Bougainville Referendum News : Developing a ‘Whole-of-ABG’ Rolling Plan for Referendum Preparations”


Bougainville Vice-President and Minister responsible for the Referendum Patrick Nisira,

In connection with Referendum preparations, there is to be a significant meeting held in Port Moresby on Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 April. Its a meeting of the Joint Bougainville Referendum Committee (joint between the National Government and the ABG) which will be discussing key issues about referendum preparations, including:

a. the process for establishing the agency for conducting the Referendum;

b. the process for determining the date for the referendum (and in particular, whether determinations on weapons disposal and good governance are just matters to be taken into account when the two governments consult on setting a date within the five year period between mid-2015 and mid-2020 within which the Referendum MUST be held, or, alternatively, whether they are conditions precedent that must be met, with failure to meet them permitting the National Government to refuse to the referendum being held;

c. Development of an overall plan for preparations for the referendum, inclusive of steps, timelines, budget, and funding.

The ABG is proposing that the meeting  be opened by statements given by the new Minister for Bougainville Affairs (Joe Lera) and Bougainville Vice-President and Minister responsible for the Referendum (Patrick Nisira), and that the outcomes of the subsequent discussions between the officials will be reported back to those two, as well as President Momis, at the end of the discussions.


A 2 day workshop that the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG)  held in early March for its ministers and senior officials around the theme of “Developing a ‘Whole-of-ABG’ Rolling Plan for Referendum Preparations”.

SEE PAPER HERE : Referendum Overview 2016 – 32 Pages

The National 14 April 2016_Page_2JM 78

Pictured above the Father of PNG  Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare GCL GCMG CH CF SSI KSG PC MP (born 9 April 1936), who celebrated his 80 th birthday last week with the Father of the Bougainville referendum James Tanis



Referendum Overview 2016 – 32 Pages

by Anthony Regan

3rd Draft – 21 March 2016


This paper provides an overview of origins, intentions, sources, and main features of the constitutional arrangements for the ‘Referendum on the future political status of Bougainville’ (the Bougainville Referendum). It must include a ‘choice of separate independence for Bougainville’, and must be held before mid-2020. The paper also outlines work done so far to prepare for the Referendum, and identifies and discusses major steps required to prepare, conduct, and deal with the outcomes of, the Referendum.

A referendum is a process for making decisions, mainly about issues of great importance. The categories of issues dealt with in referendums (or referenda) is extensive. They include: approving new constitutions (as in Kenya in 2010), or amendments to existing constitutions (as under Australia’s Constitution); proposing or even making new laws (as in Switzerland and with citizens initiative referenda in some states of the United States); or resolving major divisive issues (as in Britain’s planned June 2016 referendum on exiting the European Union).

Since 1990 over 50 referenda have been held on independence for a country or part of a country. Usually such referenda are conducted as part of efforts to resolve disputes, often (though not always) violent conflicts. Examples include referenda on: Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia, 1993; Quebec’s independence from Canada in 1995; East Timor’s independence from Indonesia, 1999; Scotland’s Independence from the United Kingdom, in 2014. Of course, issues about sovereignty can be particularly sensitive and divisive, and are often difficult to prepare for and manage.

Very few countries have ever included in a national constitution provision for a deferred referendum on separation of part of the country, required to be held within a specified period. The only examples we know of are: France (in relation to New Caledonia, where a referendum must be held by 2018); and Sudan (in relation to South Sudan, where a referendum was held in 2011, about six years after the Sudan Constitution was amended to provide for it). So Bougainvilleans are a privileged people to have achieved the opportunity to make a decision about their future in this way. In all three cases such provision was included in the national constitution as part of a broader package intended to find ways of ending bitter and violent conflict. Autonomy was intended to operate in the period before the deferred referendum, in the hope (for some parties in both New Caledonia and Sudan) that it would help resolve divisions before the referendum was held, perhaps leading to a situation where the referendum might not be necessary, or might be deferred, or perhaps contributing to a referenda outcome in favour of continued unity.

Although referenda can help resolve difficult conflicts, they can also carry risks. They can be complex and expensive to run. They can be divisive, in preparation, in conduct, and in implementation of results. Problems often arise from misleading and divisive campaigns by political leaders on the question in the referendum. Leaders can be under great pressure to attempt to influence the result through manipulation of the process, and intimidation of voters.

Although usually intended to resolve conflict, holding a referendum can contribute to conflict, especially in a country where there are pre-existing ethnic, religious, or other kinds of divisions. One particular danger is that the outcome of a referendum on a divisive matter leaves a significant minority feeling strongly that the majority vote causes them serious disadvantage. Violent conflict has occurred in the process of implementation of outcomes of referenda in the past 25 years, including in relation to independence referenda – for example, in East Timor and in South Sudan.

A difficulty associated with an independence referendum is that it involves a major decision on long-term arrangements being made at a particular time, often without adequate information about future circumstances. For example, Scotland relies heavily on revenue from petroleum resources, which it would have needed to rely upon if its 2014 referendum had resulted in independence. But little more than a year after the referendum, oil prices were about 25 per cent of what they had been at the time of the vote. A vote in favour of independence where voters had assumed the prosperity of Scotland was assured could have been ill-founded.

So in preparing for the Bougainville referendum, it will be important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages that can flow from them, learn from experience of referenda held elsewhere, and do everything possible to minimise the chance of serious problems occurring.

A starting point is to develop a clear understanding of the Referendum arrangements, so that in planning for and managing it, everything possible is done to ensure arrangements work as intended, potential problems are anticipated and contingencies provided for. As yet, however, the Referendum arrangements are not widely known and understood. Important aspects are often the subject of confusion, uncertainty and misunderstanding.

For example, it has been widely believed in Bougainville that the BPA required the referendum be held in 2015, rather than in the five year window beginning in 2015 as is actually provided. Further, some Bougainvilleans have asked whether, in the absence of a decision by the PNG Parliament on the referendum outcome by 2020, the BPA and the PNG Constitutional Laws implementing it will cease to have effect, resulting in autonomy ceasing to operate, the immunity from prosecution for former combatants and other aspects of the BPA ceasing to have effect. In fact, there is no basis at all for such concern.

Perhaps the greatest confusion and uncertainty involves two sets of questions of great importance to continuing peace in Bougainville:

  1. whether PNG has the authority to defer the referendum beyond 2020 – in particular, should it be determined that requirements as to weapons disposal and good governance have not been met; and
  2. whether a vote in favour of independence requires PNG to implement the outcome, Bougainville then having an immediate right to independence.

Both sets of questions are discussed elsewhere in this paper.

Reasons for such confusion etc., include: most people involved having had no experience of referenda; the history of the arrangements for the Bougainville Referendum is complex; almost 15 years have elapsed since the BPA was signed, and few people other than some who were deeply involved in the negotiations have a clear memory and understanding of what was agreed; and the arrangement are set out in several documents, the details and relationships of which are little known.

This overview aims to provide information needed for improved understanding of the arrangements.[1] The history and intention of relevant parts of the BPA and the Constitutional Laws is a particular focus, for that is often little known, and when clarified often provides a good basis for improved understanding of the arrangements. Where relevant, the paper also examines the links between the referendum arrangements and other aspects of the BPA. It also:

  1. identifies some risks involved in the Referendum in respect of which avoidance or management action may be needed, and
  2. outlines issues to be taken into account when considering whether the Referendum outcome will be credible, an issue likely to be of importance when consulting with the National Government (and the international community) about the results of the Referendum.

[1] To assist readers to locate information, section numbers and pages of relevant laws and reports are included.

Download Full 32 pages here :

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