Bougainville News: President questions if Bougainville ready for referendum: Mining law update

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By Anthony Kaybing

A recent statement by the Autonomous Bougainville Government President Chief Dr John Momis on Bougainville’s readiness to hold its referendum to decide its political fate has come into question. President Momis had stated earlier that Bougainville in its current state was not ready to hold its referendum due to insurmountable socio-political factors affecting the region at present.

SEE also below: A DRAFT mining bill transferring powers from the Papua New Guinea Government to the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) could “adversely affect” the mining rights held by Bougainville Copper, the company has warned.

Public outcry over the President’s blunt statement has questioned his intentions on the determination of Bougainville’s future to the extent of also questioning his loyalty to Bougainville.

But he explained the reason for his outburst that Bougainville has to meet a certain criteria to ascertain its future to attain higher autonomy or move toward total secession and gain independence from Papua New Guinea.

“This is a fact and we cannot continue to disregard this, it’s a reality and we must man up and face it and do something about it if we really do care about the future of Bougainville,” he said.

The Bougainville Peace Agreement exudes President Momis’ concern on holding the referendum at a time when Bougainville has not yet quite met the expectations of the BPA on good governance and total weapons disposal.

The President pointed out that Bougainville is yet to achieve fiscal self-reliance, weapons disposal and the lack of unity amongst Bougainvilleans are the prime cause of his concern on holding the referendum too early which may prove detrimental.

“We cannot hold the referendum right now because we have yet not met the criteria of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and might I remind you, the outcome of the referendum depends on the ratification by the National Government so we will definitely fail should we do so right now,” the President said.

“You cannot have a nation when you don’t support your government, you can’t have a nation when there is disunity and law and order problems and you simply cannot have nation with a minimal educated populace,” the President also explained.

“When I say this it does not mean that we will not have the referendum or that I am against it, we will certainly have it but at a time within the ten year Referendum period and at a more suitable time when the government is ready so we should not make haste,” he said.
Having explained this the President also said that the Autonomous Bougainville Government has been working tirelessly to ready Bougainville for the ensuing Referendum period which must and only be held anytime between 2015 and 2020. This has been evident with the ABG legislating laws to strengthen its autonomy institutions to create a more conducive environment that is on par with international best practice on good governance.

 From Alison Middleton PNG Industry report June 27

bouganville_2009_10

A DRAFT mining bill transferring powers from the Papua New Guinea Government to the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) could “adversely affect” the mining rights held by Bougainville Copper, the company has warned.

Bougainville Copper confirmed it had been provided with a Draft Bougainville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Bill by the ABG.

The company said the bill appeared to be in accordance with the ABG’s stated objective to draw down powers from the PNG national government and obtain the transfer of powers relating to mining.

Bougainville Copper holds a number of resource tenements in Bougainville, including a special mining lease, various leases for mining purposes and several exploration licences.

The Rio Tinto subsidiary has been eyeing a resumption of mining of the giant Panguna copper deposit in the early 2020s, after the mine was closed in 1989 due to civil war.

“The SML entitles the company to explore and mine for copper within the SML area,” Bougainville Copper said in a statement.

“The SML is governed by the Bougainville Copper Agreement (BCA) and the Mining (Bougainville Copper Agreement) Act.

“The draft bill, in its current form, if passed into law, may adversely impact on the mining rights held by Bougainville Copper.

“The draft bill purports to repeal the BCA Act. The company does not concede the draft bill – if passed into law in its current form – does or can have that effect.

“Bougainville Copper is taking appropriate advice regarding the bill as drafted and will seek to liaise and meet with representatives of the ABG to discuss its concerns.”

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One comment on “Bougainville News: President questions if Bougainville ready for referendum: Mining law update

  1. Paul Quodling responded

    It’s not a matter of the president questioning, it is a matter of law – the conditions for the decision to have a referendum are enshrined in the constitution (a strange place for it to be, but that’s another story, particularly as it, as I recall, it refers to a referendum, but not as to what the referendum will be about – referendums tend to be Yes no answers to single questions – no latitude for what-ifs etc. )

    THere has been a misconception tacitly endorsed by th ABG (i.e. they have done little to correct misconceptions) that come 2015, a simple vote will be taken, and that will allow independence almost immediately. I don’t have it to hand, but the gist of it is, that GovPNG would need to see transition of a couple of dozen “functions of government” to ABG, before GovPNG (under the watchful eye of the international community, including DFAT who write a lot of big cheques to them) before they approved the holding of a referendum.

    Of course, that itself becomes a “chicken and egg” quandary. IN order to get to the point of a referendum (asking a question which has yet to be fully defined), then a bunch of actions that presume the outcome of that referendum need to be in place. (This is effectively an “out” for the ABG – if they can proved themselves worthy, then even with a “no” note, steps would be in train – arguably a wise legislator would phrase the referendum questions accordingly… too many referendums have been lost because they have tried to follow an emotional line than a legislative one.

    While GovPNG is a “gatepost”, there is a greater “Gatepost” looming – if ABG “rushes” independence, and screws it up, there will be little sympathy either from the electorate (who might find that “independence” means less aid money, more involvement with Chinese businesses (Who have terrible track records in Africa) ) or from the international community (including Ausgov and govpng) who find that they have to return again to bail out ABG. I think that MOMIS (or at least some advisors) are astute enough to realize, that this will be a one-shot wonder, and they don’t want to screw it up.

    This is, after all the same Momis, that back “in the day” promised his constituents a bunch of cash. Even though he was an MP, he made an ex-officio approach to BCL, virtually demanding that they hand him an additional K14M cheque to disburse as he saw fit, (big man politics rules in PNG, to this day). when it was pointed out to him, that the right venue for such negotiations was the regularly scheduled (but routinely deferred by the Government) meetings, he chose not to pass on that information to his constituents – which meant they they were stirred up, and the rest is history.

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