The National, Thursday September 10th, 2015
THE current Autonomous Bougainville Government led by President John Momis is uniquely positioned to see the proposed referendum to determine the island’s political future come to pass.
As the 2020 date looms, the ABG is also challenged to ensure that it is well prepared for the event. Political and administrative institutions appear to be in place and functioning, at least at acceptable levels.
The biggest question on the minds of the island’s political leaders concerns not political leadership ability or the public service capability although they need to be improved in some measure still.
Instead it is the question of economic development or sustainability.
Can Bougainville enjoy a degree of economic self-sufficiency post 2020?
That question cannot be answered with confidence without Panguna copper mine. The known large mineral deposit in the Panguna mountains has a couple more decades of mine life left after the forced closure in 1989. And re-opening it would be a huge bonus for the regional economy.
The sensitive question of re-opening the Panguna copper mine has been in discussions for a while now but trying to get all parties to agree on a single course of action or timeline has been difficult. And that is unavoidable.
However, for the ABG, a quick resolution of outstanding matters involving all the parties concerned would help in determining when the mine would be re-open.
The ABG therefore was keenly pushing for the Bel Kol or reconciliation process at Panguna to proceed.
However, this week acting president Patrick Nisira was clearly disappointed with the actions of a Panguna-based group opposed to such a move.
The opposition by the Panguna Hardliners has angered Nisira who urged the parties to be clear on what they wanted and not waste each other’s time.
He said at times it would seem that they were agreeing to the government initiative but then the very same people would backtrack and stall the process.
The uncertainties and indecisiveness have creating a formidable hurdle to the ABG’s thinking in a way.
Panguna’s wealth will no doubt make a huge difference for Bougainville post 2020 but the ABG needs to consider other options open to it.
Bougainville was and is still the largest cocoa producer of the country and its tourism potential remains largely untapped. And of course possibilities of small scale mining throughout the island are there as well.
Recently, the region has gone into seaweed farming which also is another revenue earner.
These are options that are available to the ABG to invest or expand.
Acting president Nisira indicated that the ABG was considering at least one other viable economic project – one that would bring in K2 billion in revenue.
Nisira is clearly unhappy that ABG’s initiatives to proceed with a lasting settlement of long standing issues between and among parties involved in the question of re-opening the Panguna mine are frustrated or slighted.
The Bougainville peace agreement provides for a referendum among Bougainvilleans’ on Bougainville’s future political status. The choices available in the referendum will include a separate independence for Bougainville.
According to this agreement the actual date of the referendum will be set taking account of standards of good governance and the implementation of the weapons disposal plan.
The outcome of the referendum will be subject to ratification (final decision making authority) of the National Parliament.
Good governance and weapons disposal have been achieved to a certain degree over the past few years.
For the ABG to achieve a level of economic independence, it needs to have the Panguna mine operating as a first step but there are obviously a few more hurdles to overcome.
Should this also be a signal to the ABG that the time is just not right or that things are moving too rapid?
Bougainville and Papua New Guinea must be prepared well politically and especially economically for the watershed event in 2020. If Panguna sticks out as a sore thumb, it can wait for now.
For now the ABG must think economic development without Panguna copper mine.
There other viable options and resources available which may only need harnessing by people with the drive and creativity Bougainville has no shortage of these.