The National, Wednesday December 9th, 2015
BOUGAINVILLE’s political destiny is something that cannot be arrived at merely by a strong desire for autonomy and self-determination devoid of any evidence of fiscal self-reliance and lasting peace.
This was highlighted during the meeting last weekend in Kokopo of the Joint Supervisory Body (JSB). This body is tasked with preparing Bougainville for any eventuality in next five years.
The meeting agreed on several matters which would “advance service delivery and economic development in Bougainville”. Other issues would be finalised at the next JSB meeting in February.
Agreement was reached in principle on key issues such as the Restoration Development Grants.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis agreed that such matters should not be rushed and appropriate time must be allocated to ensure consensus. Moreover, they concluded that all parties need to focus on building as better future for Bougainville.
Both the National Government and the ABG need to convince themselves on certain indicators of the island’s preparedness to call forth the referendum.
These include three basic prerequisites: a convincingly successful weapons disposal programme; good governance (this should include the operations of the regional, district and local level governments); and a satisfactory level of fiscal self-reliance.
The weapons disposal programme, under the supervision of the UN Observer Mission has been completed albeit with some claims of illegal weapons still at large.
The Bougainville Constitution and the establishment of the autonomous government had established district and local level administrative structures which are in operation but still need more work to achieve good governance satisfactory to both parties of the peace agreement.
The question of fiscal self-reliance cannot be discussed without mining and specifically the closed down Panguna mine although some maintain that Bougainville’s agriculture sector can achieve for it a degree of self-sufficiency. If given the needed financial and technical support, the island’s cocoa industry in particular can bring in the desperately needed revenue.
Although fully supportive of the planned referendum, Momis wants Bougainvilleans to be realistic.
A lot of work needs to be done before the referendum to take place. And even more work is needed if Bougainville chooses to become independent.
For now the two governments will have to work towards and agreed date to hold the referendum with a checklist in hand to take away items of progress along the way. It is indeed a lot of work, especially from Bougainville’s perspective.
Self-determination was in some respects brought upon the island although there may have been a desire by some Bougainvilleans to break away from the rest of the country from the days leading to PNG’s independence. Sentiments promoted through early self-determination movements such as the Mataungans in East New Britain and Papua Besena in the Southern region may have struck a similar chord in Bougainville as well.
However, the 10-year conflict beginning with the shutting down of the Panguna mine in 1989 had resulted in a greater resolve and a perhaps a valid rationale for Bougainville to seek greater autonomy and self-determination. Thus, the resultant Bougainville Peace Agreement, signed in Arawa on August 30, 2001.
The peace agreement provides for the right, guaranteed in the National Constitution, 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.
Although Momis has on more than one occasion, expressed disappointment over the rather slow progress in preparations for referendum, he was pleased to see some “serious work” done.
However, he expressed concern about the lack of funding for the ABG in the 2016 National Budget passed by Parliament last month.
It is envisaged that with a greater degree of understanding now established between the two governments, the JSB is now better placed to monitor progress made in preparations for referendum.
It’s imperative that Bougainville and PNG are well prepared for the watershed event.