Threading on dangerous grounds

Editorial, Normal

The National – Tuesday, February 8, 2011

THE Bougainville crisis is clear in the minds of all and, not the least of them, the people of the Autonomous Region themselves.
Perhaps, one of the deep-rooted and primary reasons for the crisis was equitable distribution of the benefits derived from the Bougainville copper mine.
When, in the perception of the Panguna landowners, their rights were trampled and their cries went unheard for a review of the BCL agreement when it fell through twice, they took up arms. This was a fundamental neglect by both the government of PNG and Bougainville Copper Ltd.
Any building of a new Bougainville must be based on the principle of equity and of consensus and consultation – principles which are close to the heart of ABG President John Momis – or, so we think.
Yet, a dangerous confrontation is in the making in the Autonomous Region with Momis being accused of neglecting the people.
Panguna landowner leaders are incensed at a purported move by the ABG president to transfer PNG state shareholding in Bou-gainville Copper Ltd to the Bougainville government.
Momis appears keen to see the Panguna mine revived quickly in order to provide much-needed revenue to ABG coffers to prepare for that eventuality when Bougainville marches to a referendum to decide whether or not to remain a part of PNG or gain independence.
But, is he willing to forgo consultation and consensus which is what he has always stood for in his Melanesian Alliance party?
Chairpersons of the six Panguna mine lease associations said in a joint statement yesterday that they were lost for words as to why Momis chose to approach the prime minister without consulting the six mine lease associations set up by ABG itself.
The chairpersons Chris Damana, Michael Pariu, Bernadine Kiraa, Therese Jaintong, Tarcisius Karuai and Jude Sirinai said the issue was discussed at a first-ever gathering in Buka in late November last year.
It was agreed at the meeting that as the major partner in the BCA review process, Panguna landowners must have a substantial stake in the national government’s 19.06% shareholding in BCL.
The leaders’ statement reads in part: “As part of our consultations on the benefits sharing arrangement (BSA) with our other BCA review stakeholders, this issue of shareholding in BCL, among many other issues, is crucial to our people of the six designated mine lease areas.
“We have, in fact, planned for each of the six leases to have a proportionate shareholding in BCL along with ABG taking up the majority of the shares on behalf of the people of Bougainville, including the various factions of the ex-combatants.”
The leaders said while they appreciate the president’s direct approach to the prime minister, it was not advisable to do so without first consulting Panguna landowner leaders.
They were venomous and become bitter and personal –  referring to Momis’ own part in the events leading to the 1987 general elections, following which the province dissolved in violent uprising.
This might explain how angry the leaders are and should give Momis reason to review his position.
The statement by the Panguna leaders added: “He (Momis) must be careful with his direct approach to the prime minister as some of us still remember his pre-crisis (1987) Bougainville initiative and the number of demonstrations that he organised during which our ignorant mothers, sisters and aunties were used to demonstrate in front of the BCL pink palace.
“We also believe that he had some part to play in the Bougainville crisis and, to date, he has not come out publicly to explain the part he played just before the crisis with the launching of his Bougainville initiative.”
If, indeed, the information provided by the leaders is correct, there is good reason for Momis to take stock of his approach and, perhaps, go back to the Panguna landowners; after all, they are a creature of the ABG itself.
Failing that, the prime minister ought to take cognisance of the landowners’ position and provide for their group to be a party to any attempt to revive BCL or to divest state holdings in the mine.