All eyes on independence: Momis

Islands

INDEPENDENCE is “imminent” for the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, according to President Dr John Momis.
With just 16 months to go before a referendum is conducted to gauze the people’s views on the subject, he last week told different audiences in the region that a “yes” vote would still need to be ratified by the PNG Parliament but regardless there was no turning back.
“What powers that have been given to Bougainville (will) never be taken back,” he said.
Even if the PNG Parliament did not approve a “vote”, he said there were options for further negotiations. The important thing is to prove that Bougainville is able to govern itself.
More important, he said, was whether Bougainville was judged to be economically self-sufficient for a self-governing and independent status.
The rush to economic and financial autonomy might have started belatedly but it is definitely on.
Last Monday, Momis and a group of his executive government officers travelled to three locations to launch economic projects.
On Monday, he launched a mineral exploration licence at Tunania, the beachside home of Bougainville rebel commander Sam Kauona.
Philippines company SR Metals Inc has rights to explore for minerals across 183 square kilometres of land in the Kokoda area of Central Bougainville.
An incorporated local landowner company partners SR Metals in the endeavour and the mining law of the Autonomous Bougainville Government vests all ownership in the resources owners.
Last Tuesday, Momis and his team were at the Kangu jetty on Buin to launch a work boat which will ferry farmers’ cocoa and copra produce to markets for export.
The boat did not arrive from Buka due to rough weather but Momis praised South Bougainville MP Timothy Masiu for the K700,000 boat to serve his people.
Masiu said the boat would be of benefit to the public servants, farmers and for medical emergencies.
On Wednesday, the president’s entourage was in the Konnou constituency of his Police, CIS and Justice Minister Willie Masiu, to witness a meeting to progress the revival of a forestry operation over the former Tonolei timber rights purchase area.
Timber rights purchase are annulled under the new forestry law but the law provides for revival of operations under various other methods allowed by law.
Momis’ message on each occasion was the same: “Bougainville now stands at the threshold of a new social, economic, political, and moral order. Independence is imminent, just round the corner.
“But independence will not just happen. We dream dreams and we want to be free. We want to be free agents of development.
“We want to break away from the syndrome of dependency and economic exploitation and manipulation by those we have money because we treasure our people and their resources. But we need resources ourselves to do this.
“That is why (Eric) Gutierrez (manager of SR Metals), we are so grateful that you have listened to my plea to come to Bougainville.”
The mine licence, ABG’s second, was set against the sombre back drop of the bloody crisis which had begun as a protest against mining giant Bougainville Copper in 1989.
It is also a desperate race against time to get in some serious investment on the ground before the referendum next June to decide the question of independence for the autonomous region.
Bougainville Exploration License No. 5 covers 183 square kilometre area.
Speaker after speaker suggested such ceremonies were “the turning point”, “a special milestone”, “a break through”, and a “fresh start”.
But the silence of their audiences spoke more forcefully.
It might take a while before a turning point is reached in the emotional and psychological trauma inflicted upon the people by the crisis.
The people gathered in small silent groups under the shade of trees and coconut palms, more observers than the participants.
The representatives of Philippines company SR Metals Inc battled it out in the clearing under the blazing sun, appearing to all like a graduating class of foreigners in some Bougainville initiation ceremony.
The chiefs of nine affected clans were first called out and they gave their blessing and permission for the forests to be disturbed in the interest of all during the exploration period.
Then each speaker coaxed the people to leave their fears behind and take a leap of faith.
Kauona said: “I fought for this 28 years ago. After going through many years of sacrifice and pain, we deserve to see the benefit of what we fought for. I as your general assure you. Do not be afraid. Let us move forward.”
Bougainville South MP Timothy Masiu said: “This is a breakthrough. This is the day that our former leaders and our people have dreamt of and fought for. The wheels of change is starting now.”
Masiu called on the people to trust in the leadership of the ABG and be responsible partners in all undertakings if there was to be real meaningful development.
“These people (mining company) have the expertise. They have the experience. They have the money. They will teach us how to do mining but only if we respect them and look after them.”
SR Metals Inc managing director Eric Gutierrez said his people were ready but would mobilise only if the company was invited by the Government and the people.
He said he was conscious of the sacrifice made by the people as a result of mining on their land and that his mission was not only to mine but to also help re-establish society in any way the company could.
“We are not just here to mine. We want to become your brothers and sisters as well,” he said.
Kauona’s wife, Josephine, representing women, said: “We mothers bore the burden of the mining industry here in Bougainville.
“Twenty thousand people have died because of this industry (Panguna mine).
“Our children have bathed with their blood.
“Today, we celebrate because this new deal has been forged out of the expensive and fresh blood of our children.
“Papua New Guinea was sustained by Bougainville. We are doing the same thing. History has come around again.
“We are going to sustain the independence and livelihood of Bougainville.”

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