I HEARD and read with special interest, the speech made by our Prime Minister James Marape at the Bougainville House of Representative, in Buka, Autonomous Region of Bougainville on Sept 11.
In his address, Marape made a commitment of K1 billion for a period of 10 years beginning in 2020.
He said the outstanding Restoration Development grant owed to the Bougainville government would be paid. What strikes me most is an offer for ‘economic independence’ for Bougainville.
This so called ‘economic independence’ is to empower Bougainville with revenue raising powers with the ultimate goal of making Bougainville economically independent while it remains part of PNG.
What our prime minister and national members of parliament fail to realise is that these “revenue raising powers” were already given to Bougainville in 2001 through the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA).
Under the BPA, Bougainville was granted powers to manage its own resources which includes mining, oil, petroleum and gas, fisheries (apart from migratory and straddling fish stocks), forests, agriculture, land and others.
Under the BPA, Bougainville was given taxation powers to boost its internal economy.
So really, the PM is not offering something new to Bougainville.
The problem why Bougainville never achieved economic independence – between 2005 and 2019 – is due to the failure by both the national government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) in working together.
The national government failed to assist the ABG implement the BPA in order for Bougainville to become economically independent.
The question that we need to ask is what’s next?
Bougainville now heads for a referendum in three months’ time.
Bougainvilleans will vote for either greater autonomy or independence. The national parliament will ratify the results.
However, before the votes are ratified, both the ABG and the national government should negotiate on the type of political status Bougainvilleans should have by putting into consideration the results of the referendum.
If the people choose independence, during the negotiation, both parties should not discuss anything relating to “economic independence” for Bougainville as this was already captured under the 2001 peace agreement and is nothing new.
Both parties should focus their discussions on transferring sovereign powers to Bougainville.
These powers includes foreign relations, international trade, immigration, telecommunications, migratory and straddling fish stocks, international shipping, international civil aviation, central banking etc.
The combined post referendum planning committee – between the national government and the ABG – when preparing a transitional road map for Bougainville, need to prepare a draft paper that will capture gradual transfer of these powers to Bougainville.
Perhaps within a 10-year period so that in 2030, Bougainville could assume all sovereign powers from PNG.
Only when these sovereign powers are discussed and transferred to Bougainville, then permanent peace for Bougainville will be achieved.
Joel Minsipi, LLM