Bougainville. Papua New Guinea press review
Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB) will start lifting restrictions imposed to try and stop COVID-19 from entering the ARB soon, where is still hasn’t confirmed COVID-19 cases. While a State of Emergency (SoE) remained in place, the Police Chief Francis Tokura, announced plans for schools to restart and the resumption of work by public servants.
All schools in Bougainville, except for tertiary institutions, are to re-open next Monday, considering to have handwashing facilities, with soap and water, hand-sanitizer, and also following social distancing rules. The schools also have to be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day.
Meanwhile, travel in and out of Bougainville will continue to be limited to the delivery of medical equipment and other essential materials, until the required quarantine, isolation and triage facilities are ready.
Minister for Information, Communication and Technology and Member for South Bougainville, Timothy Masiu has acknowledged the efforts of all stakeholders on Bougainville to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Mr Masiu also commended the ABG State of Emergency Controller, Francis Tokura and ABG Health Minister Dennis Lokonai for imposing restrictions under the SoE that is teaching the people «to live a new way of life».
Meanwhile, four National Parliamentarians from Bougainville, including Timothy Masiu (South Bougainville), Sam Akoitai (Central Bougainville), William Nakin (North Bougainville) and Regional MP Joe Lera expressed deep concern over the continuous restriction of flights into Bougainville and restrictions from travelling to their respective regions to help their people fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on domestic flights between main centres around Papua New Guinea have been relaxed while Bougainville continues to impose stringent measures.
The Catholic Church on Bougainville and local landowners have called on investors in Rio Tinto to force the company to address the legacy of environmental destruction they say was created by the Panguna mine, which had been shut down for 30 years, sparked the destructive civil war on Bougainville, over the environmental and social damage. Australia’s Human Rights Centre reported a landowner, John Ibouku, saying pollution from the mine was creating huge problems for people living nearby. The problems include pollution of rivers, dust clouds, lack of land for growing crops, etc.
Rio Tinto has consistently said it has no responsibility for the damage, saying when it operated in the 1970s and 1980s it worked under the relevant legislation of the time. Meanwhile, the Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, Keren Adams, claimed Rio Tinto had a clear legal obligation to help clean up the mine site and shareholders should call on the company to take action.
At the end of 2021, the Members of the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea will consider ratifying the results of the November referendum on the independence of Bougainville – this was announced by the Minister for Peace Agreement Implementation Albert Punghau. Once the new Bougainville government is formed – expected to be, at this stage, in late September this year – formal consultations with the PNG Government will begin.