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Formulating basic policy for community relations programs

CollectionsANU Dept. of Pacific Affairs (DPA) formerly State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program
Title: Formulating basic policy for community relations programs
Author(s): Rivers, John
Keywords: community relations
generational challenges
resource extraction companies
social boundaries
custom variability
Papua New Guinea
state land law
resource industries
legal pluralism
Date published: 1999
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) discussion paper series: 1999/1
The Papua New Guinea state has, since independence, pursued increasingly corporatist policies of involving landowner and indigenous groups in mining and petroleum projects through a development forum process. Community relations programs in the resource extraction industries of Papua New Guinea continue to be plagued by problems. The sources of violent conflict in Papua New Guinea societies and dissensus in landowner groups are examined here, as well as the conflict-enhancing aspects of resource extraction company ‘good citizen’ corporate policies. This paper contributes to an understanding of the problems on the landowner side, which are still not widely understood within the resource extraction industries, despite several decades of turbulent experience. Many of the companies operating in the resource extraction industries of mining, gas and petroleum have adopted, by choice or necessity, ‘good corporate citizen’ policies. Some of these companies now pursue ethical business, environmental and community relations policies. Some have well-trained staff and adequately funded community relations departments. Although different industry sites scattered over Papua New Guinea show significant differences in their experience of social conflict, a good deal of this variation has less to do with the differences between the companies’ public relations policies and their effectiveness and more to do with the variation in the precise mix of the conflict-causing features present in indigenous society. Experience suggests that even a company with good intentions, good policies and good staff may experience serious difficulties in maintaining good community relations in Papua New Guinea. Many of these difficulties can be traced to causes that lie within the structure of Papua New Guinea communities and in the customs and social relations of Papua New Guinea’s peoples. Papua New Guinea’s communities are strongly oriented towards achieving and maintaining consensus and social harmony. The drive for consensus is driven by the desire to avoid its opposite, dissensus. This paper sets out to define the dissensual aspects of Papua New Guinean societies and particularly those conflict-producing aspects that are most resistant to the mechanisms that are designed to create social harmony. The conflict-producing mechanisms are of special significance because, as is common in the developing country context, their existence poses problems for, and raises questions about, the sovereignty of the state. Community-based disputation challenges the sovereignty of the state and makes inevitable the involvement of resource extraction industries in sovereignty issues. A survey of the recent history of industry and community relations in Papua New Guinea indicates that on the landowner side there are three main factors which are liable, separately or through their interaction, to cause difficulties. These factors are generational challenge, social boundaries and custom variability.
ISSN: 1328-7854


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