Shady dealings surround PNG waste plant

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

As industrialised countries adopt stricter, more costly regulations on disposal of toxic wastes, a whole industry of shadowy operators has developed to promote dumping wastes in the Third World.

Late last year, a California-based company, Global Telesis Corporation, proposed that 600,000 tonnes of toxic waste from the US be brought every month for "treatment" in a US$38 million incineration plant in Dobuduru in PNG's Oro Province.

The premier of Oro, Newman Mongagi, supported the plan, which would pay the provincial government $45 per tonne of waste, and the national government $15. This compares with $200-$2000 in the US, where environmental safeguards are much more stringent.

PNG environment and conservation minister Jim Yer Waim also approved the plan, describing it as environmentally sound and economically viable.

Konio Seneka, writing in the March 7 edition of the Times of Papua New Guinea, uncovered disturbing information about those behind the plan. Global Telesis is now in partnership with another US company, Applied Technology International (ATI).

Seneka found that the head of ATI, Charles Gresham, has been charged with conspiring to blow up chemical tanks near the Norfolk Naval base in Virginia. US authorities allege that Gresham and others attempted to destroy the tanks in order to collect US$2.7 million in an insurance scam.

Global Telesis was suspended last July by the California Franchise Tax Board for failing to pay taxes. The California secretary of State considers Global Telesis to be inactive because it has not filed its mandatory annual reports since 1989. ATI has been banned in the state of Maryland because of insurance fraud.

Two prominent Papua New Guineans were paid US$400,000 for services rendered to the company, reports Seneka.

Two lecturers from the University of PNG Biology Department have criticised the Oro project. Professor Lance Hills and Dr David Mowbray said that, based on information contained in the executive summary released by the environment minister on behalf of Global Telesis and ATI, the companies lack the technical competence, credibility and experience to carry through the project. The report contains technical errors, makes false and misleading statements, lacks important information and contains estimates of costs which seem unreliable and inflated.

No environment impact study was ever submitted, and several international treaties to which PNG is a party, including the Lome IV convention, forbid the acceptance of toxic wastes from abroad.