ARAWA – Friday’s top level meeting between Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill and Bougainville president John Momis deferred the crucial issue of what questions will be put to the Bougainville people who will vote on their political future in a referendum on Saturday 15 June next year.
The joint PNG-Bougainville supervisory body agreed to postpone this and other crucial matters until its next meeting in Port Moresby at the end of this month.
It was a further instance of the PNG government’s longstanding tardiness – whether deliberate or because of institutional inefficiency – in handling almost every issue relating to Bougainville.
At the meeting Dr Momis stressed that PNG was still not providing Bougainville with the grant committed to enable its public service to operate effectively, including meeting salary costs.
He said the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) is “in extreme budget crisis” due to the national government’s failure to make a range of payments.
“The ABG should be receiving K70 million annually under the restoration development grants of which has accumulated to nearly one billion kina.
“This year the national government budgeted K15 million to ABG but until today the ABG has not seen one toea,” Dr Momis said.
“I realise that the national government has its own budget crisis. But the lack of funds being received by the ABG is leading to a desperate situation for us.
“We simply do not have the money to do anything.”
He said he hoped restoration development grant payments in 2019 will reach the agreed level of more than K70 million.
Peter O’Neill said that a trust account has been created and the promised funds will be deposited “soon”. He said he “had brought K5 million with him today” for the restoration development grant.
The meeting noted the “very limited progress” that has been made in transferring national government powers to Bougainville.
This includes the promised transfer of 17.4% of Bougainville Copper Ltd shares from the PNG government to mine-affected landowners. It was said this will be done “in the near future”.
The one matter that was resolved was the appointment of former Ireland prime minister Bertie Ahern as chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission which will oversee next year’s vote.
But while the two Bougainvillean appointees, Patrick Nisira and Ruby Mirinka, were accepted as members, the PNG government had not decided on its two representatives, which it was asked to do “as soon as possible”.
The meeting also agreed to establish a “post referendum planning taskforce” by the end of 2018 to report on how to ensure peaceful acceptance of the referendum results, develop an agreed basis for the ongoing relationship between Bougainville and PNG, and agree on the holding of a post referendum summit.