The outgoing Bougainville government has started laying the groundwork for a referendum to be held on possible independence from Papua New Guinea.
That vote has to occur by 2020 at the latest and will be the key focus for the new parliament to be elected next month.
To help meet the conditions laid down in the Bougainville Peace Agreement for the question to be put, the autonomous region’s (former) chief administrator, Chris Siriosi, is heading the Office of the Bougainville Referendum.
He explained the nature of his work to Don Wiseman Radio NZ
CHRIS SIRIOSI: There are important preconditions for agreeing on the date for the referendum. Firstly, there needs to be consultation on the issue of the weapons disposal or weapons in Bougainville and also there has to be a determination that the Bougainville government or the Autonomous Bougainville Government has been and is being conducted in accordance with internationally accepted standards for good governance. So these are the details that are being worked on currently.
DON WISEMAN: Who makes those assessments in terms of whether there are enough guns removed from the community and whether the level of governance is at the appropriate level?
CS: These are issues that the two governments will need to consider and agree whether or not the weapons have been removed from the community in adequate numbers and the issue of good governance. These are issues that the two governments will have to sort out between themselves but the details of enabling the governments to have a clear picture on this is not available so that is what we are working on now. The ABG assessment is an office of the Bougainville referendum under my leadership as the Chief Executive. Currently there are seven work streams which have been identified. Most important of which is the consultations with the people of Bougainville, engagement of the people of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. Workstream number two is the weapons disposal assessment. Workstream number three is the criteria enabling non-resident Bougainvilleans to vote. Workstream number four is the assessment of good governance or level of good governance. Workstream number five is the process for determining the question that will be put to the people of Bougainville during the referendum and workstream number six is to establish an independent administrative agency that will conduct the referendum, preferably under UN control. Workstream number seven is to review the legal provisions that will be the basis for conducting the polling. Those are basically the outstanding work that is required.
DW: Clearly what it entails is a lot of work by people under you. There’s a need for significant amount of capacity isn’t there? Do you have enough staff, enough support, enough people with skills to be able to undertake that work?
CS: Well to be honest with you on the ground here we simply don’t have the people that have experience in conducting referendum anywhere in the world and secondly we don’t have the calibre of people that will enable the details to be put together. We have been fortunate to get support from the New Zealand government who in the last seven months made available an expert who has assisted the ABG and the national government in identifying the major workstreams that are now required to be undertaken. New Zealander Mike Richardson is an ongoing engagement. More professional and adequately experienced experts will need to be sourced from outside the country.
DW: Before you get to that point with the referendum and as you say you have got all this work to do but the region has been trying to get rid of guns for eons hasn’t it? Clearly it remains a problem so how are you going to get those last weapons or enough of what’s left to satisfy the requirements of Port Moresby?
CS: That’s the basically a major sticking point. What we don’t have at the moment is data on where the weapons are and whose possession are the weapons in and why are people holding onto weapons when they should be really doing away with those weapons before we can take measures to remove those weapons by whatever means the two governments agree on in consultation of course with the people of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.
DW: I think there is very clearly an expectation from Bougainvilleans that this vote is going to happen in this time frame as laid out by the Peace Agreement but from you’ve just told us, there could actually be a delay if Bougainville can’t satisfy Port Moresby requirements.
CS: What the people have to understand, including the governments, is that the delay of the conduct of the referendum can only be delayed up until the last half of 2020. Beyond June 2020 it cannot be delayed, it’s going to be held anyway. But what we need to let the people of Bougainville understand is that any outcome of any referendum that is conducted without the conditions or those considerations will inevitably affect the final outcome.
This was the statement given by Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) president, Dr John Momis.
Momis made the statement in reference to Bougainville’s referendum that must be held within the 5 year time period from 2015-2020.
The conditions of the BPA are good governance, fiscal self-reliance and weapons disposal.
“We must not fear, we must have faith in each other and ultimately of course we must have faith in God to give us the wisdom and strength to prevail.
“We have now reached a critical juncture on our journey to freedom where we stand at the threshold of a new socio-economic, political and spiritual order,” said Momis.
The president added that this new future means Bougainvilleans will want to be liberated from structural impediments, from institutional impediments and become agents of change and development.
“We know for a fact that the people of Bougainville for a long time have always seen themselves as a people set apart from the rest of PNG.
“Bougainvilleans definitely have a history, we have a history of rejecting outside imposition, a history of being proud of our heritage and a history of self-determination,” said Momis.
He said that elf-determination is not a dirty word for the people of Bougainville.
He said self-determination is the peoples’ claim that they must be the major stakeholders in deciding their fate and to be engaged in socio-economic, political and spiritual liberation.
“It is through unity and believing in one another shall we achieve our ultimate political future,” President Momis remarked.