WITHIN the next few weeks, both the Bougainville Autonomous Government and the National Government are set to conduct a special joint supervisory body meeting to agree on the types of questions that will be included in the ballot papers for the referendum.
Of course, under the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the national Constitution, the choice for a separate independence for Bougainville is mandatory, which means that it must be included as one of the options.
What appears to be distasteful is the possible inclusion of ‘autonomy’ as one of the choices apart from separate independence for Bougainville.
Both the ABG and the National Government should not include autonomy as an option for the following reasons:
First, Bougainville is already an autonomous region and so it is only logical not to ask for what you already have.
Bougainvilleans have already been exercising this over the past30 years through the provincialgovernment system as well as, most recently, through the Bougainville Peace Agreement which granted autonomy to Bougainville.
Secondly, the Bougainville autonomy which came out of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and was established in 2005 has been a real disaster for Bougainville. The National Government failed to provide financial support and it failed to increase internal revenue for the region simply because of the failure in the implementation of the peace agreement.
Therefore, it would be unwise to include autonomy because it has not worked for Bougainville.
Apart from including independence for Bougainville as a mandatory choice, one option that needs to be considered by both parties is the choice for free association with PNG.
This is similar to the arrangement between Cook Islands and New Zealand as well as that of Palau and the US.
Although the free association between NZ and Cook islands differs from that of Palau, one thing is common, and that is that both the Cook Islands and Palau are regarded as semi-sovereign states although they are heavily dependent on NZ and the US and moreover, the door for Cook Islands and Palau to seek complete independence from both NZ and US is still open.
To include autonomy as an option would not make any logical sense at all.