Bougainville leader says major benefits from O'Neill visit
Bougainville's President, John Momis, says O'Neill visit brought unity and will improve the ability of the provincial and national governments to collaborate ahead of the referendum on possible independence.
The president of Papua New Guinea's Bougainville says last week's visit by the prime minister, Peter O'Neill, marks a new beginning for the autonomous province.
Mr O'Neill's historic 3 day visit included reconciliation ceremonies in Buka and Arawa.
He apologised for the horrors of the civil war and made firm commitments to assist the province as it approaches the deadline for a referendum on possible independence.
President John Momis says the visit was significant in that it helped unite the different factions in Bougainville.
He told Don Wiseman it also highlighted the need for a collaborative approach with the national government in implementing the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
John Momis: We can't implement it successfully unless we are united - that is, ourselves here and ourselves with the national government.
Don Wiseman: What arrangements have been made over the last few days that will improve this collaboration?
JM: Well number one we had traditional customary rituals to bring about unity, unity of approach between the national government and the people and the government of Bougainville, and also specifically between the ABG leadership and the four members of the national parliament from Bougainville. Because in recent times we have been at loggerheads in terms of funding and how different funding is used for projects in Bougainville.
DW: Everyone is singing from the same songbook now?
JM: That's how it should be yes. The Bougainville Peace Agreement cannot be successfully implemented unless and until everybody sings from the same songbook as you put it.
DW: The key issue comes down to funding, doesn't it and you raised this on a number of occasions last year that Port Moresby was not paying what it should be paying. Now are those problems fixed, or are they going to be fixed?
JM: Yes the Prime Minister made a commitment at various public meetings as well as to me that the issue of the development and restoration funds that the national government has not paid us will be resolved once and for all.
DW: These are very large amounts of money aren't they so you expect to get all this money in total, and what about the 100 million kina every year over five years, which I understand has only been paid once, so far, hasn't it?
JM: That's right. Both. Restoration and Development Grant is Bougainville's only free money which is constitutionally required and guaranteed, and which we have not been fully paid. The arrears amount to, according to our calculations amounts to 188 million (kina), that is money that the ABG is owed. (Of) the other five hundred million which the national government committed to Bougainville over the next five years, only 100 million has been released,, and the PM made a commitment also that the 200 million (kina) which is in a trust account will have to be released, pending approval of projects, impact projects. I presume that means that both ABG and the national government will get to work on approving the impact projects, so that the 200 million that is in the trust account can be spent.
DW: And Mr O'Neill accepts that there are two separate amounts of money that need to come to Bougainville.
JM: That's correct. That is good because for a long time the national government never publicly admitted that it owed us arrears on the restoration and development grants.
DW: Mr O'Neill said during his visit that the Bougainville Peace Agreement is one of the best agreements any conflict has ever produced and it is up to parties involved - namely his government and yours and I guess the people of Bougainville to ensure that the final stages of it do come together and, of course, the critical part of that is this vote that is due to happen sometime after 2015. How confident are you now that the province is going to be able to get ready for that process?
JM: Mr O'Neill has placed a lot of emphasis on the need for us to provide services, to fix infrastructure - roads and bridges, provide power, fords, schools and health services, things like that. That's also very important because when the time comes for the people of Bougainville to make their choice in the referendum, either for independence or full autonomy, full autonomy within PNG, it is important for us to make sure that both of these objectives are achieved, concurrently, in a way.
DW: So do you think you will be able to achieve that? That you will be able to initiate this development that is required ahead of the vote?
JM: Well time is running out. By the way we have put in place a joint committee to work on, a referendum committee, to prepare the grounds for the referendum to be held in an atmosphere of freedom and so on and so forth. Both governments will then decide the time for the referendum to be held. I guess that is why it is important for the ABG, with the assistance of the national government to build roads, seal roads, you know, we have major infrastructure problems and also we have to start creating autonomy institutions. For autonomy to work we must have institutions that are suitable and are appropriate for autonomy. As you know we have inherited institutions that are really tailored for provincial governments, and autonomy means we have to have new laws, new mining laws, new public service law, new financial management law, inward investment law and so on and so forth. So these things must be put in place. In other words the ABG must start exercising the powers of autonomy and prepare for the referendum itself. Without this you come to a situation where people are expected to exercise their discretion on different options, especially two options - that's independence or full autonomy - and I think they will be put in a difficult situation because there will be a lot of frustration.
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