAHUI: It has a good side and a bad side. The good side of it - we have developments, new road and we have new plans. We just had a meeting with Exxon and they told us they had to come and make some maintenence for the classroom and the environment, make sure the environment is clean and better place for kids to learn.

GARRETT: You are involved in the Women's Group here in Papa. some women have got jobs on the PNG LNG project but have enough women?

ATA LAHUI: Yeah, there's plenty of them working. Most of the women like to work and build up their family standard to a good standard. some of the women they like to work, but some of the ladies, their husbands are not willing for them to go and work because, at the workplace, there are some, you know, unecessary things happening there more men than women.

GARRETT: So they are afraid their women might find another man?

ATA LAHUI: Yes, yes, of course.

GARRETT: The risks for women are not so much of a concern down the road at Boera village.

There the women's group is happy to see so many young women, with little education, getting their first opporunity to get a job.

Albert Guba is one of the Boera leaders.

GUBA: My wife is employed as a carpenter and my daughter, elder daughter is involved as a housekeeping assistant - just doing housekeeping, yeah! And I am very happy! (laugh)

GARRETT: How was it that your wife decided to go and become a carpenter?

GUBA: She decided she wanted a job and she asked me. And I said, 'Yes! You have all the right to beome and employee in the project site. and then she went through CTF training program, which was done by Esso Highlands Ltd and ExxonMobil. and she went through a recrutiment drive test and she passed the test, and went to a medical examination process. She had a tooth problem and we took ownership and fixed it ourself through the dentist and then we put it back to the dedics and then they allowed her into the training. And then she did her mchanical piping training at POM CTF. Now she's employed as a carpenter and just a handy woman around the LNG site.

GARRETT: You yourself, decided not to take a job on the PNG LNG project. Why?

GUBA: I think I have a very big responsibility in the village, like community development, which is a program initiated by Esso Highlands Ltd. so i have to stay in the village and go through this community development support project, to make me own and look after the community, like building infrastucture like the clinics and the school and the water system, where i can do my input. Where I can help and we can come up with a very nice healthy community.

GARRETT: If you are doing the community development work, does that mean, if the young guys who have got jobs on the project, come home and get drunk, you are the one who has to go and deal with it?

GUBA: Yes, we have to come up with justice or law and order programs to contain the young guys who are getting paid and coming home and drinking. Maybe put awareness or educate them on how to drink after they get their wages.

GARRETT: Kohu Seneka is one of Boera villages directors on Laba Holdings the umbrella Landowner company and is also a Director of the village landowner company, Boera Holdings, which has set up a bus company.

He says around 500 unskilled workers from Boera are woking at the PNG LNG Plant site and it is having an enormous economic impact.

SENEKA: If you calculate it at them having a fortnightly slary of 500 Kina (the PNG currency) that about K100,000 floating in Boera village alone. That is the income impact I am talking about, yeah!

GARRETT: So what do they spend that money on?

SENEKA: Basically 50% of that income would be spent in the urban, Moresby, shopping for goods. And 50% would be spent in the community at the little stals buying fish and what not.

GARRETT: So does that mean people who don't work on the project and are growing vegetables or fishing acre actually doing a lot better than they had been before?

SENEKA: I guess so, yes! Because, normally, some two or three years ago you wouldn't be earning that much selling some fish over here but, right now, there is income here. So, if you go out fish, come here, you know there is money around so you are pretty sure you should get some income, yeah!

GARRETT: As a Director, you have the jobs of making sure all the jobs and so on, are fairly distributed between the clans. how do you do that?

SENEKA: We have a little charter, whereby we list all those who are working. so if there is an employment needed by the sub-contractors - let's say they need 10 from the village - we would equally distribute them amonst the clans so no one clan gets two or three employees. So that way we get it evenly distributed within the community, yeah.

GARRETT: There must be moments when some clans get jobs and others don't. just how difficult is this process?

SENEKA: Of course! We have little internal politics. People come up and say 'listen, my clan is lower than these other clans'. yeah, but we have to maintain them. There's always fighting. We can't please everydoy but, yeah we contain them. We try our best to conatin all those little, nitty grittys, yeah!

GARRETT: Fighting within the village may be just background noise but fighting between villages is on a much larger scale.

Porebada village is taking legal action against the umbrella Landowner company, Laba Holdings, and last year mounted a raid on Boera which left 4 Porebadans dead.

As the tension eases, Laba Holdings CEO, Raho Kevau, is concentrating on managing the huge growth in demand for staff, from security, construction and catering staff, through to administrative staff in his Head Office.

When the PNG LNG project construction reaches its peak next year he expects to have more than 2000 people in the field.

KEVAU: Almost 99% of the workforce working for Laba Holdings are from the 4 villages. There are some expatriates who are here but they are here for a short time. they are here to support Laba. They are here to set up Laba but both of them are leaving very shortly.

GARRETT: Where do you see the labour hire business going into the future as the project moves from the construction phase into the operational phase?

KEVAU: Well, we are not looking at the PNG LNG project only. We are looking at Papua New Guinea as a whole and even going international. But the challenge to us is to learn the skills, get a lot of expertise, from our counterparts here, and then the sky is the limit. we can be the best labour hire company in Papua New Guinea if we do things straight, if we do it properly now.

GARRETT: Outside the 4 villages, there are skilled and professional jobs available to all Papua New Guineans and, as time goes by, unskilled jobs will also be opened to the broader population.

My final port of call on my trip to look at the PNG LNG Plant site, is the elite operations training college, where a group of PNG's best and brightest, some barely out of their teens, are training run the world class gas processing facility once it is built.

Sidney Isaiah and Isabella Mogia showed me around.

ISAIAH: you can see our classrooms, our science labs, well science lab for the chemistry, physics lab here. also we've got the admin offices here and one of the most exciting places the recreation hall! (laugh) We love that place a lot! Yeah!

GARRETT: This course was incredibly competitive to get into. there were 9,000 applications and they only took just over 70. What sort of background did you have coming in that got you the job?

ISAIAH: oh the kind of background that we had, well, most of us had - most of us came from college backgrounds, some of us are graduates, graduate engineers, graduate chemists. Well, most of us had to have a fair level of chemistry and physics especially, and scored A's and B's in grade 12 physics and chemistry, and also, maths, too,

GARRETT: So why were you interested in getting one of these jobs?

MOGIA: Probably because the LNG project is a really big issue in our country right now. So everyone wanted to be part of the project so then when we saw the advertisement in the newspaper, we were thinking 'Oh, you know, this is an opportunity to be a part of this really big project'. Yeah!

GARRETT: Sidney and Isabella travel to Canada next year for a year of training on gas plants, and are on track take charge of the multi-billion dollar PNG facility from 2017.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.