Bougainville referendum


PLEASE allow me space to respond to J. Pohirora, of Bougainville, whose letter was published in The National on Sept 10.
J. Pohirora claims that I am pushing for Bougainville to settle for the existing autonomy arrangements for a future government system for Bougainville through the research work being conducted at the PNG National Research Institute.
It further makes claim that I have been appointed by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to the Bougainville Referendum Commission to advance the prime minister’s expressed views that the PNG Constitution does not support a separate independent state of Bougainville.
I refute those claims and would like to use the opportunity to explain what the PNG NRI is doing and try to allay such views that may be out there in the wider community.
What we and the PNG NRI are doing is to conduct research, generate thinking and discussions so that the people of Bougainville are clear about the purpose of the
referendum, the choices available to them, and the implications of their choices on the political future of Bougainville and PNG more generally.
The research undertaken at the PNG NRI which I lead has just one objective – to provide information to ensure that the referendum is well prepared and administered so that the outcome of the referendum is credible and respected by all parties.
The approach taken is to look at the preparations for the referendum in the context this being part of the implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA).
The autonomy governance mechanism was put in place as part of the BPA and my task in research here at PNG NRI is to analyse and comment on the progress of implementation based on the research reports and other relevant research information available.
My commentaries referred to by J. Pohirora are centred on issues generated by studies released recently around autonomy issues.
The same reports are available for others to use in their commentaries and discussions.
The current autonomy governance arrangements could be an option for consideration apart from the option of “independence” as provided for in the BPA, but that it is something for the two
governments to decide on what goes into the referendum question. Ultimately, it will be the people of Bougainville who will make their choice through the referendum ballot.
I want to let J. Pohirora and the readers know that I am no longer the NRI director. I retired in May of 2015 after 11 years as director.
I was asked by the institute to come back and work as a researcher and lead the Bougainville Referendum Research Project.
The Bougainville Peace Agreement is a well-crafted document that embodies the desire for lasting peace. It provides a guideline for the leaders of PNG and of Bougainville to continue the work of advancing the peace process so that a permanent peaceful outcome is achieved for the people of Bougainville.
I am quite privileged to have been invited to engage in the Bougainville Peace Process through the work that I am currently engaged in and will continue to do so through my appointment as a member of the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC).
I accepted the offer of an appointment to the BRC in the hope that I am in a privileged position and possessing the necessary knowledge and insights to make a useful contribution to the Bougainville peace process.
I would like to think that the prime minister and the National Executive Council considered my appointment based on the merits of my knowledge and expertise and not for the conspiracy theories advanced by J. Pohirora.
The BRC is an independent body and I am sure that the PNG Government had also considered my independent stance in thinking and contribution to discussions and decision-making when the appointment was considered.
In summary, I welcome the questions raised by J. Pohirora and hope that I have made my position clear. Clearly, there needs to be more intense debate and discussions about Bougainville’s future and the likely implications of the various options so that the people of Bougainville can make an informed choice leading to lasting peace.
I would encourage Bougainvilleans to engage in these discussions.
The PNG NRI research reports as well as other important documents such as the BPA, the Bougainville Constitution, the autonomy review reports and a host of other public documents can be made available to inform thinking and discussions if you contact us at Referendum.

Thomas Webster
Professorial Research Fellow – (PNG NRI Governance Research Program)
Team Leader Bougainville Referendum Research Project.

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