The Autonomous Region of Bougainville Ready For an Independent State

PORT MORESBY - The Autonomous Region of Bougainville stands ready to become an independent state. That has been obvious since the day the PNG Parliament approved the region’s constitution.

Eventual independence was also definitely on the books, when parliament amended PNG’s own Constitution to include a provision ensuring that a referendum be held on Bougainville to have the people decide whether or not to secede from PNG and become independent.

The date for that referendum was set at 2015 but it is uncertain now when exactly might be the right time.

It is hoped more time might help erase the painful memories of the Bougainville insurgency and engender strengthening of support for remaining within the fold.

The autonomy concept for Bougainville was and still is a half-way house kind of concept, itself not a final desired outcome and yet pla­cing far greater power in the hands of the local people.

In the end, its architects particularly might have wished for it to morph into a fully-fledged independent
state.

Why did the national go­vernment allow Bougainville to go down that path?

Nobody wishes to see a prolonging of the painful and atrocious 15-year uprising on Bougainville.

The autonomous government principle introduced and engendered lasting peace on Bougainville. It allowed for standing down and disarming of rebel elements, for disposal of arms, and for return of normalcy to the region. By and large much of this has been achieved.

That was the reason for the birth of the autonomous government concept in PNG. It was for Bougainville’s unique experience.

What then are the reasons for the clamouring for auto­nomy from other provinces and regions in the country?

New Ireland, headed today by two-time prime mi­nister and the father of the currency – whose birthday fell on April 19 and only New Ireland commemorated – has announced it is well advanced down the autonomous government path.

So too has East New Bri­tain which has been talking about autonomy for a long time. Morobe, under former governor Luther Wenge, has put up its hand and went so far as commissioning a study on the concept.
Central has at one time embraced the concept and toyed with it on and off for a while.

What then do these pro­vinces want with autonomy?

If it is political autonomy they want, if they want more decentralisation of powers, the question to be asked is: Is there not sufficient powers under the currently opera­ting provincial government system and the local level government system?

Have each and every provincial government exer­cised all the powers and functions under the existing system?
Where are they deficient, if at all?

If it is economic autonomy they want, which would have to do with the creation of and management of wealth, the question that must be asked there is: Do they have the capacity to manage what they have now?

The answer to this question for the majority of provinces today is that they lack the capacity. New Ireland, secure with the safety net Lihir gold throws, might think it can be self-sufficient but take that away and there might not be much else to sustain it.

Really in the end it is the national government’s call that is important. Why is it sitting idle? Why has it not commissioned important personages to look into and report on the autonomy concept and make a decision once and for all whether that is the natural path in the development of PNG’s decentralisation process?

The longer it stays silent, the more this concept will take off and grow uncontrolled and on the whims of different individuals rather than from a coherent and well-planned national policy. [TheNational]
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