LEONARD FONG ROKA
He was a student of the Saint Joseph High School at Rigu before the Bougainville conflict affected his education. With peace gaining ground, he decided to be a businessman helping Bougainvilleans.
In the 1990s, when the PNG government enforced its brutal Australia-backed blockade over Bougainville, Robert Keruta joined the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) to defend his island and people.
He served in the BRA and at the same time got training to be a Health Extension Officer in the crisis-time learning institution at Paruparu.
When the Bougainville peace process reached Panguna and the cash economy began to flourish throughout Bougainville, Robert Keruta actively worked as a gold miner in the Tumpusiong Valley to make money for his sustenance.
After a couple of years of intensive labouring, Robert left mining and became a gold buyer. Then he went on to retail business where he established a trade store. He 2010 he went further, buying a Landcruiser that operated as a transport for passengers and their cargo along the Arawa-Panguna route.
In 2011 he ventured further into retailing in Arawa where he says there is a large population of customers.
“Arawa is growing rapidly,” he says. “There are more people from the north and the south of Bougainville coming to live and make business here. It is now the centre of all activity for Bougainvilleans, thus there is money here.”
Robert says that in Panguna the cash flow is not stable so he has a hard time trying to make money from the majority of gold miners.
“Operating a trade store in Panguna and making a profit depends on the miners in the river banks of Kavarong,” he says. “If more people process their gold in one single day then we can hope to make profit. Beside most of the people have their gardens to live on and not money.”
Since moving into Arawa, Robert Keruta has being making K400-800 a day.
“People in Arawa live mostly on money so they need trade stores. This is why I make about K400 most weekdays and I go as high as K800 at weekends.
“This trend is really exhausting. I have to restock goods on my selves nearly every day because my retail outlet is only a single room and there is no space to store spare stock.”
The only worry he has is the issue of the Bougainville government allowing in non-Bougainvilleans who will have the potential to suppress Bougainvilleans socially, politically and economically.
“I really hate the Chinese and so on coming to make business here,” he says. “We died for this island and the leaders must know that and protect us with laws that control non-Bougainvilleans.
“Many of our leaders did not help us fight in the war and they are selling Bougainville to the non-Bougainvilleans.”
To him Bougainvilleans are an innovative people and they proved this during the Australian-backed PNG blockade on their island by surviving by making discoveries like new applications for coconut oil.
In the economic sector, Bougainvilleans will perform only if the ABG closes the door to let innovation grow so Bougainville can be self reliant.