25 Apr 2017

Warning over Bougainville referendum inertia

8:48 pm on 25 April 2017

Bougainville's president has warned about inaction by the agency preparing the autonomous Papua New Guinea region's independence referendum.

The president, John Momis, said the Joint Supervisory Body made up of PNG and Bougainville leaders, overseeing the Bougainville Peace Agreement, was in urgent need of reform.

Under the terms of the Peace Agreement, a referendum must be conducted in Bougainville before mid-2020 - a tentative date of 15 June 2019 has been set for the vote.

A tentative date of June 15th 2019 has been set for a referendum on possible independence in the Autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville.

A tentative date of June 15th 2019 has been set for a referendum on possible independence in the Autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

However, Dr Momis has expressed concern that the body's officials establishing the Bougainville Referendum Commission are drifting from one meeting to the next.

PNG Attitude reports that he has conveyed this concern to the PNG prime minister, Peter O'Neill.

According to Dr Momis, the officials were not achieving goals or meeting expectations and that reform of the body was required if it was make real progress.

"The prime minister is committed 100 percent to the peace process," said Dr Momis. "But like me, agreed that we need to review how the JSB operates and to provide stronger direction to officials."

Delivering on the intent of the Peace Agreement and expectations of Bougainville's people, he said, required real action.

"We must take action to enhance the systems, processes and mechanisms that can give life to autonomy arrangements."

"The prime minister and I agreed that for this to occur there must be more direct consultation at all levels across government - between officials, between ministers, within committees and directly between the prime minister and myself."

Bougainville's President, John Momis (L) and UN official Roy Trivedy (R)

Bougainville's President, John Momis (L) and UN official Roy Trivedy (R) in late 2016 outside a Community Information Centre where visitors can learn about the work of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the PNG national government on the independence referendum due before mid-2020 under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. Photo: UNDP

The Autonomous Bougainville Government is still owed hundreds of millions of dollars by PNG's national government under constitutional commitments related to the Peace Agreement.

While Dr Momis has struggled for years to secure this commitment from Waigani, a memorandum of understanding signed with the PNG national government last month left him cautiously hopeful of progress.

"We've been subjected to this for a long long time so I hope this signals a greater commitment by the national government to send fundings but we will wait and see," he told RNZI.

Dr Momis does not appear to have ruled out an earlier warning of taking legal action if the PNG government didn't honour its commitment.

Meanwhile, Bougainville is likely to get some outside assistance in its preparation for the referendum.

During a visit to Bougainville in February, New Zealand's outgoing foreign minister, Murray McCully, confirmed his government offered help with the referendum.

The Bougainville Department of Peace Agreement Implementation is to oversee it and its head, James Tanis, said it was vital New Zealand was involved because it helped initiate the peace process.

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