“ In furthering the Bougainville Peace process in the Post Referendum period and having met 11 January 2020, we officially reaffirm and assure the people of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville that the Governments of PNG and Bougainville is committed to the process of the joint consultations on the outcome of the referendum.”
The signing of the Joint Communique today signals our intention to immediately commence the joint consultations as is required by the National Constitution under Section 342 (1) and the Bougainville Peace Agreement under Clause 311 (b) for the Government of Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Bougainville Government to consult over the outcome or result of the Bougainville referendum.
This Joint Communique affirms that as required by the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the referendum outcome will be subject to ratification (final decision making) of the National Parliament while Section 342 (2) of the National Constitution has made the decision of the National Parliament relating to the referendum result subject to the consultation under Section 342 (1).
The Joint Communique builds on the tremendous achievements of both Governments and establishes the following facts and principles of the Bougainville Peace process;
That the Bougainville Peace Agreement provides for a political right to Bougainvilleans to a referendum, among Bougainvilleans, on the future political status of Bougainville; and
That the National Government had guaranteed that political right through Section 338 (1) of the National Constitution; and
That the constitutional guarantee for the referendum under Section 338 (1) of the National Constitution depended on the fulfillment by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) of conditions relating to weapons disposal and good governance, of which the ABG satisfactorily met; and
That the choice for separate independence was guaranteed under Section 339 (c) of the National Constitution as one of a number of possible choices available to Bougainvilleans in the referendum; and
That the both Governments had agreed to the definition of independence before the conduct of the referendum to mean an independent nation with sovereign powers and laws, recognized under international law and by other international states to be an independent state, separate from the state of Papua New Guinea, with a defined territory, inclusive of maritime boundaries and associated exclusive economic zones; and a government chosen by its people; and capacity to enter into and manage international relations and United Nations membership; and
That the referendum question and the following two choices presented to Bougainvilleans in the referendum were intended to facilitate a clear result: Option 1 – Greater Autonomy, and Option 2 – Independence; and
That the referendum was conducted by an impartial Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC), headed by Mr. Bertie Ahern of Ireland, which comprised of a fair number of representatives from the National Government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government; and
That the referendum that was held between November and December 2019 and witnessed by international observers was free and fair, and according to observer groups “credible, transparent and inclusive”; and
That a total number of 181,067 Bougainvilleans voted in the referendum, and out of that 97.7 % of them chose independence; and
That the report of the Bougainville Referendum Commission was tabled in both the National Parliament and the Bougainville House of Representatives, and was unanimously endorsed by both parliaments.
In adopting fully these established facts and principles; We hereby agree that the upcoming joint consultations will be moderated by an appointed Moderator and will be, but not limited to, addressing the key issues on the future political status of Bougainville, the method of endorsement by the National Parliament and the Documentation of record of the joint consultation.
Finally, in memory of the late Sir Mekere Morauta, for his contributions to the Bougainville Peace process as a former Prime Minister of our Nation and for his role as a signatory to the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001, this Joint Communique embodies both our Government’s sincerity to continued peace by peaceful means.
“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!
” 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)
” The Australian governor general John Kerr warned the Queen that a plan for Bougainville independence was not lawful, was opposed by Australia and Rio Tinto copper interests, and would increase regional instability and force Australia to hand more financial support to Papua New Guinea. ”
Picture above : Almost 100% of Bougainville voters backed independence in last year’s referendum but palace letters show Australia’s governor general John Kerr told the Queen that such a move ‘cannot be done legally
The so-called palace letters, a trove of previously secret royal correspondence, shows the Queen’s private secretary Martin Charteris responded by comparing Bougainville to Scotland and its hopes that oil reserves could fund independence.
The documents released by Australia’s national archives shed new light on the royal attitude to the secessionist movement in Bougainville.
Momentum for Bougainville to secede from Papua New Guinea grew as PNG itself declared independence from Australia in 1975, while retaining the Queen as its monarch.
The region is home to the vast Panguna mine, then the world’s biggest open-cut copper mine, owned by Bougainville Copper Limited, which then had Conzinc Rio Tinto as major shareholder.
On 19 August 1975, Kerr briefed Charteris on his “thinking” on the growing secessionist movement in Bougainville and a plan to secede unilaterally from PNG in September, the same month PNG secured its independence from Australia.
“This cannot be done legally,” Kerr wrote.
He said Rio Tinto was in favour of a “united Papua New Guinea”, though he said that may change if it deemed its long-term interests lay elsewhere.
Australia also had good reasons for opposing the secession, he said.
“There are good reasons from Australia’s point of view why a united Papua New Guinea would be desirable though achievement of this is probably not essential to Australia’s national interest,” he wrote.
“If Bougainville successfully secedes, Papua New Guinea would be weaker economically, and hence likely to be more pressing, so far as Australia is concerned, for economic support.”
“Bougainville secession would also increase the possibility of instability in Papua New Guinea in other areas.”
Kerr also lamented Australian aid cuts to PNG at the same time, saying they were “most unfortunate … on the very eve of independence”.
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