Bougainville. Papua New Guinea press review
The Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) has formally wound up its operations after conducting the referendum on Papua New Guinea (PNG) independence and presenting a final report about it to PNG Prime Minister James. It is important to mention that non-binding vote registered 98 percent support for independence, with consultations between the two governments expected to run for a year from this September.
The BRC chair Bertie Ahern said: «the peaceful vote signaled the end of just the latest step in the long-standing Bougainville-Papua New Guinea peace process […] the referendum result will bring more hard work. But I’m confident that what I have witnessed and learnt is a resilience and an unwavering commitment to peace by peaceful means». PNG’s Electoral Commissioner, Patilias Gamato, who was also on the BRC, that with the support and resources of both governments and the international community, the referendum has ‘raised the bar’ for electoral events.
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Hon. James Marape thanked the BRC for the successful referendum and told that his government is working on giving greater autonomy to other provinces while still keeping the country united. At the report presentation, Mr. Gamato announced the return of 2-million-kina (US$577 hundred) in funding saved from referendum costs to the government. Mr. Marape said the money would be used for commitments in the autonomous region. Meanwhile, the PNG government said consultations over how to implement the referendum result would have to take in a wide range of views from around the country. According to the prime minister, the government is determined that the result of the referendum should not encourage other parts of the country to look to break away from PNG.
The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court has upheld a majority vote in the Bougainville parliament in February not to change the Constitution to allow presidents to hold the role for a third term. Earlier, Mr. Momis, who has been president for the past ten years, had sought a Supreme Court reference, saying being stopped from running denied him his constitutional rights. He also said many people had urged him to run to ensure the negotiations over the outcome of independence referendum in 2019 went well. But some Bougainville politicians argued Mr. Momis, who has suffered from health issues in recent years, should make way for someone with a new approach. Earlier Mr. Momis had said if the Supreme Court turned down his application he would be happy to go into retirement. It would signal the end of a political involvement going back to the 1960s.
At the same time, professor of University of Wollongong, Australia, Ted Wolfers, who taught the young John Momis and then worked with him, writing the PNG Constitution in the early 1970s, said that Mr. Momis is «someone who stood for principles that often had a wider appeal». According to Mr. Wolfers, John Momis is one of those that people turn to at critical moments. Moreover, due to what professor said, John Momis brought Bougainvilleans together successfully for independence referendum vote in 2019.
Bougainville Electoral Commissioner George Manu stated the region is preparing for the fourth elections and writs will be issued on June 17, 2020. According to Mr. Manu, the election budget is K13.5 million (US$3,9 million). The common roll that was used during the referendum in 2019 with some updates will be used. Writs would be returned to the governor-general on September 15. The conduct of the ABG election in 2020 will be similar to the conduct of the referendum in 2019.
Former Bougainville House of Representatives speaker Andrew Miriki has also respond positively about Mr. Momis, and then officially stated about his intention to contest the ABG Presidential Elections. Mr. Miriki from South Bougainville said he had been waiting for Supreme Court decision on one Bougainville and PNG’s great leaders John Momis. «Momis is the highest regarded leader of Buin, Bougainville, PNG, and the international community knows him well […] We leaders of today could not match Momis, but by the same token I would like to continue what Momis has done and left » – Mr Miriki said.
Furthermore, former Bougainville interim government secretary of state and chief peace negotiator (1992-1999) Martin Miriori has also announced his intention to contest the elections. Mr Miriori played a major role at the technical officer’s level on the so-called rebel side and a longtime supporter of Bougainville independence since day one. In 1985 upon the recommendation from then the Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea Rabbie Namaliu, Mr Miriori joined the South Pacific Forum (now it is called Pacific Islands Forum) in Suva (Fiji) and represented Papua New Guinea as project officer primarily responsible for private sector development in the 16-member forum island countries, which include Australia and New Zealand. Mr Miriori is also elder brother of the first founding presided of ABG late Joseph Kabui from June 15, 2005 – June 7, 2008 and a prominent landowner of now the defunct huge Panguna mine since 1989. Now Mr Miriori is a successful businessman in Buka.
Application for grants are open for cocoa farmer groups in Bougainville, providing them with opportunity to increase quantity, improve quality and get better access to markets. The grant scheme is an initiative of governments of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. It is important to mention that it is the second round of application for grants. The first was in 2017-2020. Australian High Commissioner, John Philp, said the program is part of a partnership to foster agriculture and economic development in Bougainville. «Australia is delighted to support this program’s continuation […] Improving agricultural yields can play an important role in broader economic and social development […] Strengthening the cocoa industry improves the livelihood of individuals, helps to build stronger communities and contributes to Papua New Guinea as a whole» – Mr Philp said. At the same time, New Zealand High Commissioner, Philip Taula, said the program will assist farmers to make sustainable improvements in their operations. «Cocoa is an important industry in Bougainville» – Mr. Taula noted.