LEONARD FONG ROKA
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
AFTER nine years another Papua New Guinean leader, prime minister Peter O’Neill, has set foot on the Solomon Island of Bougainville to assure the people that his country and government are behind them, like a father guiding every economic and political step.
On 15 June 2005, the day the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) was inaugurated on the lawns of Hahela Primary School, Bougainvilleans were assured by then prime minister Sir Michael Somare of the continuous contribution and assistance of the Papua New Guinea Government.
In January 2014, Peter O’Neill was not a mile away from where Sir Michael stood in 2005. Mr O’Neill told Bougainvilleans that PNG is there for them and that it is wanting to see the referendum on independence.
Since 2005 the ABG had talked about ‘impact’ projects to boost the Bougainville economy as it prepared for said referendum, which must be held between 2015 and 2020. At this time, the Bougainville people will decide their political future - whether to remain integrated within PNG or build their own well-defined nation in the Northern Solomon archipelago and be free from exploitation, indoctrination and genocide.
Arawa saw a sudden facelift for the PNG leader’s three-hour visit. PNG Pawa’s electricity supply that goes on-and-off every week rolled out electrical current without hindrance. The litter-soiled streets were slate clean and without blemish. The colony of tall and swaying elephant grass along the banks of the Bovong and Tupukas rivers disappeared. Potholes disappeared and driving was smooth for days afterwards as we awaited some irate weathering.
On the afternoon of 29 January, when Peter O’Neill reached a shining and smiling Arawa from Panguna, he was given a chieftain’s welcome by a few cultural groups from central Bougainville.
This was a gesture of hospitality from hearts and minds that long to see change on Bougainville.
Mr O’Neill was submerged in a sea of black people lost in a confusion of high expectations of political, social and economic change and the sudden rebirth of a post crisis cash economy ridden with inequality and inequity.
The so-called goodwill visit by the PNG leader reiterated impact projects like the sealing of the Kokopau-Buin coastal trunk road, the Arawa sewage and water project, rebuilding the torched Arawa General Hospital, the K500,000 Panguna primary school project, reopening a postal service in Arawa, establishing an insurance service in Bougainville, reopening Aropa International airport and building a Bougainville Teachers College in Buin.
Revival of postal services and the reopening of Aropa airport are being fast tracked and these services could trigger progress on the island and a further diminution in the relevance of the Meekamui factions.
To many Bougainvilleans these would be positive initiatives for the ABG and the four Bougainville parliamentarians in Port Moresby; closing their ears to opportunists and implementing change to appease the peoples’ broken hearts.
But as Bougainvilleans understand, politicians have the syndrome of personal prestige building and not so much Bougainville-building, as can be seen in the regional PNG parliamentarian, Joe Lera.
To many young Bougainvilleans, Bougainville is still lacking a nation builder who can unite the few figures who hold the people to ransom with their dirty politics and scams.
Peter O’Neill said that Bougainville must unite under the only legitimate government, the Autonomous Bougainville Government. And this is a challenge to the leadership.
Positive change on Bougainville can only be influenced by the political unity of the Bougainville leadership and not by competition about who is delivering more funding to the electorates or more projects to the Councils of Elders.
The O’Neill tour did bring some justice and peace in the midst of political differences. People now wait to see the implementation of the major projects.
Furthermore, a degree of understanding between the people and the leadership was created and there is a high probability that Bougainville will move on.
With the awaited referendum on Independence in sight, the people need to see major positive changes generated by the announced projects, for these will be the stepping stone for the positive outcome in the referendum that even outsiders feel will be a vote for Independence.