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Bougainville: Dawn of a new era
8 May 2002
I'd like to start by saying that we have now reached a new dawn of a new era in Bougainville with the passing of the Bougainville Bills by the PNG Government. These bills amended the PNG Constitution and also the organic laws on provincial governments to finally, legally, create an autonomous government on Bougainville, short of independence within the next ten years.
That means that we will be running everything except for defence and some parts of foreign affairs. We will be able to run some parts of foreign affairs after discussion with the PNG Government.
Five years of negotiations
It's the culmination of five years of negotiations starting with the Burnhan Declaration in 1997. It had taken five years and 23 negotiations to finally arrive at the basic, fundamental agreement called the Bougainville Peace Agreement signed in August last year.
This agreement was the basis of the Bougainville Bills. The first reading was introduced in the PNG Parliament on the Wednesday, January 23, 2002.
We were very apprehensive because the voting history in the PNG parliament is shocking, meaning that parliamentarians deliberately don't turn up to parliament. They abstain or just simply don't do their duty of being present in parliament. They just don't care about their parliamentary responsibilities.
We were very aware of this and of the possibility of the Bills not getting through.
After the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement with Papua New Guinea on the August 30 last year, our leadership decided to embark on a lobbying campaign targeting politicians right throughout Papua New Guinea.
For instance, our President, Mr Joseph Kabui, had to fly up to the Highland Governor's Yearly Conference to lobby. The Highlands block in parliament is about 53 members. It is a huge chunk of the 109 members of parliament. It is almost 50 per cent.
Our team was talking with parliamentarians to put our message through. We were assured that we would get the support of the Highlands parliamentarians. But nothing is ever certain until the action actually takes place.
We also had to do lots of lobbying in Port Moresby. Holding receptions, inviting members of the international community, prominent people in Port Moresby - just to make sure they would be there when the Bills were introduced in parliament.
When the Bills were introduced, I was sitting here and liaising with President Kabui who was giving me an update of what was going on.
When an attempt was made to put it to a vote at midday they just did not have the numbers present and so it was adjourned. [As the Bills involved constitutional changes they required a two-thirds majority of ALL Members, not just those present -Editor.]
Fortunately parliament had another six hours of debate and towards the end of the adjournment the motion to vote was put again. Surprise, surprise, surprise members of parliament turned up.
Not only did we have a two-thirds majority, but the votes clocked up to a three-quarters majority!
For an eternal PNG pessimist and sceptic like me, I did not know whether to celebrate and open a bottle of champagne. It was still sinking in. I said this is not typical PNG mentality, this is unusual.
After rethinking this victory afterwards, it was not only giving us the vote that was needed; but was also the beginning of the resurrection of a positive reputation for PNG within the region and the international community. All the international embassies in Port Moresby were carefully monitoring the vote in the PNG parliament.
So it was not only a win for Bougainville but it was also a win for Papua New Guinea.
After the successful passing of the first and second readings I continued to keep my pessimism about PNG because we were still climbing the mountain. We were by no means at the top of the mountain yet. We continued with our lobbying.
PNG is going into election mode this year and we had the fear of people not turning up because they would rather stay in their electorates to begin electioneering or because the Third Reading would be falling dangerously close to the Easter week.
From our end the surrender of arms through the United Nation's supervised "weapons disposal" was going at lightening speed. We emphasised when lobbying that we were keeping up with our side of the bargain on the ground, according to the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
On March 27 the final reading was introduced. Once again, we encountered all the dramas of the first and second readings. At midday when they attempted to put the vote there were not enough numbers present in the chamber.
My heart was pumping
Just imagine me. My heart was pumping and I was already thinking about the failure of the peace process. Would we go back to war? The future of PNG and Bougainville was depending on the vote on this day.
When they attempted to put the vote again just before adjournment, a miracle happened. At this point all members were present in Parliament. When the vote was put more than a two-thirds majority voted for the Bougainville bills to amend the PNG Constitution.
The stops and starts of the days before were already raising alarm bells in Bougainville. Bougainville was already into reaction mode.
An email from the Bougainville representative in The Hague, Martin Miriori said; "this is it. We cannot trust PNG any more, we'll virtually go back to war".
Anyway, the vote was successfully passed. From my point of view and in many ways the Bougainville crisis, the war, has been PNG's biggest test within the international community.
I think PNG can once again begin to regain the ground it had lost within the international community - now that it has taken a positive stand with Bougainville.
The biggest question now is: where do we go from here? This is where I have a lot of fears. About other players that are ready to come in, because we don't have what we need to run a new country - basically, money.
Going from past experiences and East Timor is a case in point where imperialism, colonialism have slipped back in other guises or in other forms. You have a process which you think you control, but is actually controlled by outsiders.
This is my biggest concern and worry - taking control. We may be in control, create our own policies but are you really in control? Are you really in control when you do not have the basic thing that drives society and that is money?
So people like myself are not going to be sitting or lying down waiting for the pitfalls. It may not be an easy road, we still have a long, long way to go. We now need to establish in Bougainville our own "think tanks" for serious discussion on these issues to avoid common pitfalls that others have fallen into.
If we receive aid from donors; what are going to be the conditions from organisations such as the IMF and the Asian Development Bank? I am going to strongly advise our leaders to steer clear from such multilateral agencies such as the IMF/WB and the Asian Development Bank.
East Timor is a very good example. They have already lost it. The United Nations, as the transitional administration, is already playing the role of neo-colonialist.
We don't want to be another basket case like some of the Pacific governments, and like in Africa. We just don't want to be another banana republic.
We virtually have gone from one hurdle to another hurdle. And I guess the most important thing for Bougainvilleans is to be aware of what is happening in the world today. To be conscious of what our values and principles are and trying to stick to them.
In terms of developing infrastructure we will need mega-bucks to build hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, port facilities, etc. We haven't got that. We will have to get that funding from somewhere.
Raring to go
On the positive side, the people are very keen to kick-start the economy as soon as possible - they are just raring to go.
This commitment to re-build their country again from the ashes of the war is very important. Observers, who have visited other Pacific countries, have noticed a marked difference between other Pacific peoples and Bougainvilleans in terms of being resourceful.
The hard lessons learnt by the people behind a blockade, their art of survival, have made the people industrious and therefore committed to re- building Bougainville.
We will have to make sure that Bougainville is not another Solomon Islands, or another Nauru, and so on.
To conclude I would like to mention some of the urgent matters that concern me. Corruption is the biggest threat to any government.
I intend to strongly advise our leaders to incorporate anti-corruption mechanisms right from the start. Measures that will give the power to prosecute and to put corrupt politicians behind bars.
We have got to give them the notion that when you have got into parliament you have not been crowned. You go there because you represent a people.
Corruption has been the biggest problem in Papua New Guinea. There, politicians once elected, see themselves as "kings". To be elected a Member of Parliament in PNG is a "big status symbol" that politicians would almost kill for.
Right of recall
In our first provincial government we incorporated "a right" in the constitution; where the people had the "right of recall" of a politician who was not performing.
He would lose his seat in parliament if he erred badly three times consecutively. The Constitution allowed that the people in his electorate would elect another member to replace him.
Another thing that we will be working on is what sort of a parliamentary system we will have. Most countries in the Pacific have adopted a unicameral parliamentary system as in Queensland.
This seems to be not working as efficiently in PNG. In Bougainville we should really be thinking of having a House that has "checks and balances". The Westminster system of two houses is very attractive where at least the upper house acts as a house of review.
In this instance we are also thinking of incorporating our traditional government systems, where the roles of our chiefs should be a part of the two-house system. For instance, half of the senators in the Upper House could be appointed Chiefs.
The negative part of that is of course the huge expense of running the two houses. We would have to balance that between having a good operative parliamentary system; and one that was not working efficiently.
Another area we will be looking at will be compliance with the obligations of "international conventions". This is also catered for by the fact that PNG is a member of the UN. According to the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the Bougainville Government would be at liberty to accede to any international instrument, if it so wishes.
We will be involving all our people soon in the development of the Bougainville Government. This will entail setting up of a parliamentary system of government and administration.
Our leaders and technocrats will be involved in various committees such as for instance in the "Constitutional Planning Committee" working and developing a new Bougainville Constitution.
One part of the agreement (with PNG) relates to independence. A referendum on full independence will be taken after ten years of the autonomous government in operation.
In regard to Law and Order the Autonomous Government of Bougainville will have its own police force. A core police force has already been under training by the international community especially by the police academy from New Zealand
We will also have our own judiciary system up to the level of High Court.
At this stage we don't think that a military force for Bougainville is necessary but this may be looked at further down the track.
As with every government we will have our own revenue generating mechanisms. We'll collect our own taxes and initially may follow the same taxation rates as currently apply in PNG.
On running and funding our government, the PNG Government (in accordance with the Bougainville Peace Agreement) will continue to budget annually for the autonomous government.
This is aside from international aid from approved donors. But it is our priority aim however, to generate our own revenues from our own taxation regime and from our own economic system as soon as possible.
It will be in our interest to avoid becoming dependent on international aid as PNG and other Pacific island states have. PNG still receives more than $350 million in aid annually from Australia for its annual budget, 27 years after independence.
Members of the PNG military who fought the BRA during the 10-year war are still on Bougainville, but not on active duties. Since the signing of the Cease-fire Agreement in April 1998 and now under the Bougainville Peace Agreement; they are under "a gradual withdrawal program" as the BRA fighters put away their weapons under the Weapons Disposal Program.
Moses Havini, interviewed by The Guardian (CPA)