THE centre of discussion now is Bougainville with the resounding result of the referendum in which 97.7 per cent of voters chose independence from Papua New Guinea over the second option, which was remaining, but with greater autonomy from PNG.
As we ponder on the above question having in mind the Government’s development agenda hinging on ‘Take Back PNG’, let us look at how Bougainville came to be as a province and now is on its way to autonomy and secede from PNG.
It all began in 1964 when the first call for Bougainville independence came shortly after the discovery of large copper deposits in central Bougainville and as people became discontent with the colonial government’s administration of the mine’s operations.
On Sept 1, 1975 Bougainville led the loudest regional voice unilaterally declaring independence right at a time when Australia was contemplating on the kind of government system to leave when granting PNG independence.
The strong nationalistic movement by Bougainville convinced the government to choose decentralisation – giving more powers to the provinces.
This is where the idea of creating provinces came into the picture and Bougainville was the first of the provinces created.
Again Bougainville was the first province to see organised landowner uprising and wrote the play book for all other landowners when their plight over compensation payments and environmental impact were not adequately addressed or when the government refused an amicable way forward.
Undeniably, Bougainville is the apparent catalyst essentially setting the tone and pace of PNG’s historical developments including a civil war, autonomy and referendum.
The referendum is non-binding, meaning the ultimate outcome will be determined by a vote in the National Parliament.
Greater autonomy for the provinces is one lasting influence that Bougainville left.
New Ireland through Governor and former prime minister Sir Julius Chan has long toyed with the idea (Dr Susan Merrell, PNG Echo), and other provinces including the resource rich provinces Enga, SHP and Hela are now calling for more autonomy.
The question on Bougainville seceding is an important one for PNG’s nationalism and its existence as one cohesive nation under one banner.
And make no mistake, PNG is sitting on an edge of an impending fall.
One wrong move will potentially have the history books re-written as once upon a time there was a country called Papua New Guinea.
So is ‘Take Back PNG’ a well thought out comprehensive national agenda or was it a borrowed catch phrase from the Northern Governor’s ‘Take Back Oro’ pronouncement for the convenience of time and pursuit of popular opinion?
PNG is at the threshold to redefine its destiny and live by the true creed and letter of the 8-Point Plan and constitution the founding fathers laid.