THE current Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) took power after elections in 2010 and has scrambled for available resources to trigger an economic recovery based on Asia-friendly strategies and Chinese investment in Bougainville.
In the rush, the Bougainville Executive Council approved a Bougainville-China Cooperation Committee in early 2011 with a key role of ‘promoting and coordinating joint venture Chinese investment in Bougainville and establishing a strategic partnership with China to fully support President Momis’s Vision: Change for Better Future’.
According to the Port Moresby-based Papua New Guinea Investment Promotion Authority, the ABG created a number of companies between 2010 and 2013 with key positions held by Chinese figures and senior Bougainville parliamentarians and their local business cronies.
Amongst the more significant companies are the ABG-owned Bougainville Public Investment Corporation Limited, a number of jointly-owned ABG-China entities including the Bougainville General Development Corporation Limited (BGDE), Bougainville Import and Export General Corporation Limited (BIEGC) and Bougainville Energy and Water Development General Corporation Limited.
But political foot-dragging and lack of technical resources have silenced all but two, BGDE and BIEGC, which operate as a protective legal shield for the Asian influx into Buka Town to operate retail outlets not what they were created for.
Records at the PNG Labour Office in Port Moresby state that BGDE has five employees and BIEGC has four under the leadership of Jason Fong (real name Zhenxiang Fang) who was appointed Trade Commissioner between Bougainville and China by the Momis-Nisira government.
This model is questioned by President Momis’s own parliamentarians as no different from the old Bougainville Resources Development Corporation engineered by former Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader Sam Kauona and resisted at the time by ABG for giving away 70% of Bougainville’s mineral wealth to Australian businessman Lindsay Semple.
“We the ABG leaders created all these companies and invited all these Chinese,” an ABG parliamentarian told me. “But now we cannot control them because we do not have the capacity and they are doing whatever they want on Bougainville.”
According to the Bougainville-China Cooperation Committee, one of the ABG’s aims of China as a strategic partner was that it had abundant capital and high expertise but this is contradictory to current the Chinese operations on Bougainville.
What can be seen in Buka Town is that all the Bougainville China Corporation activities seem to be small businesses - retail outlets, a handful of restaurants, vehicle spare part sales, wholesale and hardware outlets.
The so-called trade commissioner Jason Fong is constructing a massive vehicle spare parts wholesaler (pictured), which seems likely to choke other car dealers in Bougainville.
The Bougainville China Corporation was also to establish a roofing iron manufacturing operation in Toniva near Kieta which ended up assembling bed frames, tables, chairs and the like.
Local contractor Bougainville Metal Fabricating & Welders had been contracted by the Bougainville China Corporation to build the Toniva Industrial Zone but are owed over K600,000 which has nearly sent the company bankrupt.
The PNG Labour Office has stated government officials in Buka faceg a dilemma in executing their legal responsibilities over the ABG-Chinese operations on Bougainville.
It is claimed that when Department of Labour, Internal Revenue Commission, Customs and other agencies attempt to exercise their duties, the Chinese direct them to the ABG presidential and vice presidential offices.