Give Bougainville what it deserves


THE people of Bougainville have spoken by the 98 per cent votes favouring independence from Papua New Guinea in the referendum and recently electing their best, Ishmael Toroama, as president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).
Toroama rose to power on a wave of change sweeping across the once-troubled island with completely new people, mostly young, replacing almost all representatives in the electorates in the ABG assembly.
And that alone is a message on its own.
Bougainville is not asking this time but is banging on the door of PNG.
It is demanding nothing less of a fully-fledged independence from PNG.
Waigani is left with no choice but to willy-nilly conform to every word and accept this proposal, which is more of an ultimatum in nature.
On the PNG front, the events unfolding now are all to be blamed at poor statecraft and statesmanship.
The Bougainville conflict would not have escalated to an all-out civil war and secession if the initial law and order issues that sparked the conflict were properly handled in the first place.
The conflict also opened doors for foreign influence to dictate the country’s domestic affairs.
Furthermore, PNG negotiators in the ensuing peace talks from Burham and Lincoln in New Zealand to Arawa failed.
They failed to distinguish and isolate the environment damage claims and compensation and fair share in the mine from the secession agenda.
This is not to be dramatic but it is now clear that the Bougainville’s compensation claims for environmental damages and demand equity redistributions were merely pawns to their blue chip which was secession, referendum and independence on the negotiation table.
PNG played straight into their game and ended up losing everything.
PNG lost both the war and diplomacy.
PNG’s poor statesmanship in the Bougainville question owes primarily to the country’s lack of a white paper on security for both abroad and domestically.
PNG lacks a national or patriotic resolve to the matter.
And the blame partly goes to the state negotiators.
The Government should now live up to the agreed terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
The Bougainville Peace Agreement is well structured under three pillars.
The three pillars; autonomy, referendum and disarmament are all interlinked.
The referendum asked for more than just autonomy, it called for independence.
However, there is no guarantee for independence in the PNG constitution.
Prime Minister James Marape assured the Bougainville people that the question of independence is well founded and will be looked at in five years.
But Toroama wants independence fast forwarded within two years.
Toroama is a hardliner, a war veteran, and a former commander of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.
He is rightfully the spearhead of the cause he fought for.
Again, PNG is placed at the spear tip.
This time PNG should act with consciousness and carefully .
The Government should prepare the country institutionally and structurally to give the Bougainville people what they want.
Institutions such as the office of National Coordination of Bougainville Affairs should be streamlined and re-aligned to the national resolve and with that of the Bougainville question.

David Lepi