LEONARD FONG ROKA
Today they know that the extraction of the mineral ore on their land was for the good of Papua New Guinea and not Bougainville.
They know a Panguna kina was spent on the Highlands Highway construction; a Panguna kina was there in the founding of Air Niugini; a Panguna kina was built into Waigani parliament house….
To them, Papua New Guinea was made by the Panguna mine and the many Bougainville cocoa and copra plantations.
To the Panguna people, the making of Papua New Guinea, from the basic economics to politics, was all Bougainville design and financing.
This is the insight that the uneducated or illiterate majority of Panguna landowners are told day-in, day-out.
Since the days of the crisis and civil war to the dawn of the peace process, this is the information they are nurtured on.
One hears these stories in the family home, after church services and, worst of all, in the boozing where you hear all the Panguna curses.
For the majority of the static, illiterate Bougainvilleans, the Bougainville crisis opened their realization of the fact that they are Solomon Islanders.
At the peak of the Australia-backed PNG blockade of their island, they had a brother who gave them little ammunition and medicine. His islands were close to the coasts of Buin and Kieta and could be seen from the high mountains.
The political discourse of the conflict-days was anti-PNG. Churchmen preached gospels loaded with sentiments of anti-PNGism. Musicians of Bougainville sing the negativity created by the New Guineans and BCL (the illiterate so love their artists and their songs).
At every traditional feasting night there are anti-PNG or BCL folksongs and poetic lamentation songs at funerals for any post-conflict death.
For all, every bad thing happening is attributed to these past deeds.
For the majority of Bougainvilleans and the Panguna people, this is their culture.
Thus, when one looks at the re-opening of the Panguna mine, one has to look at the people of the area and their landowners’ body to get a clear picture of what our hope is for re-opening the mine.
The noted trend in approaching the subject today is that the non-landowners dictated the wishes of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the Autonomous Bougainville Government did not consider retributive justice for all the bad things that happened on Bougainville because of the mining.
There are many injustices in Bougainville that ought to be addressed before talking about mining.
Firstly, the majority of the Panguna population consists of the illiterate or half-literate men and women (high school failures, ex-BCL labourers and other ordinaries). But in this group is a new culture alongside the wealth of guns.
One finds the culture of entrepreneurship is growing. This unit of people hosts gold panners, gold buyers, scrap metal dealers, victims to scrap metal dealing conman, retail outlet operators and investors in cocoa planting who buy land in the coastal areas such as Wakunai and Tinputz.
Before the Bougainville conflict, these people were nobodies in their own land and in 1988-89 the late Francis Ona ran to them for support and got what he wanted readily.
He did not even establish a political manifesto to execute the secessionist struggle.
Thus the crisis was born against BCL, its few local friends and Papua New Guinea.
When the Bougainville peace process came into existence, it was those surviving BCL ‘local friends’ and the opportunists who went ahead with the Panguna mine re-opening talks.
Meanwhile the majority slowly adapted to change by engaging in business and investment with their own sweat without talking about the mine re-opening.
So, on the issue of Panguna re-opening, one has to deal with the crisis-created opportunists (some armed), the few old BCL ‘local friends’ (most in the current Panguna Landowner Association) and the change-adaptive majority (to whom the crisis-created opportunists run for support).
So far, the discourse on the issue of Panguna re-opening comes from the opportunists and the few old BCL ‘local friends’ who feign as genuine representatives of the people.
The dangerous majority has no voice yet. The re-opening gossip that every now and then excites the world is not representative of the Panguna majority.
It is obvious. Every foreigner who enters Panguna with mine re-opening hopes chats with the crisis-created elite or members of the Panguna Landowners Association (many of whom are BCL old ‘local friends’) and returns to spill their biased in-house chit-chat to the media as a breakthrough towards the re-opening of the mine.
The majority of the Panguna people (illiterate and literate) are standing at the foundation of Bougainville history. To them, BCL was for Papua New Guinea’s development and not Bougainville’s.
The re-opening of the mine bodes well for the locals in an independent Bougainville that is free from Papua New Guinea with the benefits for Bougainvilleans.
(The failure of the Bougainville weapons disposal program comes into play here because many people see that Papua New Guineans will return if Bougainville is free from weapons.)
The majority of the people of Panguna and Bougainville need to be assured that their crisis-created spirit of entrepreneurship will be sustained by the ABG. But so far, the signs are not good as the ABG is trying to suppress self-reliance by inviting Chinese foreign direct investment to get Bougainville, in a trickle of seconds, away from the stone-age and into the computer-age (a process that took industrial countries centuries).
This is likely to create loopholes for the Bougainville economy in the long run. When extraction of raw materials is depleted and the investors proudly depart, where will Bougainvilleans turn to where all farming land is gravel?
Many can criticise my discourse, but one has to note that the Bougainville crisis was a ‘natural university’ to many Bougainvilleans for it opened the islanders’ mind’s eye.
So, re-opening the Panguna mine must follow the dictates of the Bougainville people with a leadership that is trusted by the people and not the kind of leaders that are dirt to the people’s eyes and yet are currently playing the game for Bougainville.