Extract from a statement on behalf of the Chiefs and Councils of Elders of Wakunai, Bougainville
THE PAPUA New Guinea national government sometimes seems to believe that it can make decisions about matters in Bougainville that the peace agreement makes clear are responsibilities of Bougainville.
It seems to forget that the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), and its powers and responsibilities to make decisions for Bougainville, come from the national constitution.
On behalf of the leaders of Wakunai, I call on the national government and the ABG to work closely together to implement the peace agreement, and the provisions of the national constitution.
They particularly need to cooperate now, as we head towards the referendum [on Bougainville independence]. In setting the date for the referendum, the ABG needs to meet good governance, weapons disposal and fiscal self-reliance benchmarks.
In addition, because the peace agreement and the national constitution require the referendum to be ‘free and fair’, much needs to be done in terms of weapons disposal, good governance, and establishing basic respect for the rule of law.
The main objective of the peace agreement is to achieve restoration of total peace within Bougainville and between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. For that to happen, the national government must do two main things.
First, it must do everything needed to give Bougainvilleans full faith in the ABG - only in that way can Bougainvilleans judge whether autonomy really meets their needs.
Second, it must fully support the agreed, constitutionally based referendum arrangements. Those arrangements were included as part of the compromises that all parties made. If what was agreed about the referendum is not honoured, progress towards restoration of peace will stop. That will be a recipe for a return to conflict.
The national government must assist the ABG and the people of Bougainville in carrying out a reconciliation process in Bougainville before the referendum is held.
The national government must avoid dealing with Bougainville issues unless it does so through the ABG, or with its agreement. There is no other way of dealing with Bougainville issues.
Bougainville is not a province, the ABG is not a provincial government. No – Bougainville is an autonomous region, and the ABG has full autonomy to decide matters given to it by the PNG constitution.
The peace agreement states why we agreed to autonomy – it was to empower Bougainvilleans to solve their own problems and realise their own goals. The ABG was the main institution established to enable Bougainvilleans to do this.
When the national government refuses to work with the ABG, or attacks the President for speaking up on behalf of Bougainville, the chances of the agreement bringing peace are undermined.
It is heartbreaking to hear statements made by certain national government leaders attacking the president of Bougainville. He was voted by more than 60,000 Bougainvilleans. As a defeated presidential candidate, I fully recognise him and support him as the true leader of Bougainville. Not only is he president, he is also a paramount chief and deserves nothing but respect.
The recent decisions made about the 17.4% Rio Tinto shareholding in BCL are an example of what happens when the national government ignores the ABG. The national government has refused to listen to the ABG, and has interfered in Bougainville’s internal affairs in ways that could cause serious problems and internal conflict. And yet the 17.4% BCL shares are almost worthless.
The whole Rio Tinto issue was badly handled by the national government. It negotiated direct with Rio Tinto without consultation with the ABG. It allowed Rio to walk away without dealing with environmental damage, the terrible problems of relocated villages, and other legacy issues.
The 17.4% Rio share issue is seen by most Bougainvilleans as evidence of a divide and rule tactic by the national government. The landowners now are left with all the legacy issues, and shares worth nothing. Yet other Bougainvilleans think those same landowners should be contributing compensation for those who died during the conflict.
Under the peace agreement, the Joint Supervisory Body (JSB) is intended to be the main body that implements the agreement. It is also supposed to deal with disputes between the two governments. So it is an important institution. It cannot be treated as just a rubber stamp for the national government.
There are now so many major issues where the ABG and the national government are in dispute. They include the calculation of the restoration and development grant and other grants, revenues from migratory fishing licences associated with Bougainville, and the Rio shares issue.
The national government must seriously engage with the ABG to resolve these and other major outstanding issues as soon as possible, and certainly well before the referendum….
Because of internal conflict in Bougainville, I ended up fighting against some of my own people in support of the national government. I worked with over 4,000 others in the Bougainville Resistance Forces. I shed the blood of some of my own people. We negotiated the peace agreement to end all of this.
If the national government fails to implement the agreement in full, it will be a betrayal of me and my more than 4,000 brothers who supported the national government during the conflict.
Now it is time for the national government to assist me, just as i assisted the national government – it must fully implement the Bougainville Peace Agreement, in partnership with the people of Bougainville.
Sam Akoitai was PNG's Minister for Bougainville Affairs from 1997-2000 and Minister for Mining from 2002-07. He was responsible for the establishment of PNG's Mineral Resources Authority, the statutory authority which regulates the mining industry and has held numerous roles in the PNG resources industry.