President Ishmael Toroama has urged Bougainvilleans to stand firm in the region’s aspirations for political independence as Bougainville begins the new year.
President Toroama made this statement to youths from the different Christian denominations throughout Bougainville who gathered at Roreinang United Church Mission last week.
“The question we have to ask ourselves today is, are we one of those patriotic Bougainvilleans willing to go the distance to achieve Bougainville’s aspirations for independence?” the President said.
“Are we steadfast in our resolve to contribute to being responsible citizens and to create a workaholic society that is committed to Bougainville’s development and the welfare of its citizens?” President Toroama stated.
“Our people must not waiver in our journey to independence, we must unite, we must stand firm so shall we realize Bougainville’s aspirations on political independence as a sovereign nation,” President Toroama said.
“Our new political roadmap is the ninety-eight percent (98%) referendum vote where we voted for Bougainville’s independence,” the President added.
“The will of our people to be independent through the referendum has clearly outlined what the Autonomous Bougainville Government must work towards achieving for the people of Bougainville,” he said.
However, President Toroama also outlined that there are challenges along the way which his government will have to settle in terms of creating a socioeconomic base for the Bougainville to build its political foundations.
The Toroama government has so far begun its plans on reforming the ABG infrastructure to will reflect its priorities on being independence ready.
In its first hundred days the government has already initiated several major economic projects in South and Central Bougainville.
It has also instituted reforms in the Bougainville Public Service through contractual engagements of Senior Management Staff and made an initial move in the Arawa Township with the opening of the Law and Justice Office Complex.
Most of these reforms and development initiatives are part of President Toroama’s drive to see a holistic approach to Bougainville being socially, economically and politically independent.
The first 100 days of the Toroama led Autonomous Bougainville Government has shown great promise with the government achieving a number of benchmarks since its inception in September.
It has been 80 days following the swearing-in of Ishmael Toroama as the fourth President of the Fourth Bougainville House of Representatives on 25th September this year.
President Toroama presented a progressive report of his government’s First 100 Days in the Bougainville House of Representatives today.
“The priorities for this Government were announced in my inauguration speech. I expected the Ministers to take your cue from my priorities and implement them through your respective Department Plans. I also expected ordinary members to take your cue from my priorities,” President Toroama said.
“My priorities were then packaged into the 100 Day Plan, with 11 Pillars that are being implemented by the various Departments,” President Toroama added.
The very first pillar was the setting up of the new government and cabinet; this was accomplished upon the President appointing his full cabinet to the 14 portfolios in the ABG.
The Toroama government has progressed Bougainville’s Independence preparations which are at an advanced stage, however, consultations are obviously happening slower the expected because of the national political context but the ABG ready to engage as soon as the situation stabilizes in Port Moresby.
The President has also launched the Manetai Lime stone project, the Integrated Agriculture Project at Tonolei in Buin District and the Integrated Landowner Group registration exercise for the Bana Special Economic Zone.
President Toroama said that the ABG is reviewing other failed ABG businesses to find ways of either resurrecting them or shutting them down for good.
In the law and justice sector the President has encouraged dialogue with the Konnou and Tonu factions to encourage reintegration into Bougainville under the ABG.
The Toroama Government is also responsible for funding and launching office space for three key law and justice agencies; the Department of Justice and Attorney General – Community Based Corrections, Office of the Public Solicitor and the ABG Department of Justice and Legal Services in Arawa.
The first 100 Days of the Toroama Presidency is focused on realigning the ABG’s priorities under the President Toroama’s Six (6) Point Strategies on developing Bougainville and making it independence ready.
Xmas Message from the President
Greetings to you all my people of Bougainville, this is the first Christmas message I am sharing with you as your President, since coming into office 4 months ago.
Christmas is a time of special Joy as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also a time for reflection and renewal in our spiritual and physical lives.
So, as we observe the spirit of Christmas, I want to give you a message of hope and assurance that we are on the right track in our political journey. And to also ask you to do your part as we walk together the journey towards independence.
My people of Bougainville, 2020 has been both very exciting and challenging.
We started the year with the excitement of the 98% Referendum result, without any complaints lodged within the prescribed 40-day period. This was then followed by the State of Emergency of the Covid-19 pandemic which has greatly impacted on the work of both the government, the civil society and the private sectors. Many small businesses are also struggling as a result.
We also experienced the excitement of forming a new Bougainville Government under my Presidency and the end of term of our most senior and longest serving political leader, Dr Chief John Momis.
As we all take a well-earned rest from our hectic duties, but most importantly, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I want us to also think about the following Christmas Messages.
The overall theme of my Christmas message is “Being Independence Ready by taking responsibility at your own level”:
Whether it is at the Individual level; the Family level; the Clan level; the Church level; the Community level; at the COE level, and at whatever level you belong to, we all have a responsibility to be independence ready.
My people of Bougainville, let me explain what I mean when I say this.
When we talk about “being independent”, it is not just political independence that we should have in mind but also being independent in the way we live our lives at all levels daily.
We must maintain the spirit of independence or self -help that we have always known in our lives. We have always built our own classrooms, health centres, churches, feeder roads and so one. We have always worked on the land or sea to look after our families.
All communities must be socially and economically “independent” through our own initiatives.
At the government level, ABG officers have already consulted with the PNG counterparts and reached a good understanding on the pathway for addressing the 98% vote for independence in 2021.
As we take “independence ready” actions at all levels, I appeal to you to also think seriously about the forthcoming Bougainville Regional seat by-elections. The next 2 years, is a very crucial period as we go into consultations with the PNG Government on the 98% and political independence for Bougainville.
The Bougainville Regional seat, is equivalent to a Governors’ seat in other provinces. This is not a time to vote for beginners. We need quality and experienced political leaders with active national and international links, who can fight for Bougainville independence, on the floor of PNG Parliament, and also lobby with international friends. There are six candidates from which you are to make your choice of 1, 2 and 3. I appeal to you to put party politics aside and vote for who will best deliver the Referendum result and Independence for Bougainville.
Law and Order:
My people of Bougainville, maintaining Law and Order, is a very important part of being “independent ready”.
When a star was borne in the East, according to the gospel of Mathew, three wise men travelled several days long distances, to offer gold, frankincense and myrrh and to honor the new born king. They were not troubled by any lawlessness on their way to see the new borne king.
We, as Christians in Bougainville, also have the last part of the journey towards political independence, and it is important that this journey is not disturbed by any law and order issues.
We must live peaceful and happy lives especially you young boys & girls. Young generation, you have a lot of opportunity where you are to work the land, or the sea and achieve something and live a good happy live.
Do not waste your lives feeling frustrated that you did not continue your education or that you did not find a job? The truth is that no one will give you a good life on a golden plate whilst you waste your life away on drugs and home brew.
The community is the place where we all live so it is up to all of us to make sure it is a safe and a happy place to live in.
It is impossible for Police to be in every community maintaining law and order because there are simply not enough Police men and women.
From now onwards, I expect the Chiefs, Pastors, Ward Councilors and Elders to take responsibility for maintaining law and order in each community.
Our star is rising in the east, and we must walk the journey together towards it as law abiding citizens.
My dear people of Bougainville, addressing corruption is another element of being “independence ready”. Regulating the behavior of the Public service and Leaders is essential to stopping corrupt behavior.
The Ombudsman Commission will be strengthening its presence and role in Bougainville in this regard.
We the people of Bougainville, also have a big role to play in reducing corruption by leaders and the public service. We must stop having expectations of handout mentality by government or the leaders. If we stop expecting leaders to give us money or material goods, the leaders will also stop misusing public monies.
The culture of “false claims” into Govt offices by various stakeholders must also stop because it promotes corrupt behaviors.
Isaiah 1:4 says “Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption. They have forsaken the lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him”.
As we celebrate Christmas as Christians, we voters or constituencies must stop our expectations of leaders for “cargo development” or hand-outs because that will help in reducing corruption.
My people of Bougainville, another area in which we must be “independence ready” is the economy. At every level, we must be economically independent. The family unit, the clan system and the community are the fundamental building blocks of our Bougainville society. Each of these levels must have strong economic foundations.
Papa or mama noken kamapim pikinini na raun natin natin na spak home brew or marijuana. When you give birth to a child, it is your responsibility to give that child good clothes, good house, good health, good education and a good life for the rest of his/her adult life. From 2021 onwards, I do not want to see idle parent-youths roaming the streets of Buka, Arawa and Buin towns. You mas stap lo ples na kamapim economy blo lukautim pikinini yu kamapim.
At the government level, we have already launched the Manetai limestone project. We are also increasing efforts in progressing the Bana Free Trade Zone through the establishment of the Integrated Land Groups registration process.
In 2021, my government, will develop and implement initiatives aimed at growing the Bougainville economy quickly. These initiatives include increasing the internal tax revenue base, establishing enterprises (such gold marketing) with early revenue returns, reviewing and improving the government business arms whilst also developing medium to long term plans. My government, with the support of international partners, is planning to hold an Economic Summit in April 2021.
Through this Christmas message I want to alert the Bougainville Administration to rise up to the Task of growing our economy and not become a bottle neck to our growth.
Working with Communities
My people of Bougainville, the large majority of our citizens live in villages. And yet we have a system of government where decisions, resources and services delivery are town oriented.
We need a paradigm shift in the way both Govt and private sector do business. On the part of Govt, we must explore ways of transferring some powers and functions down to the district level. This should be supported by necessary social and economic infrastructure and services delivery. People should not be made to travel the whole day to come to Buka to get government services but go to their district headquarters.
Likewise, the private sector should also invest at the District level instead of Buka and Arawa only. That way, both govt and the private sector will promote balanced development throughout Bougainville. I challenge the administration and the private sector to make this change happen.
I am happy to announce to the people of Bougainville that the BEC recently approved the establishment of the Bougainville Strategic Research and Planning Secretariat which will drive the changes that I have been advocating since becoming your President.
Celebrating the meaning of Christmas
Finally, my people of Bougainville, Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the earthy beings of Joseph and Mary in a stable in Bethlehem – Bringing Joy to the world!!.
It is also a time of renewing relationships, a time of receiving and giving, and a time of making new commitments.
Some of us may have lost loved ones during the year, and it may be time to remember and honor their memories.
Whichever it is for you and your family, I want to encourage you to stay safe, celebrate and honor in the Christian way.
AND ABOVE ALL HAVE A PEACEFUL AND BLESSED MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A VERY PROSPEROUS 2021
“It is circa 1973/74. We are gutting fish on the main village shore after returning home with a decent haul of tuna to share at the dinner table. The rest will be sold at the fish market. It was a good day out because we returned before sundown with a good amount of daylight still left to do other things.
John next to me in the photograph had recently commenced work and studies with a government entity in Port Moresby. I was almost nearing the end of my undergraduate studies at UPNG and eager to return to full time work with the House of Assembly.We met in the village at Christmas holidays.
These are some of the best times in the lives of our generation. We had just gotten one foot in the modern world in a country with everything going for it, and another foot still supplanted at home so that we combined and enjoyed the best of both worlds. “
PHOTO above : c1973/74: We are a sensible, sharing and giving society. Greed is incongruent to the values of social egalitarian societies where the community benefits, the family or clan shares from collective efforts of everyone.
It was the land of plenty everywhere in PNG. And it still is but it is not the same place with the same kind of regard it deserves any more. Bougainville, not unlike other provinces at the time, was a good example of an Island with abundance of resources more than enough to ably support its population.
Generally, then we could not falter people’s enthusiasm. I remember in the villages and in the towns and cities for example no one could falter the enthusiasm for education every child desired to better themselves or to land a good paid job in a government office or in a company business in the city. It was affordable to go to school.
Going back to fishing, we didn’t know, or had heard about overfishing. The fish around our Island waters were schooling around in large numbers. You did not have to go far as we do today to make a good catch before heading home. The migratory pelagic fish were plentiful in the harbour, other fish were good game around the the edges of the island’s shoals and shores.
It was worthwhile going out not because you expected to bring in a good catch all the time but because the sea was nice, in good heath, alive and vibrant and thus able to support a lot of sensible fishing. And we could swim as much and as long as we wanted.
It wasn’t just the sea that mattered and the subject of conversation of fishermen. Looking forward returning home the land looked very lush green with thriving forests. It always gave us a sense and appreciation that our world of the living was not just about our species but about a world where everything thrived all around us.
Our lives were intimated with the natural surroundings that we are very much a part of.
These kinds of memories and stories are rarer, and far and in between to tell. Why? Because we are no longer able to control the scripts and scenarios and tell the stories they represent. Instead we start our mornings reading gloomy stories that are carried on front page newspaper headlines.
These past weeks, instead of working and thinking things through together for the people and for the love of the country, the first love of those who we elect to represent us is self preservation, by and large.
May be all is not lost. Not yet anyway but we can’t say the scepticism and cynicism isn’t around. If we can go back to telling simple, perhaps unassuming, stories about where we have come from, where we are now and where we might be headed, perhaps some sense and sobriety will remain.
We expect leaders to make the hard decisions. But they must be sensible decisions. It is irrelevant who is making the decisions. What is important and relevant is the decisions are in the best interest and benefit of the People. Our leaders are like our trustees, we are the beneficiaries.
If we are not careful, the first thing we may lose is ourselves, our sense and sensibility of who we are and where we are at. The next thing we may lose is care, love and respect for the state. Beyond this starts to get a bit beyond the pale where only a handful of people care and we must wonder whether the leaders recognise or know where we are going and might end up.
When all is said and done the worst position to be in is to not realise or recognise or feel whether any of this may not be a self indictment of how little we care any more for the country.
There is rhyme, reason and ritual to hunting, gathering and fishing. Not so long ago the beneficiaries which is the community always recognised this knowing that their hunters, gatherers and fishers always brought home something to the dinner table for all to share.
After two adjournments and a third one yesterday after the intervention of the Judiciary I’m not sure what this House will bring anything to the dinner table that is beneficial and palatable to share with its people that are developing a growing concern (may be even fear) and a reason to be sceptical and cynical about leadership and governance in this country.
” PANGUNA and its landowners have had a mixture of these feelings and positions during the time of mining but have not felt much this way since the mine was forcibly shut down at the end of 1989. That is 31 years ago now.
The ordinary folk up there that still wake up to an altered landscape with their women – mothers of the land – are still asking what they did to deserve this as they eke out their livelihood from their usable plots of land which are mostly on hillsides.”
Contributed by Simon Pentanu
Their biggest local hero Francis Ona came to prominence when he took a stand against his own extended family members and BCL for what he saw as an unfair and unjust payment and distribution of royalty, lease, inconvenience payments and other payments.
Ona was incensed by what he thought and saw as the vanguard of RMTL Executives supported by BCL against a mounting dissatisfaction of younger landowners who felt their grievances and interests for the share of the pie was not being given due consideration.
Their growing frustration culminated in an attempt to out-vote and replace the elderly and duly elected PLOA whose numbers comprised the majority in the RMTL Executive. Rather defiantly, if not boisterously, an AGM was convoked by Francis with this specific aim in mind.
Let us say the rest is history now, a short and sad history that BCL and the rest of Bougainville became embroiled in without any indication or warning that armed conflict, menace and mass exodus was going to follow. It is a history that is intertwined with irreverent behaviour, blood letting and a descent into the abyss that we must never follow or repeat.
The fall out from the voluntary pull out and disbursement of shares in BCL by Rio has developed into arguments and differences between some of the same people that Francis took a singular hard line stance against. If time heals, up in Panguna the healing has been slow though not exactly without some positive progress.
The reverberations have been still audible and the fractures have been still visible. In the mean time everyone else is still trying to figure out what Panguna means now after Rio has pulled the plug and cartwheeled out of Bougainville.
Well not quite! Rio was left in both an unenviable and untenable position that left it little choice but to make the commercial decision it made. The pros and cons, the timing and implications of Rio’s decision will long be argued, possibly in the Court rooms as well. What is most certain is Rio will never find any favour in Bougainville by landowners. Not in any obvious way anyway.
In the beginning everyone rushed into Panguna like honey bees taking to a new beehive. To the mining investor at the time it was seen as a cash cow ideally located in the largely virgin Crown Prince Range. The forest was dense green, the creeks and flowing rivers and estuaries pristine and bird life and marsupials adorning their habitat in plentiful numbers.
For everyone, including the often bewildered, sometimes excited and expectant landowners this was probably the best opportunity to catapult Bougainville from the backwaters to unimaginable affluence. No one foresaw or imagined the stuff of effluence that everyone from miner to landowner, hardliner to politician and the environmentalist would be mired in.
When the decision was made to mine, its timing and the set and scene was ideal. To the colonial administering authority Panguna provided the perfect investment to finance the Territory of Papua and New Guinea which was already showing signs that its political independence was emerging as an issue for open and frank discussion with Canberra. To Australian PM then, John Gorton, and his Ministers at the time Charles Barnes, Andrew Peacock and those in Konedobu like David Hay, APJ Newman, Tom Ellis and others Panguna looked a very promising prospect if Independence was going to be forced and fostered on PNG sooner than later.
As the turnstiles sometimes turn in history, it turned out it was Gough Whitlam and his Labour Government that gave the inevitable nod to Independence.
The dye was cast both for Panguna to go ahead as a real mining proposition and for the inevitable political process and transition to Independence for Papua and New Guinea as a single entity and as one country.
I’m not sure whether Panguna today is lying flat on its face or lying down on its belly. I don’t think it is either. After the landscape has been defaced and the booty and loot is gone there isn’t much of the old Panguna face that is left to be recognizable any more. And it has no belly to speak of or talk about after it has been gutted out.
But for the insatiable world hungry for minerals there is not any aota of doubt that Panguna and and its surroundings and vicinity still hold billions worth of copper, gold and silver below people’s customary land.
So what else is left of Panguna? Among the LOs they are pitted at different ends of the same table but they are seeking the same outcomes in different ways with different foreign interests.
The remnants of the old and new LOs may not be obviously visible but some of the same players that bore much of the brunt of Francis Ona’s spite and antagonism still differ in their demands and approach, even the modus operandi on how the last of the spoils from the damages might be shared or divided and how the mine might be regurgitated into the future.
What is more and more stark is, in the landowning family and extended family the differences and cracks in their arguments and claims about who has more rights to entice investors or negotiate with ABG or deal with anybody for that matter has never been more uncertain and never more confusing.
The alliances and dalliances landowners have formed with foreign interests has also added to the differences and arguments, and even doubts, as to who has more rights and claims to SML and other leases up there.
In this regard the Bougainville mining law has been tested more or less whether it adequately covers the interest of the landowners as espoused or intended in the preamble and opening provisions of the Bougainville constitution.
IF we have all learnt anything from Panguna, it is this. We have not learnt enough.
” The use of mobile technologies in the 2019 Bougainville referendum presents both opportunities and challenges for the future of democracy in the Pacific, Amanda H A Watson, Jeremy Miller and Adriana Schmidt write.
In the pre-referendum period, there was a strong emphasis on the need for widespread voter education to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the vote itself, and to maintain unity and peace. A number of initiatives were undertaken by the Bougainville government and other partners to overcome people’s lack of access to traditional mass media (radio, television and newspapers).”
This article is based upon a paper published by the ANU Department of Pacific Affairs (DPA) as part of its ‘Discussion paper’ series. The original paper can be foundhere.
The research will also be presented ina webinaron 27 October 2020.
This article focuses on one initiative, a telephone information hotline that operated for eight weeks just before polling. It allowed people to ring a free-call number and hear pre-recorded messages about peacebuilding and the three pillars of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. Callers were able to press 1 to hear information on peacebuilding, 2 for autonomy, 3 for the referendum and 4 for weapons disposal.
Each message was less than two minutes and recordings were updated weekly. This provided about an hour’s worth of audio information in total. The service was promoted through traditional media channels, but principally through an introductory, automated ‘robocall’ from the President of Bougainville. This was followed by subsequent weekly text messages announcing the availability of new recordings.
The service was the first of its kind in PNG and was envisaged as a short pilot to identify the usefulness of the technology for public information dissemination in Bougainville. It was implemented by the Autonomous Bougainville Government with the support of the PNG, Australian and New Zealand governments, and operated by Digicel.
Research into the efficacy of the service was undertaken during its final two weeks, just prior to polling. Eight group interviews were conducted with local community leaders, women and youths in a mix of rural and urban settings across Bougainville.
Of the 42 people who participated in the group interviews, 37 owned mobile telephones at the time of the research. Many of the handsets were basic mobile telephones – suitable for text messaging and calls only – rather than smartphones. Many handsets had flat batteries on the day of the group interview – this indicates a technological challenge of daily life in Bougainville, which has consequences for mobile telephone initiatives.
While 79,285 calls were made to the hotline over the eight-week pilot, overall, the knowledge of the telephone hotline amongst research participants was generally low. The automated ‘robocall’ from the President announcing the service was not in fact received by most participants, and many did not consistently receive the weekly text message reminders. This indicated that the strategy fell short of its promise, which reduced uptake of the service.
As intended, some users gathered in groups to listen to the recordings. Also, the hotline had been used in places where people had no access to radio and very limited access to other forms of media. Participants generally thought the hotline should be continued in the post-referendum period but suggested increasing awareness of the service itself.
There was much discussion about the need to improve mobile network coverage, which participants said was weak and inconsistent, with no coverage in some villages. There were also requests for improvements to other communication mediums, particularly radio broadcasting. Despite these challenges, it was perceived that referendum awareness had been thorough. Most participants felt they and their fellow community members had sufficient knowledge about the referendum and were ready to vote.
The research found no striking differences in the awareness or use of the service by age or gender. Differences were noticeable, however, between the three regions of Bougainville regarding access to mobile network coverage, as well as access to other information and communication mediums. For example, in South Bougainville, participants reported substantial challenges with the quality and reach of mobile network signals and said that they had almost no access to radio stations, newspapers or television.
As Hogeveen argues, there is a trend in the Pacific region towards ‘digital aid’ in which international donors utilise information and communication technologies. The Bougainville hotline is one such example. Chand contends that, given limited access to radio, textbooks and other information sources, the utilisation of digital technologies could allow delivery of basic services in Bougainville. For example, as part of their emergency response to COVID-19, both the PNG and Bougainville governments are operating free-call telephone information hotlines for their citizens.
The design of the referendum hotline was in line with published guidelines for the strategic use of mobile telephones in PNG. For instance, that technology should be simple to use for people with low literacy, numeracy and technical skills. This hotline was relatively simple to use, providing a free-call number, with four options of audio messages to listen to.
Even so, some research participants did not understand how to select the four options or that the messages changed each week. Careful consideration of ‘mobile telephone literacy’ is needed in the design and promotion of future innovative services.
Research participants commented that the free-call design was beneficial for them. Lack of mobile telephone credit is a huge barrier for people throughout PNG, due to both affordability and logistical challenges of locating a place or method to buy credit.
So, what are the implications for the delivery of public information in Bougainville and elsewhere in the Pacific?
Effective government-to-people communications are vital for an informed and engaged citizenry and are essential for the effective operation of democracy. For Bougainville, it could be argued that the post-referendum negotiation process now taking place between the Bougainville and national governments requires an even more intensive communications and community engagement effort. If there are broader lessons to be learnt, it is that an engaged and informed population, reached through a range of mediums, can make a positive contribution to the process.
If there are to be future iterations of a telephone hotline in Bougainville or elsewhere, it must be but one tool in an multi-channel effort. The technology must be pre-tested and well promoted. Research participants also suggested leveraging the hotline for use in community-based, face-to-face activities.
Some asked if the audio files could be made available through other means, such as flash drives. Sharing of digital content by Bluetooth or local Wi-Fi hotspots does present another opportunity for those with suitable devices.
Mobile telephones, particularly when paired with other mediums, can play a role in delivering civic education and increasing community engagement throughout the Pacific. However, the design of future mobile telephone-led interventions may benefit from being realistic about the effective reach of current mobile telephone service and infrastructure.
This bigger issue of large information ‘blackspots’ in Bougainville, due to poor access to mobile telephony, radio or other information channels, will continue to challenge government and development communicators alike. Mobile telephone users in Bougainville struggle with accessing continuous, reliable mobile network coverage and keeping their handset batteries charged – and they want radio coverage restored to pre-conflict standards. Both in Bougainville and elsewhere in PNG, there is a large gap between ideal and actual service delivery.
This article is based upon a paper published by the ANU Department of Pacific Affairs (DPA) as part of its ‘Discussion paper’ series. The original paper can be found here. The research will also be presented in a webinar on 27 October 2020.
Last year, the people of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville voted overwhelmingly to break away from Papua New Guinea in a non-binding referendum.
In the pre-referendum period, there was a strong focus on informing voters about the two referendum options (independence or greater autonomy) to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the result and help maintain peace in a post-conflict setting.
This seminar will include brief presentations by the producers of a telephone information hotline that operated for eight weeks just before polling. The hotline was a national first in the application of a mobile telephone-based platform to deliver public information en masse.
It allowed Bougainvilleans to ring a free-call number and hear pre-recorded messages about the referendum and the two other pillars of the Bougainville Peace Agreement – autonomy and weapons disposal.
The hotline was one element of a multi-media package of government information initiatives supported by Australia and New Zealand.
There will also be a presentation by the audience researcher who analysed the impact of the service.
The qualitative research findings, which were recently published as a part of the Discussion Paper Series of the Department of Pacific Affairs, assess the effectiveness of the telephone hotline in delivering government information directly to citizens. Recommendations will be made about whether such a service should continue.
NOTE: For our audience in Port Moresby and Bougainville, the event will be at 3PM and 4PM respectively (local times).
Gordon Peake Gordon Peake is a 2020-2021 Visitor with the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) at the Australian National University. He worked as an adviser to the Bougainville government 2016-2020.
Amanda H.A. Watson Amanda H.A. Watson is a Research Fellow with the Department of Pacific Affairs at Australian National University.
Jeremy Miller Jeremy Miller is a strategic media and communications adviser with over 15 years of experience in Melanesia. He has worked with the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Directorate of Media and Communication since 2014. In 2019 he was seconded to the Bougainville Referendum Commission to lead the media and voter communications campaign. Mr Miller’s position is supported by the Bougainville Partnership, a development partnership between the governments of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.
Adriana Schmidt Adriana Schmidt is the Director of the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Directorate of Media and Communication, the agency responsible for whole of government communications. The Directorate is under the Department of President and the Bougainville Executive Council.
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!
” The very way that Ishmael Toroama lived was an act of leadership unto itself, whose impact resonates and calls to us today and delivered him a margin victory in the elections.
What we do know is that Toroama has been an independence fighter. He was instrumental in the Signing of the Peace Agreement in 2001 and through the reconciliation process. His leadership, unlike the last four presidency terms, comes in a time so fragile and critical to Bougainville’s future for independence. The majority of the Bougainville people want independence, but we know that the PNG government has shown no support for this.
His immediate problem as President will be managing relations with the PNG government, which I know is not at all inclined to grant Bougainvillea’s their clearly expressed wish for independence.”
Livingstone T Fontenu from MA Global Governance
Ishmael Toroama, a former secessionist military commander turned peacemaker and cocoa farmer, has been elected the president of PNG’s autonomous Bougainville region, in a further fillip for the province’s push for independence from Papua New Guinea.
“We conducted a clean campaign, we did not give money to the voters and we did not intimidate any voters: people have used their God-given wisdom to vote for the right candidate,” Toroama said after his victory was announced.
“I will stand up for independence in Bougainville… it is now time to work together.”
In his campaign, Toroama stressed the restoration of law and order was a priority, and said the province’s independence question needed to be resolved swiftly. He has proposed a timeline of two to three years.
Renowned for his role as a commander in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), Tororama was at the forefront of much of the BRA’s decade-long civil war against the PNG government.
The conflict and subsequent military blockade – provoked by the the environmental damage wrought by the Rio Tinto’s massive Panguna copper mine, as well as disputes over the limited share of mine profits going to the island’s inhabitants – led to the deaths up to 20,000 people between 1988 and 1998.
Wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade in 1997, Toroama later laid down his arms to help broker the Bougainville Peace Agreement that was eventually signed in 2001, and was a key advocate in the disarmament process before returning to his land in central Bougainville to grow cocoa.
He will now lead the talks with the PNG government on the terms of the island’s independence.
The general election was the first since Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence from PNG at the end of last year. More than 98% of voters supported independence in the non-binding referendum, but that independence now needs to be negotiated with a central PNG government reluctant to lose the resource-rich province.
Bougainville, a group of islands in PNG’s east that has close relations with neighbouring Solomon Islands, has been hampered post-conflict by years of poor economic progress, despite its abundance of natural resources.
On the election trail, the Bougainvillean newspaper reported Toroama’s campaign saying: “I am standing to be the change. The change people want, the change people can see and feel, the change people have been crying for, the change people expect to see and the change that has never happened during the course of the first three parliaments of Bougainville”.
Any re-opening of the Panguna mine – which would be intensely controversial in the province – was a decision for the owners of that land, Toroama has said.
PNG prime minister James Marape offered his congratulations on Toroama’s “conclusive” victory.
“I offer my support to work with you to deliver on my commitments to Bougainville,” he said. “[And] to the people of Bougainville, thank you for your peace and serenity as you decided on your government. Looking forward to work with your leaders including the president.”
But Marape’s government has been careful not to commit to granting Bougainville independence in the wake of the referendum.
Marape has said his government is willing to talk to Bougainville’s leaders, but has framed discussions around self-determination and “economic independence”, while carefully avoiding commitments to political independence.
Toroama defeated 24 other candidates for the presidency, seeking to replace the retiring John Momis who has dominated Bougainvillean politics, as governor and president, for decades.
Momis had sought a third term – in defiance of Bougainville’s constitution which limits presidents to two – but lost a challenge before the supreme court. Toroama ran second to Momis in the previous election.
Parliamentary elections parallel to the presidential poll marked a significant shift from the status quo in Bougainville politics. Many long-term members of the province’s house of representatives lost their seats to young, millennial generation leaders, such as Theonila Matbob, born during the civil war, and elected to the constituency of Ioro, home to the disused Panguna mine.
” 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)