Leonard Fong Roka
Papua New Guinea was built at the cost of the alienation of the Solomon island people of Bougainville. Bougainville people were belittled by the influx of non-Bougainville and non-Solomon people and cultures. Bougainville suffered environmental destruction that will take hundreds of years for ecology to put some order cause by the extraction of ore to finance PNG.
For this injustice a people went to an armed struggle against the state of PNG, its peoples, and the miner Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) (I include ‘its peoples’ because the Panguna mine property vandalism and attack on employees came later then the attacks on New Guinean squatter settlements around all Bougainvillean urban areas).
This armed crisis backed by an unprepared political leadership ended in a decade long struggle of a civil conflict and a negotiated multilateral peace process that was more-PNG friendly and not Bougainville oriented.
In PNG, as most literature pinpoints, the Bougainville economy collapsed with the crisis while all provinces were advancing. But with the Bougainville peace process, it is obvious that PNG came stronger to choke Bougainville on its still chaotic recovery process.
In a 2001 article, Agreed Principles on Referendum (online) it is read:
4 a) The constitutional amendments will guarantee that the referendum will be held:
· No earlier than 10 years and, in any case, no later than 15 years after the election of the first autonomous Bougainville Government,
· When conditions listed below have been met,
· Unless the autonomous Bougainville Government decides, after consultation with the National Government and in accordance with the Bougainville Constitution, that the referendum should be held;
b) The conditions to be taken into account include:
o Weapons disposal, and
o Good governance;
After the signing of these terms of referendum, a 2001 article by Norm Dixon, Bougainville: Referendum Terms Questioned (online) appeared. In it, the PNG and the Australian governments hailed the referendum terms as a ‘break through’ and ‘a milestone’ but the Bougainvilleans had questioned it.
Former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) leader Sam Kauona accused the late Joseph Kabui and Joel Banam who led the Bougainville delegation to sign terms of the referendum in Kokopo in 26 January 2001 as ‘given too much away to a dishonest government’ and added that ‘The survival of the PNG/Bougainville peace process depends very much on honesty, fairness and transparency…If we have not learned from our past mistakes then this struggle could go on for another 40 years.’
Honesty, fairness and transparency are foreign attributes in the current nature of PNG’s dealing with the Bougainville people and government. In the whole PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill January 2014 tour of Bougainville he hardly talked about Bougainville rights to referendum or self determination.
In a February 5, 2014 David Lornie Post Courier article, Maurua: PM to clarify views on referendum, a Siwai pastor said ‘I’m feeling that I don’t understand Papua New Guinea’s position on independence. They are not serious about what we think because 2014 is the last year before we enter the window of referendum.’ This is one of the many doubts on Bougainville and those with guns seem to be happy that they did not throw away their guns so that PNG will play on with Bougainville.
Again the PNG thinking was captured by Light Intervention: Lessons from Bougainville, by Regan (2010: 127) that:
The logic is that in the 10 to 15 years from the establishment of the ABG in 2005, the PNG government has the opportunity to work closely with the ABG to promote all forms of development in Bougainville in a way that could be expected to encourage Bougainvilleans to consider the possible merits of remaining a part of PNG when it comes time to vote in the referendum.
PNG is at work. It succeeded to influence the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) to created friction to the Bougainville progress and now it is all about winning Bougainvillean hearts to see Bougainville has problems through the PNG lens and not the Bougainville lens.
And the Peter O’Neill 2014 tour shows all the proof of PNG activities to undermine the Bougainville government, the ABG.
During the three-day tour the PNG delegation announced multi-million dollar development projects like the re-opening of the Aropa International Airport by the PNG government for Bougainville thus exciting the people and a handful of leaders. In all these projects’ launchings afterwards, a PNG minister flies into Bougainville from Port Moresby to officiate and not an ABG minister.
Bougainville’s ABG had endured continuous loud attacks for not bringing development from Bougainville’s own representatives in the PNG parliament mainly Hon. Jimmy Miringtoro from Central Bougainville and Hon. Steven Pirika from South Bougainville and little from Hon. Lauta Atoi from the North excluding the regional MP, Hon. Joe Lera who had been productively working with the ABG.
And all these condemnation of the government that came out as the result of the peace process with the responsibility to carry Bougainville forward is the national MPs has the financial power then the struggling and PNG-depended ABG.
The three MPs had been so destructive on ABG and not supportive. An ABG parliamentarian sent me a text message few days ago claiming:
We believe PNG has agents in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville to disrupt our preparations for referendum. Our national MPs, except the regional MP, are all agents of PNG. They feel comfortable with what they are receiving [from the PNG government] while majority of Bougainvilleans continue to struggle. They use the DSIP funds to promote “PNG’s might” and attempt to convince and mislead Bougainvilleans thus undermining the ABG. Tasol ol bai tait (But they won’t succeed).
But PNG intentions are all clear they are pursuing their baseless, disrespectful and irrelevant desire of Bougainville’s integration into PNG so it can remain enslaved under its old claws of the pre-1990 days.