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Friday, August 29, 2003

Tolukuma - the forgotten mine

A gold mine high up in the Goilala mountains has taken on a new lease in life, writes BAEAU TAI

Heads of departments at the Tolukuma mine.

IN PAPUA New Guinea's mining industry, it used to be branded as the "smallest mine in the country". At the international scene, it is the "forgotten mine". Tolukuma Gold Mine in Goilala, Central province, has now become the attraction of Durban Roodepoort Deep Limited (DRD), a South African company that bought it off in 2000.

Dome Resources bought TGM in 1993 for US$6 million and DRD acquired Dome in January 2000.

Recently, the Tolukuma mine has been hitting the local papers' business headlines.

Its positive half-year performance has seen the company hit a record revenue of almost K100 million in its 2003 financial year from July 2002 to the June 2003 quarter with production reaching an all-time high of 21,217 ounces of gold, while also increasing its ore reserves.

Un-audited results showed a 46 per cent increase in production from 14,680 ounces in the first quarter to a total of 68,070 ounces for the financial year.

The increase in production also saw increase in revenue from K17.2 million in the first quarter to a total of K90.4 million for the whole financial year.

"It is for the first time we are actually making good money, said Ted Nohajer, the man who has turned Tolukuma to new highs in PNG's mining industry.

Ted is the company's new general manager.

"We used to be what they called the forgotten mine within DRD two quarters ago. Now we are the attraction of DRD believe it or not. Now all of a sudden DRD is focusing within PNG and we are going to purchase some mines here," he said. 

Mr Nohajer who has great respect for the wider Goilala community and takes to heart the employees as the company's assets said the company's good performance was attributed to higher grade, better planning and good mining practices. One of the major changes he wanted to see happen since he took office seven months ago is the head of department positions including Human Resource, Electrical and Environment.

These HOD positions are now held by experienced and capable Papua New Guineans. 

"I have very competent heads of departments and I am very privileged to be in a team where 80 per cent of HOD are nationals and where the Goilalas are coming up to get supervisory roles and, hopefully in the future, they will come up to the lower management and middle management levels. These are indications that certain changes are happening and it is good news to the community and to the public," he said. 

"People might think that we have consultants or experts from South Africa or Australia running the show. We've got nationals running the whole show and they are running it smoothly, he said. 

Mr Nohajer said living at Tolukuma, which is 100km north of Port Moresby and is accessible only by helicopter is like an adventure.

"It is not like a gold mine. I've worked for many years in many different companies in South Africa and it is nothing like this," he said. 

"This is a totally different life involving more the local community, the agriculture, medivacs and the food we are bringing into the community and the projects that we have planned. All that points to one direction that it is not just a gold mine."

For Ted, the pursuit of perfection and success borders on his belief in the 'Bahai Faith'. His belief has definitely caused him to make changes at the company and in the local community who he refers to as their "neighbours". 

"I belong to Bahai Faith and sustainable development is what we believe in and what we strive for," he said.

Ted is originally from Iran and while still a school student, he went to South Africa to visit his brother during the school holidays and that was where he met his beautiful wife from South Africa and decided to make South Africa his home.

He has three children and he hopes to bring his wife over to PNG one day. 

He also believes that as a foreigner, he had to understand the PNG culture particularly the Goilala people, their beliefs and values in order to work together in partnership for the development of the mine and the community and to live in peace and harmony. 

"You don't have to look too far to find out that most of the projects are failing because foreigners who come here expect the locals to change into their system and it does not work. It is a beautiful culture here and we need to change and adapt ourselves and that's the recipe for success. And that's the step my team has taken and I believe in this firmly and I see the results coming out," he said.

"My ultimate vision for the company and the local communities for us DRD is to ensure proper skills are given to the local people. I would like to see us leaving this country and leaving Tolukuma in the hands of Goilalas especially with the sustainable development in place." 

In his short time in PNG, Mr Nohajer has heard about businesses complaining about the government and politicians. He said this should not be the case, but rather businesses should be working together with the government for development to take place.

He has not wasted time to establish dialogue between TGM and the Central provincial government Konedobu headquaters and Central Governor Alphonse Moroi.

A good understanding and a good working relationship have already started between Ted and Mr Moroi.

This was evident when TGM invited the Governor and a media delegation to visit TGM campsite for the first time last month.

Already discussions are underway for a road network to connect the rest of Goilala to Port Moresby, which will spur economic activity and other developments. This is a long-term plan and Governor Moroi is very keen on this.

TGM has its own plans in place to involve the Goilalas. Because there is a lot of small-scale mining happening in areas, which are not feasible for TGM to mine, it plans to set up three projects that will involve Goilalas in small-scale mining. They are project hope, project life and project mountain. 

The company has also moved to the area of agriculture where locals are now planting coffee and exporting them.

TGM is helping the locals by shipping coffee to Port Moresby for export. 

Goilala shipped its first batch of coffee beans consisting of 85 bags to Port Moresby for export markets early this month.

A further 12 tonnes are expected to be shipped soon.

©Copyright 2003, The National (PAPUA New Guinea)

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