For all of Theonila Roka Matbob’s three decades, the scar on her land that was once the world’s largest copper mine has cast a pall.
The Panguna mine in Bougainville, eastern Papua New Guinea, has not yielded a single ounce in her lifetime – forced shut the year before Matbob was born – but she grew up in the shadow of the violent civil war it provoked.
When she was just three years old, her father, John Roka, was murdered by the secessionist soldiers who had forced the mine to close. Spending years in a “care centre” run by the PNG defence force, she remembers a childhood dominated by an all-pervasive fear, where the sound of gunshots regularly rang out across the valley, where neighbours disappeared from their homes, their bodies later found slaughtered.
There is peace now, but memories remain, and “we live with the impacts of Panguna every day,” Matbob says.
“Our rivers are poisoned with copper, our homes get filled with dust from the tailings mounds, our kids get sick from the pollution.
“Every time it rains more waste washes into the rivers, causing flooding for villages further downstream. Some communities now have to spend two hours a day walking just to get clean drinking water because their nearby creeks are clogged up with mine waste.”
Panguna is quiet these days. The mining trucks lie rusting in Bougainville’s clammy heat; the massive pit carved into the middle of a mountain is inhabited by a handful alluvial miners, digging with hand tools for what gold remains; and the Kawerong-Jaba river delta downstream is flooded with bright blue toxic waters which poison the land and the people who live there.
And Matbob, the little girl who grew up in the shadow of the mine’s violence, is now a parliamentarian, determined to seek redress for her people.
Newly elected to the Bougainville parliament for the electorate of Ioro, which encompasses Panguna, Matbob has led a formal complaint filed with the Australian government against Rio Tinto for environmental and human rights violations caused by the mine.
The complaint, supported by more than 150 members of her electorate and by the Human Rights Law Centre, alleges that the massive volume of waste pollution left behind by the mine is putting communities’ lives and livelihoods at risk, poisoning their water, damaging their health, flooding their lands and sacred sites, and leaving them “in a deteriorating, increasingly dangerous situation”.
A toxic legacy
Panguna was an immensely profitable mine. Over 17 years it made more than $US2bn for the mine’s former owner and operator Rio Tinto, who pulled 550,000 tonnes of copper concentrate and 450,000 ounces of gold from the mine in its last year alone.
At one point, Panguna accounted for 45% of all of PNG’s exports, and 12% of its GDP.
But for those whose land it was, Panguna brought but a sliver of the wealth and development that was promised – less than 1% of profits – leaving behind a legacy only of division, violence, and environmental degradation.
In 1989, amid rising fury at the environmental damage and the inequitable division of the mine’s profits, customary landowners forced the mine closed, blowing up Panguna’s power lines and sabotaging operations.
The PNG government sent in troops against its own citizens to restart the foreign-owned mine – at the behest of Rio, it says – sparking a civil war that would rage for a decade. Along with a protracted military blockade, it led to the deaths of as many as 20,000 people.
Rio Tinto cut and run, and has never returned to the island, claiming it is unsafe, despite pleas from landowners to repair the vast and ongoing environmental damage.
“These are not problems we can fix with our bare hands,” Matbob says. “We urgently need Rio Tinto to do what’s right and deal with the disaster they have left behind.”
‘We expect a fair share’
A product of Bougainville’s matrilineal society, which bestows women with custodianship of land and community authority, Matbob speaks quietly but forcefully.
A teacher by profession, and mother of two, she studied at universities in Madang and Goroka before working as a social worker and running for parliament. She beat a field of 15 candidates, including several former revolutionary soldiers, and even her own brother.
But the parliament to which Matbob has been elected has another primary and overwhelming concern, though one intimately related: negotiating independence from Papua New Guinea.
Despite resistance from PNG’s government to losing its resource-rich eastern province, there is genuine expectation amongst Bougainvilleans that their decision to secede will be honoured.
Upe men line up to vote in the 2019 independence referendum in Teau, Bougainville. Photograph: Jeremy Miller/AP
But the argument allied to political independence in Bougainville is that it can only be achieved alongside economic autonomy.
To that end, the argument runs, re-opening Panguna is the surest, perhaps the only, way a small province of just 300,000 people can survive as an independent nation. On Bougainville, the issue of independence has become inextricably linked to that of resources, for which Panguna has become a grim synecdoche.
“Large-scale mining provides a route to fiscal self-reliance, but this strategy has risks,” a report by Dr Satish Chand for the National Research Institute of PNG found, arguing of Panguna, “the viability of this project, the… profitability of the mine, and the revenues generated for… government are all speculative”.
Deeply embedded in Bougainville’s political psyche is a belief in the transformative power of political and economic independence – most likely achieved through mining – to bring prosperity, development and stability after decades of turmoil and privation.
But those expectations may prove difficult to marry with reality: an independent Bougainville would likely face a revenue shortfall of tens of millions of dollars a year.
“The Autonomous Bougainville Government had, by 2016, reached just 6% of the distance to fiscal self-reliance,” Chand found.
Unquestionably there is money to be made on Bougainville: the potential profits to be pulled from Panguna alone have been valued at close to $60bn. But profits for whom?
New president Toroama, once a leader of the militancy that forced the mine to close, says any decision on its future lies with local landowners.
“Panguna mine will be a key target but we will not put all our eggs in one basket,” Toroama told Bougainville’s parliament last month in his maiden speech.
“We welcome foreign investment, because without outside funding and technologies, we may not be able to exploit our natural resources. But we expect a fair share of return and participation.”
As their elected representative, Matbob is more definitive. Her people must come first.
“Though there is a future for Panguna,” she tells the Guardian from her electorate, “… it will have to be shelved until the needs of my people are well addressed.”
Crowded with outsiders
Bougainville’s acute political uncertainty – poised, potentially, on the threshold of nationhood, with all of its attendant vulnerabilities – has brought ferocious renewed attention on Panguna.
An alphabet soup of foreign mining companies – at least four registered in Perth alone – have sought to carve up the province for future exploitation.
The jostling for position and favour with both the Bougainville and PNG governments has been sharp-elbowed, with accusatory press statements and missives to the stock exchange, even spilling into Australian courts.
And a Chinese delegation reported to have travelled to the province in 2018 was rumoured to have pledged $1bn to fund its transition to independence, accompanied by offers to invest in mining, tourism, and agriculture.
An allied, independent, and resource-rich Bougainville – in the middle of Melanesia and so soon after neighbouring Solomon Islands flipped to recognise Beijing over Taipei – would be of significant strategic value to China.
Even Rio, after years of claiming it could never return to Panguna, has recently indicated it is not entirely out of the picture, saying it was “ready to enter into discussions with communities”.
“We are aware of the deteriorating mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas, and acknowledge that there are environmental and human rights considerations.”
For a small island, Bougainville is, suddenly, very crowded.
Matbob understands the enthusiasm of outsiders to return to Bougainville. But for too long, she says, her people’s priorities were subsumed to those of foreign interests, and to profit.
“The Bougainville revolution… was founded on the protection of people, land, environment and culture,” she tells the Guardian.
“Though there is a future for Panguna… there are a lot of legacy issues attached to it. As the new member representing the Ioro people, I say it will have to be shelved until the needs of my people are well addressed.”
” We must be masters of our destiny, and we can only do this by putting our own “software”, into the structures and institutions we are going to build.
Yes, we can borrow ideas from outside, but they must be adapted and adjusted to fit our way of thinking. It is only through our own “intellectual control”, that we can chart our own pathway and create our own identity, and a place in the global society – the Asian Countries have proven this in no uncertain terms.
To this extent, Bougainville must establish, a high powered Planning Secretariat that will help us dream big into the future, innovate and reach new heights.
We must make use of the enormous talent of educated Bougainvilleans outside of Bougainville in this endeavor.”
President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Hon. Ishmael Toroama, outlined his six-point strategy under his leadership, in his maiden speech delivered at the Inauguration Ceremony of the Fourth Bougainville House of Representatives .
1. Political control of our Destiny
2. Economic Growth and Control
3. Administrative Control
4. Mobilizing Private Sector and Civil Society
5. Long term Vision and Planning
6. International Relations
Full Transcript below
The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Honorable James Marape; the outgoing President of Bougainville Honorable Chief Dr John Momis, Ministers of the PNG Parliament present here today, Ministers and Members of the Bougainville Parliament; Heads of Foreign Missions represented here today, the Speaker of the Bougainville Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my utmost pleasure to be presenting my Maiden Parliamentary Speech in front of you all.
Mr Speaker, I am humbled and honored to be speaking to you, as your new President for the next five years. This is the highest position on our land, and I intend to serve the office with faithfulness and diligence.
Mr Speaker, we are entering a very important five years, as the people have given us, the enormous responsibility of securing the 98% vote. I am fully aware of this responsibility, as I now take the frontline in the political arena.
Mr Speaker, we enter an exciting parliament, as about 70% are new members entering for the first time, to shoulder the long and old agenda. It is also an interesting Parliament, because three pairs of family relations have made it into the house – a husband and wife; a father and daughter; and a mother and son. This must be a record in the democratic world. I look forward to their contributions, without fear or favor.
Mr Speaker and members of this house, before I go any further, let me first pay homage to the 20,000 lives, who died during our struggle for freedom. Many died not in combat but from a lack of access to services. My victory is in their honor. May those of us still alive, continue the journey to the promise land so that their sacrifice will not be in vain.
Mr Speaker, may I thank the people of Bougainville, both inside and outside of Bougainville, for having trust and confidence in me, and giving me the mandate to be your President. You had the difficult task of choosing me, from amongst the 25 candidates, all of whom are persons of high standing. Your choice of me as your President, proves that wisdom, knowledge and experience from the “University of Life”, still has a place in our Bougainville society.
Mr Speaker and Members of this Parliament, what is my key agenda as your new President? As all of my voters know, I campaigned on a platform of three core issues which are Independence; Corruption and Law & Order.
As stated earlier, Independence has been our dream since the days of our forefathers. We have fought for it, and won the war, but we have not yet won the battle! We have now translated it into a number (the 98% Vote), without any significant minority throughout Bougainville. Let there be no doubt, about the legality and validity of the Referendum and the results, as the Referendum is captured in the Organic Law on Peacebuilding in Bougainville and Referendum, and inserted into the PNG Constitution.
Mr Speaker, I thank the outgoing President Hon. Chief Dr John Momis, the outgoing Minister for Referendum, Mr Punghau, and the United Nations, for the tremendous work they have done in delivering a successful Referendum, and setting an international benchmark, as far as referendum votes are concerned. My Government will ensure that both Hon Chief John Momis and Mr Punghau continue to guide and participate, in the consultation and dialogue process with the PNG Government.
Mr Speaker, the Joint Consultative Framework has already been agreed to by the March JSB. My government’s priority is to continue the preparations and conduct of consultation and dialogue with the Government of PNG. The Bougainville Peace Agreement, the PNG Constitution, International Treaties and Conventions will show us the way in our journey to our destiny. We must remain steadfast and continue to consult with our people, inside Bougainville, and outside of the islands, because this has been our collective past, and must also be our collective future.
Mr Speaker, my second campaign pillar was Corruption. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived as bad company ruins morals” and 2 Peter: 1-9 says “They promised them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved”.
These two versus are very clear, if we want freedom, we must not keep bad company. We must get rid of any individuals, systems or institutions that are practicing corrupt behaviors. Corruption, whether it is true or a mere speculation, is damaging and we leaders must avoid putting ourselves in questionable situations.
My government intends to keep a clear separation, between decision making (policy or law) and implementation. Leaders should not make decisions, and then take lead in implementing the same decisions. Leaders may go out and monitor, to ensure laws or policies are implemented as planned.
Mr Speaker, I am aware of the weaknesses in the current Financial Management System as it has too many leaks. We must fix the leaks going forward. “A house that is built on sand, will easily get blown away by the wind” (Mathew 7: 26). So, let us now start building our Independence journey on solid rock!!
Mr Speaker, Members of the House and my people of Bougainville, the other key agenda that I campaigned on and elected is Law and Order. This is essential if Bougainville is to prosper, socially and economically, beyond the Ratification and the securing of Independence. Our dream of being masters of our destiny, will amount to nothing if we cannot behave in civil ways. We have signed the Peace Agreement, we have contained weapons, we have reconciled amongst ourselves as well as with PNG, and above all, we have conducted a highly successful referendum. There is now no more reason, for anyone to be carrying arms or causing violence or behaving in unruly manners.
To those groups that are still not actively participating in our journey, I urge you to join me as your President, with open arms and walk this journey together. I will be meeting with the law and order agencies here in Bougainville, to develop ways of combating increasing law and order issues especially drugs, homebrew, gender and family violence, stealing of cars and so on. In the medium to long term, we must have broader economic interventions that can keep the young people usefully employed.
Mr Speaker, “the very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision for the people. You can’t beat the garamut for nothing.”
The above three campaign agendas will be part of a much bigger vision, which the people of Bougainville expressed in the form of the Bougainville Crisis 31 years ago. The Crisis was a revolution in every way, politically; economically; and development wise. It developed all systems and provided a golden opportunity to create a new Bougainville. There were many new innovations at that time such as hydropower; coconut oil, new farming systems and even new architecture of village houses. The crisis liberated the thinking of Bougainvilleans.
Mr Speaker, however, in restoring Bougainville to normalcy, we have simply re-established the old system under new labels such as Interim Authority, the People’s Congress, and the Autonomous Government and Public Service. We have not encouraged, the innovative ability of our people, so evident during the Crisis years. The end result is that Bougainvilleans, are again in danger of becoming by-standers on their own land.
I intend to re-orientate some of the Technical Services functions so that they are better positioned to respond to the needs of the village people instead of simply being a manager of large tenders and contracts.
Mr Speaker, we must be masters of our destiny, and we can only do this by putting our own “software”, into the structures and institutions we are going to build. Yes, we can borrow ideas from outside, but they must be adapted and adjusted to fit our way of thinking. It is only through our own “intellectual control”, that we can chart our own pathway and create our own identity, and a place in the global society – the Asian Countries have proven this in no uncertain terms. To this extent, Bougainville must establish, a high powered Planning Secretariat that will help us dream big into the future, innovate and reach new heights. We must make use of the enormous talent of educated Bougainvilleans outside of Bougainville in this endeavor.
Mr Speaker and Members of this new Parliament, the winds of change have arrived! “Change will not come if we wait for other persons or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek!” To quote President Obama.
How do we build a new society? Mr Speaker, we must build trust and confidence in the people through the strategies:
Strategy Number 1 is Political control of our Destiny – we can only exercise political control through independence – we must pursue Independence by all peaceful means. It may happen in one year, or it might take a few more years, but we must never lose focus however long it may take. My people of Bougainville, you have endured this far and your continued patience is all I ask for of you.
Mr Speaker, in the formation of the new government, we must also give confidence and trust to our people. People have desired change as expressed in the high number of new members in this Parliament. This change will be the theme of my government. They may be small but significant changes, in the way Government operates, for example, getting each department to manage their own funds, or they may be big infrastructural investments. However, while we are pursuing change, we must also maintain balance between old and new, because the new leaders need to be mentored by the experienced leaders in the ways of running a government.
Mr Speaker, still under political control, maintaining constant Communication with our people, is essential to their engagement. People must know and understand what the government is doing, in order for the people, to give us their support and participate fully. My government will look at ways of communicating better with our people.
Mr Speaker, Strategy Number 2 is Economic Growth and Control – political control will not lead to much improvement in our livelihood, if we are by-standers in the economy. After 45 years of independence, PNG, through the leadership of Prime Minister Honorable James Marape, is taking PNG back. We in Bougainville have a golden opportunity to get it right at this point of our political journey.
Mr Speaker, under my government, we will have specific targeted plan for growing our economy. Panguna Mine will be a key target but we will not put all our eggs in one basket. My government has a number of specific large to medium project ideas in mining, agriculture, fisheries and tourism that will create employment and generate revenue for Bougainville.
We welcome foreign investment, because without outside funding and technologies, we may not be able to exploit our natural resources. But we expect a fair share of return and participation, in the form of shareholding or equity in large scale projects. The medium to small enterprise sector must be controlled by our people.
Mr Speaker, it is time we change the shanty-town business image our main towns. We must also create an equal opportunity environment for businesses, so that economic benefits are spread throughout a larger population. In this regard, my government will be looking at relevant policies of making this happen under an overall Economic Development Plan.
Mr Speaker, Strategy Number 3 for building trust and confidence in our people is Administrative Control. We must have the right Administration to facilitate economic growth and be able to translate and implement political directions. The administration must change from being paper pushers to being agents of change. Too often the public servants are accused of being self-serving, who are more interested in their perks and privileges, or in how much allowance they will get when they go to Port Moresby instead of going to Torokina, Buin or Nissan. Their behavior must change. My government intends to review, restructure and make changes as appropriate and with a view to redirecting resources to the District level.
Mr Speaker, and Prime Minister Hon. James Marape, I understand that the drawdown of powers and functions under section 290 of the PNG Constitution that were made available to Bougainville, have not been fully drawn down yet. This needs to be progressed. As we consult and dialogue with PNG, we will also look at the possibility of getting powers and functions currently with the PNG Government such as:
Section 289 (powers currently vested with PNG Government)
Section 291 (powers relating to Criminal Code)
Section 293 (the exercise of international obligations), and
Section 298 National Government Assets and Lands as far as it related to Bougainville
Mr Speaker and Members of this House, Strategy number 4 is mobilizing Private Sector and Civil Society – 80% of our citizens live in villages where local custom, associations and churches play a far greater influence.
It is impossible for Government to move Bougainville forward by itself. The private sector and civil society organizations be it the church, a farmer’s association, and so on, must be mobilized to play a greater role then at the moment. The business houses for example, apart from paying taxes, can be asked to play a direct role in other ways. This must now change.
Mr Speaker, Strategy Number 5 is long term vision and planning – as the saying goes “planning to fail is planning for failure.” Bougainville must embark on an exercise of long-term planning, beyond the medium-term plans which gather dust from the offices of government. We must plan long term, say 40 years and have political commitment to such planning, so that Bougainville rises from the ashes into a vibrant economy, where the full potential and capacity of our citizens are fully harnessed. Singapore, under the leadership of President Lee Kwan Yew was able to transform Singapore, into the global economic hub it is today, through deliberate and sustained long-term planning since 1954. Conditions in Bougainville are different from Singapore, but there is a lesson in long term planning and commitment to it that we can learn from. Bougainville must have long-term blueprint.
Mr Speaker and Members of the House, Strategy Number 6 is International Relations – our historical friends will continue to be our friends as ours is a long enduring relationship through good and bad times. You have given us trouble but you have also helped us overcome these difficult times, and that is the nature of human spirit, one that is able to recover, forgive and move on. History must be our guiding light in moving forward, so that we do not make the same mistakes of the past. Our doors under my government will be open to the international community, especially to those who want to help us achieve our dreams, but in way that is of mutual benefit to us and to our friends to be.
Mr Speaker and Members of the House and the people of Bougainville, that is my six-point strategy for Bougainville in the next five years, my first 100 day plan will be one that will drive this six-point Strategy. Education and Health will of course continue to be offered as normal services. Any new standards of service delivery must await improvements in the economy. We are only generating about 24% of total budget from within Bougainville. Furthermore, COVID-19 has greatly impacted the global as well as the PNG economy. PNG has recently slashed its budget by K2 billion. So, all of this need to be taken into account as we are planning and implementing the Strategies.
Mr Speaker, much needs to be done, but we must set our house in order before we can embark on these strategies. The following preconditions are necessary:
Setting the right political leadership – the right mix of political leadership is essential to leading Bougainville in the next five years especially for our journey ahead. I will therefore announce a full cabinet, within the 14 days, a team of vibrant leaders who will provide the drive, energy and innovation in moving Bougainville forward.
Mr Speaker, as noted previously, innovative leadership of the Administration is also important. I will review the situation and make changes if necessary.
Mr Speaker, a long term Bougainville Blueprint that captures the entire Bougainville society is essential in guiding our way forward. In this regard, I intend to establish a high-powered Planning Secretariat (a small unit) made up of highly qualified and competent citizens who will report directly to the President and Executive Council so that our people’s political and development aspirations are achieved.
Control over the population and territory is another precondition as already stated under law and order. We must educate the masses, those who have not had the opportunity to realize their potential, not necessarily in the classroom, but in the society, so that they become productive members of society.
Mr Speaker, at this juncture, let me address directly a number of stakeholders that are important to Bougainville:
Firstly, the PNG Government – Mr Speaker, to the PNG Government, you caused us immense pain and suffering, but you have helped us in restoring our lives, and you are helping us to rebuild our government systems and institutions. We have reconciled and buried our differences as true Melanesian people. However, a lot more needs to be done in helping our Bougainville people live a comfortable life. I am aware that Bougainville may not have received its share of funds as agreed in the Bougainville Peace Agreement. I intend to explore this further with the Prime Minister.
Mr Speaker, Bougainville and PNG will also walk the journey ahead side by side as you help Bougainville to reach its destiny, which was sanctioned by the blood of 20,000 lives. The sentiments expressed by National Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, in his recent parliamentary statement, asking PNG Parliamentarians to educate themselves about the history, the culture, the sufferings and the aspirations of Bougainvilleans is the right grounds on which to walk together the journey and set us free.
Mr Speaker, the changing of guards, always comes with uncertainty and trepidation. My government will endeavor to establish and maintain an environment of trust within Bougainville, with PNG and the international community so that we can confidently go about our joint agendas. Diplomacy, respect and our Melanesian values must underpin our joint journey but above all trust and honesty must prevail as we consult and dialogue towards an outcome that reflects the 98% vote.
Mr Speaker, let me now turn to the international community and development partners. The international community especially Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Solomon Island, Fiji, Vanuatu and the United Nations have been of tremendous value to Bougainville in pacifying the conflict and in helping to rebuild Bougainville. Under my leadership, Bougainville will continue to work with you so that we reach new heights in our areas of mutual interest.
The door will be open to any member of the international community in general that is interested in helping Bougainville take its place in the international arena.
Mr Speaker, the government and people of Solomon Island deserve a special mention. You sheltered us during our times of need and you suffered in the course of it. But most importantly, you were the launching pad for the peace process and I as the new president of Bougainville accord you my sincere appreciation and look forward to a continued and renewed relationship.
Mr Speaker, to the people of Bougainville, we have finally given an unshakeable number, to the long-held dream of our forefathers, and our leaders who have gone before us. We owe it to Sir Paul Lapun, Sir Donatus Mola, Dr Alexis Sarei, Anthony Anugu, Joseph Kabui, Francis Ona, Leo Hannet, Moses Havini and many others who at different times of our history, added to the foundations of our journey. My government will need your continued support and patience, as we walk the journey of securing Bougainville sovereignty. We must maintain peace and unity at all times.
Mr Speaker, to the outgoing President – I acknowledge the presence and work of the outgoing President Hon Chief Dr John Momis. You have led Bougainville through the colonial era through to self-government and independence, you crafted the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, you inserted the Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Government; you later helped to amend to include the Organic Law on Peace Building in Bougainville; you have now served two terms as President of Bougainville. All in all, you have been our leader for about 45 years – your durability compares only with a very select group of eminent leaders in former Prime Ministers Somare and Chan. Yours is a contribution that will remain unmatched, and will forever be etched in the history of Bougainville. I thank you and salute you from the bottom of my heart. If you think you are going into retirement, then you are mistaken because I will be seeking your wise counsel at every opportunity.
Mr Speaker, some of our relatives and friends are still outside our journey for their own reasons. The Bougainville Peace Agreement provides for “pardon and amnesty” to any violations of human rights committed during the crisis, up to the point of conducting the Referendum. Any violations committed thereafter are law and order issues. I want to appeal to you, as your newly elected President, and as a soldier who fought with you, to come out and join me and my government in pursuit of our destiny.
Mr Speaker, to the other 24 Presidential Candidates who contested the presidential seat with me, we campaigned as colleagues appearing together in public forums in the major towns. This spirit of togetherness must continue as we move forward in our journey towards our common goal. I intend to tap into your enormous collective pool of knowledge and expertise and look forward to your continued active participation in the journey ahead.
Mr Speaker, now to the Public Service – yours is a mandate to be servants of the people. But too often you have become a self-serving organization, caring only about the perks and privileges you can enjoy. The public service must rediscover the spirit “of service” that we saw in the early days of independence and provincial government.
My presidency intends to have a closer look at the public service in order to realign with the needs of the people and I need your cooperation in this endeavor.
Mr Speaker, to the Youth and Women who constitute the most active economic population of our society. You are the now and the future of Bougainville society. My government intends to help you realize your potential. Yours is not a situation of men against women or that women should be allowed to perform certain roles, but a question of how men and women should work together better. Your roles are already prescribed by custom and by church doctrines. The divisive gender politics of western societies has no place in Bougainville society because it has led to unchristian values like “same sex marriage” in some societies. Instead we must find our own balance in enhancing the roles of women within the Bougainville context.
Mr Speaker, to the members of this Bougainville Parliament – you have run under various parties and on various platforms during the campaign. But we are all serving the one and the same 380,000 people of Bougainville. So let us join our many different leadership talents into a harmonious pool of leadership for the benefit of the people of Bougainville.
There will be differences in views from time to time, depending on the policy or matter of law, and depending on the political thinking of individual leaders. Indeed differences in opinion are a healthy sign of a mature democracy, and it needs to be exercised with responsibility. My government intends to encourage good public debate on key policy matters, both in parliament as well as in the community, through the various foras that exist today. Good public debate leads to good policies and laws.
Mr Speaker, last but not least, I very much look forward to your leadership in managing this House, in a way that will be reflective of the status of the House, as we are “political leader servants” of our people! It’s the people who have voted us into this House, and it is they who will also get us out of this House, if we do not deliver to their expectations. The people must be “front and centre” in any debate and decision making in this Parliament.
Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the PNG Cabinet Ministers, the outgoing President Dr Chief John Momis, Ministers and Members of this Parliament, the Diplomatic Core and the people of Bougainville, I thank you once again for this opportunity to be your President and may God bless us All!
” Young people in the South Pacific islands of Bougainville are seizing the opportunity to help reshape the future of the autonomous region of Papua New Guinea as they head to the polls this month to elect a new leader.
The general election is the first since Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea at the end of last year, and the winner will preside over negotiations on the terms of separation.
For Bougainville’s younger “lost generation”, who grew up either under or in the shadow of a bloody 10-year civil war, it gives them a chance to break from the past and elect a civilian president with no ties to the previous unrest. “
Polling Starts Wednesday 12 August 2020
Polling Ends Tuesday 1 September 2020
Counting Starts Wednesday 2 September 2020
Counting Ends Monday 14 September 2020
Return of Writs Tuesday 15 September 2020
Two decades after combatants snapped arrows to signal the end of hostilities, there is anger among the younger generation that there has been little economic progress for the resources rich region.
“It has been wasted on mere politics, and there’s nothing on the ground to show for it,” Pajomile Minaka, a 37-year-old law student, told Reuters by telephone.
“In terms of bringing sustainable economic development there is nothing. Young people like me believe the government has failed the people.”
Bougainville’s 250,000 strong population has a median age of just 20, a demographic that’s likely bad news for the ex-combatants among the open field of 25 candidates vying for the top political office.
Younger voters are likely to push for a fresh face, even though prominent figures from the conflict had the advantage of wide-spread name recognition, said Paul Barker, executive director of Port Moresby-based think tank the Institute of National Affairs.
“There is a strong element of the lost generation missing out and wanting change,” Barker told Reuters, ahead of two weeks of polling that begins on Wednesday for the five-yearly election.
Bougainville descended into a decade-long conflict in 1988, triggered by a dispute over how the profits from the lucrative Panguna gold and copper mine should be shared and the environmental damage it had caused. As many as 20,000 died during the fighting between the region’s rebel guerilla army and PNG forces, and Panguna was closed.
Last year’s non-binding independence poll was part of the peace process that ended the conflict, but competing claims over development rights to Panguna still hang over its future.
Bougainville Vice President Raymond Masono said Panguna should “play a major role in revitalising Bougainville’s economy.”
Younger voters, like Augustine Teboro, 30, said it was time to dispense with the “old view” that Bougainville’s future relied on re-opening Panguna when it should be making use of its physical and natural beauty by cultivating its tourism, agriculture and fisheries industries.
“Our hope is that this generation will transform our society and not be a generation that will make the same mistakes of the past,” said Teboro, who heads a Bougainville youth federation.
“We are looking for a civilian leader with integrity.”
With no formal political polling and a diverse list of candidates to replace long-serving president John Momis, the election is considered an open race.
Among the old guard candidates are former president and combatant James Tanis and government-backed candidate Thomas Raivet. Other candidates include Fidelis Semoso, who served in the national PNG parliament, lawyer Paul Nerau and businessman and former sports administrator Peter Tsiamalili Junior. There are also two female candidates, health care professional Ruby Mirinka and former Bougainville MP Magdalene Toroansi.
Polling is likely to be complicated by the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Bougainville, a 30-year-old man who returned from Port Moresby last week.
The coronavirus pandemic has also thrown a cloud over whether international observers will be able to attend. The United Nations said in a statement the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner had asked the PNG government to invite diplomatic missions in Port Moresby to observe the vote.
“This election will determine the future political status of this emerging nation,” Masono said. “The next government must consult with the national government on independence – nothing more, nothing less.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; editing by Jane Wardell)
Every picture tells a story. Every story a picture tells may not be a perfect story but, as another saying goes, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.
There is a certain poignancy about this picture – and many other images connected with the multitude of matters surrounding Panguna.
Panguna is not merely a history of mining, minerals, money, maiming and the nastiness of the conflict. It is not only a story of lost lives, lost land and lost opportunities.
Panguna is a story of many individuals and groups; of men, women and children of the forest, the valleys, the ravines, the hills and mountains, the rivers and creeks, the sacred sites – all of which people called home, before mining arrived.
Perpetua Serero and Francis Ona both passed away relatively young. The effervescent Damien Dameng – the one with reading glasses studying his notes in this photo – lost his life under dubious circumstances only in recent times.
Francis Bitanuma with the white cap and overgrown beard in this photo, is still around, raising his voice and picking and choosing his fights but with fewer and fewer local allies in tow.
Perpetua Serero had remarkable poise and presence. Had her voice as Chairlady of a splinter Panguna Landowners Association (PLOA) been heeded when she spoke (either with or without the aid of a hand-held loud hailer), some of the fiasco and hurt amongst the landowners could well have been mitigated, if not largely avoided.
Instead, the very early feuds over Panguna over benefits accruing from the land under various leases to BCL were between landowners themselves. Only a dishonest landowner would deny this was the case.
Disputes and differences over land sharing, land use and land tenure preceded the arrival of mining in Panguna. But these were localized and tended to be confined within households, extended families and clans. Agreements were brokered to resolve issues or at least keep them to manageable levels. There were ways for everyone to move on, living and communally sharing the land, rivers, creeks, the environment and everything that more or less made life worth living and dying for.
Differences and feuds over the benefits accruing from the mine such as RMTL (Road Mining Tailings Lease) payments, invonvenience payments, and other payments added fuel to existing disputes between clans, families and relatives. Some of the disputes became vexatious with the advent of mining.
Mining catapulted Panguna women like Perpetua Serero, Cecilia Gemel and others to the forefront as they took on much more active and pronounced roles as mothers of the land in a society that is largely matrilineal.
This photograph shows a woman, leading her male counterparts in the early days of the dispute involving one group of Panguna landowners voicing, in a very public way, early warnings of what might follow.
The significance of her message was either lost to or not taken seriously by most leaders from central Bougainville, BCL, PLOA and relevant authorities in the national Government at the time.
That men are on the periphery in this photo – in stark contrast to the lead role being played by Serero at the front – wasn’t just symbolic. It was real. Her position at the front, with the support of men such as Francis Bitanuma, Francis Ona, Damien Dameng and others was neither incidental, coincidental nor accidental. Her role at the forefront of this dispute over land was natural and logical, because in most of Bougainville it is through the women that land is inherited and passed down the generations.
That more and more landowners became willing to front up in crowds such as this, emboldened by the willing maternal leadership of someone who stood up to carry the mantle of those that bore grievances against their own PLOA, led by men. Serero, and the landowners who stood with her, made a brave and significant statement.
As the differences grew, the younger Panguna generation – alongside women like Serero and Gemel and the emerging, vociferous Francis Ona – turned their attention to Rio and BCL.
Increasingly they saw BCL and the old PLOA as having all the control and influence over what happened in special mining lease (SML) area. The injustice felt in not having much say weighed heavily and became a rallying point as captured in this photo.
All of us observing, reading and writing about the upheavals over Panguna, the mounting dissatisfaction, the criticism of the Bougainville Copper Agreement (BCA) and the rebellious response that shut down the giant mining operations, may find some satisfaction in the common truism that hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The BCA was a document familiar mostly to lawyers, investors and bankers and, of course, to the mining fraternity. It was not until well after the first power pylons fell, after deployment of the security forces and after the mine was closed that interest increase in reading the fine print of the BCA.
Coming, as they did, from a paperless village life, many landowners and Bougainvilleans in the community at large found little compulsion to read, let alone understand and appreciate legal agreements.
When the going was good everything was hunky dory. The landowners were getting their lease payments, social inconvenience compensations, royalties etc. The provincial government was doing well and was financially better placed than others in the country. Employees couldn’t really complain about the job opportunities, good salaries and wages. Their disposable income was far better than the public servant who also had to cope with overheads.
The majority of the landowners the BCA was purported to serve turned against it, despised and rebelled against it.
It is a story new generation of Panguna landowners is born into. It is not a story restricted to past or the future. Rather, it is a story that evokes timeless lessons and has some relevance for all of us forever throughout our lifetime.
It is true, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I have heard a lot about Perpetua
Serero. I never met her. I will never meet her in person because she has passed on.
She served her calling with tremendous support from men and women of the land. She had faith in customs and traditions that gave equal opportunities to women. These customs and traditions gave her the mantle and legitimacy to lead protests against the male dominated RMTL executives in the Panguna Landowners Association.
She faced an awful amount of pressure because of intense feuding over control of PLOA and RMTL in Panguna. She took the baton and ran her lap hoping to influence and change some of the male dominated status quo in the old PLOA.
The Australian Liberal and Labor colonial governments clearly saw what was going on and regarded Panguna mine as a future investment to finance a future, independent PNG. It turned out that any mining, unless the traditional land tenure is understood would be the Achilles of mining investment in Panguna, and indeed as it has turned out, in the rest of the country.
Men like Ona, Bitanuma, Dameng and women like Serero, Gemel and others gradually realised that unless they stood up and were counted, taking a stand against the inequities they saw, they would be swamped and inundated by the complacency that was prevalent, accepted, and that supported a Panguna that seemed all normal driven by profits and benefits of mining.
There are lessons Rio and BCL learnt out of the land dispute. Some of these lessons are harsh. Some even the best legal agreements cannot address, avert or fix, for they are based in customs and culture, not common law.
Panguna may be most uncommon dispute or problem of its time that a foreign mining company has had to face and deal with. Its repercussions and reverberations spread through Bougainville and indeed around the world very quickly. It has unearthed lessons that go well beyond issues normally associated with mining.
The Bel Kol approach initiated by the landowners shows traditional societies also have ways, means and mechanisms by which to resolve seemingly intractable disputes. These ways are local, restorative and win-win in their approach, not adversarial, competitive and foreign.
Some of the continuing pain, ill effects and trauma over lost land and lost dignity over Panguna are more destabilizing and debilitating than the crisis and conflict that landowners and many other Bougainvilleans endured.
Everyone that has lived through the crisis on the Island or has been affected one way or another, directly or indirectly, has had to deal with the horrors of crisis, war and conflict. Rebuilding lives, normalcy and returning to a resilient society is a longer journey that will take many generations over many lifetimes.
Little wonder people are prepared to protect their rights and defend the land with their lives. It is true, isn’t it, that one cannot fully understand and appreciate peace and freedom unless you either lose it or you have been suppressed.
I hope looking back we can pass on to the next generation the genuine benefits of hindsight.
55Leonard Fong Roka, Lawrence Daveona and 53 others