PAPUA New Guinea was built at the cost of the alienation of the Solomon island people of Bougainville.
The Bougainville people were belittled by the influx of non-Bougainvillean and non-Solomon people and cultures. Bougainville suffered environmental destruction that will take hundreds of years for ecology to put right, caused by the extraction of ore to finance PNG’s independence.
For this injustice, a people took up an armed struggle against the state of PNG, its peoples and the mining company, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL).
This armed crisis was backed by an unprepared political leadership and resulted in a decade long struggle of civil conflict, ultimately resolved by a negotiated multilateral peace process that was more-PNG friendly and not Bougainville oriented.
The Bougainville economy collapsed with the crisis while other PNG’s provinces were advancing. With the Bougainville peace process, it was obvious that PNG came stronger while Bougainville’s chaotic recovery process was choked.
Bougainville’s Constitution guarantees that a referendum on independence will be held as early as 2015 provided certain conditions are met, which include weapons disposal and the establishment of good governance.
The PNG and Australian governments hailed the referendum terms as a ‘breakthrough’ and a ‘milestone’, but Bougainvilleans questioned it.
Former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) leader Sam Kauona accused the late Joseph Kabui and Joel Banam, who led the Bougainville delegation to sign the terms, of giving “too much away to a dishonest government” and added that “the survival of the PNG/Bougainville peace process depends very much on honesty, fairness and transparency… If we have not learned from our past mistakes then this struggle could go on for another 40 years.”
Honesty, fairness and transparency are foreign attributes in the current context of PNG’s dealing with the Bougainville people and government. In the entire tour of Bougainville by PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill in January, he hardly talked about Bougainville’s rights to a referendum or self-determination.
In a David Lornie Post-Courier article in February, Maurua: PM to clarify views on referendum, a Siwai pastor said “I’m feeling that I don’t understand Papua New Guinea’s position on independence. They are not serious about what we think because 2014 is the last year before we enter the window of referendum.”
This is one of many doubts on Bougainville and those with guns seem to be happy that they did not throw them away so long as PNG seems to play with Bougainville.
Again PNG’s thinking was captured by Anthony Regan in a 2010 article, Light Intervention: Lessons from Bougainville:
The logic is that in the 10 to 15 years from the establishment of the ABG in 2005, the PNG government has the opportunity to work closely with the ABG to promote all forms of development in Bougainville in a way that could be expected to encourage Bougainvilleans to consider the possible merits of remaining a part of PNG when it comes time to vote in the referendum.
PNG is at work. It succeeded in influencing the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) to create friction and now it is all about winning Bougainvillean hearts to get them to see Bougainville and its problems through a PNG lens and not a Bougainville lens.
And the Peter O’Neill 2014 tour showed the proof of PNG activities to undermine the Bougainville government.
During the three-day tour, the PNG delegation announced multi-million dollar development projects like the re-opening of Aropa International Airport by the PNG government for Bougainville, thus exciting the people and a handful of leaders.
For all the project launchings, a PNG minister flies into Bougainville from Port Moresby to officiate - not an ABG minister.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) had endured continuous loud attacks from Bougainville’s representatives in the PNG parliament for not bringing development. Noteworthy in this respect have been Jimmy Miringtoro from Central Bougainville and Steven Pirika from South Bougainville, and to some extent Lauta Atoi from the North.
The regional MP, Joe Lera, is the exception - productively working with the ABG.
All these condemnation of the government came from national MPs who have the financial power over the struggling, PNG-dependent ABG.
An ABG parliamentarian sent me a text message few days ago saying:
We believe PNG has agents in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville to disrupt our preparations for referendum. Our national MPs, except the regional MP, are all agents of PNG.
They feel comfortable with what they are receiving [from the PNG government] while majority of Bougainvilleans continue to struggle.
They use the DSIP funds to promote “PNG’s might” and attempt to convince and mislead Bougainvilleans thus undermining the ABG. Tasol ol bai tait (But they won’t succeed).
PNG’s intentions are clear. They are pursuing a disrespectful desire to keep Bougainville integrated with PNG so it can remain enslaved under the old claws of those pre-1990 days.