An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IT was in May, when travelling to Port Moresby for the Lowy Institute’s PNG Young Voices conference, that a Bougainvillean academic told me something startling.
“President Momis,” he said, “should retire from politics if he loves Bougainville.”
His words, significant in their own right, also took me back to my homeland, the Panguna District, and all its nasty and irrelevant politics.
Bougainvilleans should appreciate us, the stubborn Panguna people, for our contribution to rebelling against the problems of exploitation, indoctrination and genocide landed on us by the colonial administrations of the Germans, reinforced by the Australians and inherited by Papua New Guinea in 1975.
We, the Panguna people, have also played significant roles in the Bougainville peace process since 1997 but our problem is that we have those internal mi-tu-man (I am also different) conflicts.
In the 1980s, when the late Francis Ona of Guava village, was engaged in his militant activities, the late Joseph Kabui from the neighbouring village of Enamira was in the podium of the North Solomons Provincial Government representing the authority of the day.
This was, to the eye of a politically illiterate Panguna man, a Panguna man against a Panguna man.
And, with the coming of the peace process efforts since 1997, it was a Panguna man, the late Joseph Kabui, running the pro-peace game and it was a Panguna man, the late Francis Ona, running an anti-peace campaign.
This had direct impacts on the Panguna District and in the wider Kieta area of Central Bougainville. I do believe the psyche of the people was affected.
This was not just a Panguna problem anymore for it had spilled over from the brim of Panguna to the ends of Bougainville.
Soon after, the traditional figures of Bougainville politics, Francis Ona and Joseph Kabui, were off the screen by way of their death.
It was then that Panguna saw the rise of too many little-men running in the shoes of their relatives. All these little-men are vying to be the next Francis Ona at the wrong time in the political transition of Bougainville.
One of these little-men of Panguna is Philip Miriori (pictured above). But before I talk about Philip Miriori is, let me explain the environment he is playing in.
The 2013 research paper, The Gangs of Bougainville: Seven Men, Guns and a Copper Mine, by Stan Starygin says:
Miriori and Takaung rebranded Ona’s Kingdom of Me’ekamui into the Me’ekamui Government of Unity (‘MGU’) and significantly softened Ona’s stance on the ABG resulting in a landmark memorandum of understanding (‘the Panguna Communiqué’) in 2007.
The Panguna Communiqué signaled, in part, a complete break from Ona’s positions and, in part, their significant alteration. As such, through it, the MGU denounced Uma’s checkpoint as having “abused and misused its objectives and rules of engagement under the Me’ekamui government” and as having the purpose “to blockade the Panguna people”, condemned “the use of arms and violence” and acquiesced to what can, perhaps, be best termed as a ‘two political viewpoints, one administrative structure’ arrangement with the ABG
In return, even though ABG has no such authority by any constitutional provision and ABG reciprocated by allowing the MGU to have its “own contingent plans on arms containment” and, of course, a promise of bringing resolution of “social issues and development issues”, “financial assistance, economic benefits, development packages, good and service”, and “other services”; all of these translate into ABG bringing money into the MGU-dominated area, which doubtless was the main reason for this rapprochement for the MGU.
Philip Miriori, Philip Takaung and Noah Musingku were the trio vying to be the successors of Francis Ona. But conflict pushed Noah Musingku to Siwai where he pursued his Papaala Twin Kingdoms and Chris Uma out of Panguna to Arawa to run his anti-Panguna version of Meekamui.
With two non-Panguna rivals out of the way, Miriori, Takaung and a BRA man, Pipiro, all from Panguna created their Meekamui Government of Unity (MGU) with Philip Miriori as president.
And so the 2007 signing of the Panguna Communiqué between the Autonomous Bougainville Government under the late Joseph Kabui and the MGU catapulted Philip Miriori to be a noisy and hard-to-trust little-man of Panguna.
And we Kietas are good noise-makers. I wrote in my 2012 PNG Attitude article, Bougainville politics & the characteristics of its people, that:
In Central Bougainville where the Kietas are politically and economically dominant, I see a lot of ‘big mouths’ that just cannot stop talking. Central Bougainvilleans are creative in exporting their dreams without testing the practical outcomes of those thoughts. But this population also readily absorbs change and adapts change to create results.
We talk and talk and talk. This can be noted even with the Central Bougainville MP in the PNG national parliament, Communications Minister Hon Jimmy Miringtoro, who talks hard in the media negatively attacking ABG but, when the ABG responds with facts, he hides for a while to get fresh air.
And it is likewise with Philip Miriori and the current exchanges with the ABG on the Panguna mine re-opening issue. Miriori turns out to be an octopus with too many hands.
In last week’s New Dawn on Bougainville blog story, Me’ekamui’s Miriori challenged to be honest about mining, President Dr John Momis blasted Miriori:
I challenge Mr. Miriori to tell us about his foreign advisers, and what they are doing to make money for foreign interests. They included two Americans with the Tall J Foundation, Stewart Sytner and Thomas Megas.
There are documents freely available on the Internet that show they claim that Mr Miriori sold them mining rights in areas to the north of the Panguna Special Mining Lease. I challenge him to tell us is what Sytner and Megas claim is true.
What about the other investors in Tall J? What advice did they give to Miriori? What about the Tall J investor who brought in the Chinese scrap metal dealers? What advice did he give? What about the advice that Mr Ian Renzie Duncan gives?
Mr Miriori is not being honest about the future of mining. His hands are not clean in relation to mining.
Mr Miriori is not being honest about foreign advisers. Again his hands are not clean. I challenge him to be honest on these matters. I challenge him to enter these debates only when he has clean hands.
Dr Momis attacks with real facts that Philip Miriori, while accusing ABG on mining, is running his own deals to attract foreign mining and even scrap metal groups into Panguna. Panguna people gain nothing while foreign groups walked away with tonnes of Panguna scrap until it is finally exhausted.
The general culture of these Meekamui figures is known by all foreign opportunists: ‘Just decant a cup of K1 coins into their mouth and they open the door wide’.
And this is a chronic characteristic; their existence in the ABG’s politics does not satisfy the hearts and minds of us Bougainvilleans.
Their political fantasies, so cocooned with threats, is hanging on a thread and they will be dead if the ABG plays the kind of politics that wins the hearts and minds of the people of Bougainville.