CANADA: Munk takes on mine protesters, defends capitalism

Publisher Name: 
The Star

Mark Ekepa journeyed from Papua New Guinea to tell the shareholders
of Barrick Gold Corp. how police had burned down his house near the
Barrick's Porgera mine.

Idolia Bornones travelled from Chile to say that Barrick operations
are damaging local glaciers and rivers.

But Barrick chairman Peter Munk was unrepentant as he faced the
company's annual meeting.

Even before the visitors had a chance to speak, Munk delivered an
unapologetic defence of Barrick's role in improving the lives of people
around the world.

Munk told shareholders that corporate social responsibility is
"part of our DNA."

"By moving into these countries and developing their mines, we
provide - way beyond the importance of money - we provide human
dignity," Munk said.

"We provide an opportunity for these people to earn their money,
rather than hold out their hands and depend on charity."

Munk said Barrick's wage bill is $4 billion a year - often paying
four to six times the average local wage.

He said the presidents of Chile, Argentina and the Domincan
Republic have each told him: "Please, please, please Barrick, please put
your money into our country."

Munk decried what he called a "rogue element" among some
non-government agencies that want to halt all development.

"What can they offer to those 20,000 people we employ?" he said.
"What are the people going to do? Line up for social benefits in the
remote hills of Tanzania or Peru? There ain't none."

Idolia Bordones said she doesn't want Barrick's money, however.

Bordones raises crops and bakes bread in the Huasco Valley, near
the Pascua-Lama project, which is still in development. She's part of a
community of 250 indigenous families in "the last unpolluted valley of
northern Chile."

Dust from the project is blackening glaciers, causing them to melt,
she said, and is harming local wetlands and forest.

"We do not need your money, and we are not seeking compensation,"
she said. "We just want you to leave our lands and allow us to live in
peace."

Barrick's chief executive, Aaron Regent, said the company treats
all water used in mining, and said it complies with quality standards.

He said there is "overwhelming" local support for the project, and
the company has 150,000 names in a database of those who have applied
for work.

Ekepa said that in Papua New Guinea, the Porgera Mine disrupted the
local economy based on alluvial mining - washing fine gold out of river
sediment.

Unlike Chile, many local residents are seeking compensation because
their houses are close to the mine. There have also been clashes with
local police - not related to the mine-whom Epeka said burned down his
house.

He said he would like Barrick to support an investigation into
police actions, and wants the company to resettle landowners who are
close to the mine. Regent said police moved in to the area because of
general lawlessness.

Company officials say compensation and resettlement claims are
difficult to assess because new people have flooded into the area, many
of them squatting on land to which others have a legal claim.

The company reported strong first quarter results Wednesday, with
gold production up 19 per cent to 2.08 million ounces. Costs declined,
while prices for both gold and copper rose. Barrick realized $1,114 an
ounce on its gold sales.

Net profit was a record $758 million or 77 cents a share on sales
of $2.561 billion. That compared with net profit of $371 million or 42
cents a share on sales of $1.775 billion a year ago.

AMP Section Name:Natural Resources
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