PNG and Bougainville trade barbs as NZ’s McCully visits

The war of words between Papua New Guinea and the autonomous region of Bougainville continued throughout the visit of New Zealand’s foreign minister this week.

Murray McCully was in Port Moresby and Bougainville this week and spoke to both leaders.

The PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is upset with how funding has been spent, while the President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government Dr John Momis says PNG is way behind on its commitments to the region.

Alex Perrottet reports from Bougainville.

PNG has committed to pay Bougainville 40 million US dollars a year for five years. They paid the first figure last year in November, after an irate President John Momis threatened court action.

Dr Momis says under the Peace Agreement, there are other outstanding amounts.

JOHN MOMIS: The national government has breached the Bougainville Peace Agreement and their own constitution by not paying us the restoration and development grant which is stipulated in the Bougainville Peace Agreement, it must be given to Bougainville. That is constitutionally guaranteed money that belongs to Bougainville and the natinal government has no right to withhold that money.

But Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says he is not happy with how the money was spent, and there will be no more cash, but only infrastructure projects.

PETER O’NEILL: We are not pleased - and I’ll say it frankly - with the way the money that we have given has been managed. It has not been spent on the intended purposes which was to build infrastructure on the ground in Bougainville and now our government, as we have the right to do so, we will have hands-on approach in management of those key infrastructures.

The Vice President of the ABG Patrick Nisira says Bougainville can and should decide what it needs but should talk more with Port Moresby.

PATICK NISIRA: Especially when you deal with the reconstruction of the infrastructure services - health, education, roads and future roads - I think that we in the Bougainville government should decide where these fundings are in consultations with the national government.

The Education Minister for Bougainville, John Tabinaman, says his department received funding that was spent on building classrooms and paying teachers. But he says many students don’t have enough learning materials and many don’t turn up to school.

JOHN TABINAMAN: They are not as committed as we were pre-crisis, and that’s probably because of the mentality that has developed during the crisis. There is less commitment even though the teachers are trying their best. It is something that we have to get over by changing the mental attitude of the students.

It’s clear this is a region still plagued by the civil war that claimed up to 20,000 lives throughout the 1990s. Mr Tabinaman says education is key if the children here in Bougainville are to grow up and make a proper living, and for the adults to make an informed decision about their future when it comes to voting in the referendum on independence. But the adults making the decisions today are not talking until the problem of payments is resolved.

Murray McCully met with both leaders separately and all he could say is that both were very frank about what they thought. While he didn’t go into detail, he left room for New Zealand to play a part in bringing them together, but remains optimistic they can do it on their own.

MURRAY MCCULLY: I think there’s a fruitful conversation that the two parties can have - the PNG government and the local administration here in Bougainville. They’re actually closer together on some matters than they realise.

New Zealand played a key role in helping the formation of the ABG, and has committed its police to continue training the community auxiliary police here, but there’s a limit on what more it can do to help resolve the long-standing feud. [RNZI]
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