PNG says Pacific nations must go it alone on trade
Karl Hoerler, 63, planter, dies in the Western Highlands

Critics note: Bougainville government is right on track

Leonard Roka title shotLEONARD FONG ROKA

I SOMETIMES WONDER, were I president of Bougainville, what sort of a person I would be; what amount of condemnation would I be subjected to from the Bougainville people; how would I cope with the kind of unpredictable political climate. Real shudder there!

Anyway, people so often jump to premature conclusions at a leader’s political behaviour. But I, as a Panguna man, should not deny I play pranks with Bougainville politics in the social media; bad child I am.

But that is Panguna culture. We are good at it. Whether our politicking is profitable or not, we play it for the whole of Bougainville to dance to.

But as a Panguna student with a burning desire to enter Bougainville politics sooner or later, I hate one general criticism decanted on my Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG). And that is, I hate to read or hear critics saying that ‘the ABG is weak’.

Let me tell you why. Since 1988 I grew up with the Bougainville crisis but knew nothing much. But when the conflict became prolonged, I realised the deeper problem embedded in the hearts and minds of Bougainvilleans.

The ABG is the product of the long suffering we, the lost people of the Solomon archipelago who saw the blood spilt of 10-20,000 innocent brothers and sisters.

We on Bougainville should remember that the ABG cannot function overnight. Despite its ups and downs, it is still a government with great responsibilities for the betterment of Bougainvilleans who, since colonial days, have been denied their rights as a unique people of the Solomon archipelago.

And it was armed conflict fuelled by subjugated hearts that finally allowed us to be seen as a people who deserve to be respected.

But it is now up to us Bougainvilleans to carry that struggle forward on a positive note. Our freedom from all forms of genocide, relegation and exploitation is still to be reached; the fight is still on.

If PNG could so easily set a total blockade on our island in 1990, which can be seen as an act of genocide under the auspices of international law, and now play pranks on us with a baseless claim of maintaining its state sovereignty, who will be our redeemer? The answer is you and I!

With that said, I want to point out some interesting points worth nibbling from the PNG Post-Courier in the month of March. The newspaper was featuring Bougainville and our President, Dr John Momis.

I have never chatted with John Momis in the same way I did all my life with the late President Joseph Kabui. Thus, in my ever-burning political mind, I continuously had doubts about him, but not now.

In an article on 1 March, Momis: referendum to be held, by Winterford Toreas, John Momis was quoted as saying: ‘If we do not remove the weapons, we are not self reliant and if we do not achieve good governance [the] referendum will happen’.

This was a morale booster for me. And it is a challenge all Bougainvilleans should note; are we really committed to the liberation of our island that our leader is showing us?

I remember in 1998, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army/Bougainville Independent Government team from Kieta leaving for the pan-Bougainville meeting in Buin. They were in doubt about whether they would get the support of the resistance fighters and the people under protection in care centres for independence.

And, as the talks began, a mother from Bana District, who had lived in the care centre, stood and shouted with tears: ‘Our brothers and sisters from the bush (BRA/BIG) and our brothers and sisters from the care centres, as we meet and talk remember that we died for our island to be independent’. Applause went across the crowds and BRA/BIG felt relieved.

And here, our leader, John Momis, is telling us to relieve each other from the political and economic stagnation we have brought upon ourselves.

As a student and observer of my island’s path, I believe our leaders are creating a good foundation for us to build on. I feel that, if I could muster the spirit of the laws they are creating now, I could contribute better to the future politics of my nation of Bougainville.

I refer here, also, to what most people call the ‘Momis-Regan Mining Law’. To me it is the best law Bougainville has created for its future.

The Post-Courier summarised it as setting out to (1) complete the transfer of mining powers that began in 2006 and (2) make a law to meet Bougainvillean needs, including recognizing customary rights, required by Section 23 of Bougainville Constitution; responding to foreign companies illegally seeking control of our mineral resources; and introducing ABG control of mining and contributing to re-establishing the rule of law.

“Customary landowners will be recognised as owners of minerals,” the article said, “with ABG sharing in order to: act on behalf of all Bougainvilleans, because of the blood spilled during the conflict; ensure equitable development for all parts of Bougainville; and preserve resources for future generations.

“As owners of minerals, landowners will have important new rights, including to: veto exploration licenses; be deeply involved in decision making on all projects, and receive shares of revenues and opportunities from mining

“Only the ABG will grant mining exploration and development licenses, and determine distribution of mining revenues and benefits.”

With this law, Bougainvilleans will be blessed because they will have more power over their land and resources unlike in the past where the government of PNG and Rio Tinto kept us relegated and robbed our land and resources to built PNG and not Bougainville.

As Bougainvilleans, we should know that our island was the money that built PNG. Our mineral resource and the profits it made went 100% to Port Moresby.

Knowing in my heart that this law was best for us, I was shocked when former BRA general Sam Kauona attacked Dr Momis over the wordings in Section 23 of our Constitution where, with the landowners, ABG is to be a part-owner of mineral wealth.

This is justifiable because, if we talk only about my home, Panguna, my people on Buka are not landowners. And they would ask me, ‘Was it only the Panguna people who suffered and lost loved ones during the Bougainville crisis?’

So, with me an automatic landowner in Panguna, there is also my government that stands for the people of Bougainville who have had suffered with me. And on their behalf the ABG is a part-owner of this wealth. This as it should be.

A 4 March Post-Courier story carried the headline, Bougainville to strike it rich. And again John Momis got it right: “Mr Kauona should not think that an ABG led by me could ever ignore Bougainvillean concerns about mining. We will never be told what to do by an outsider. Equitable distribution of revenue from mineral resources was at the core of his government’s policies. As part owner, the ABG will act on behalf of all Bougainvilleans because of the bloodshed by all Bougainville groups during the conflict”.

What I want from Sam Kauona is for him to admit and sort out the unimaginable problems of the sale of Bougainville wealth under his Invincible Resources deal (now taking on the new face as Morumbi Inc), which tried to fool Bougainvilleans. But happily Bougainvilleans are not to be fooled by these dogs who fooled Sam Kauona and the late Joseph Kabui.

I have seen some good collective decision-making as Bougainvilleans come together to decide their future. I believe in them and the future of my island and its people.

A further Post-Courier article on 4 March, Meekamui: Bougainville not ready to re-open Panguna mine, said: “Their standing to reopen the mine after Bougainville gains independence is because there are still are still a lot of outstanding issues that needs to be addressed.

“One of this is the K10 billion compensation claim for environmental damages done during the mine’s operational days. These issues include the establishment of squatter settlements and law and order problems.

“On positive note, Meekamui said they want the belkol money to be paid not only to the landowners but to all Bougainvilleans because they all suffered during the crisis. Meekamui also calls on ABG to support the court case against mining giant Rio Tinto for compensation payments to be made for environmental damages.”

The Meekamui talks are a reality. It is a fact that the value of the Panguna mine is below the K10 billion mark but the suffering of Bougainvilleans since the colonial era to the Rio Tinto landing on Bougainville including the environmental destruction of Bougainville is more than the K10 billion. We have to support that.

This will be a long term process and PNG will not escape from paying us for all the shit they did to us and our island.

And when they talk about squatter settlements and law and order, we the people and our ABG need now to create a Vagrancy Act to keep wanderers from flooding into our island.

I talk because I have experienced the bad treatment PNG squatter settlers did to us as kids coming into Arawa every morning to school.

I agree to the belkol money they are calling for. But this money must be paid as development in the form of roads connecting unconnected areas and educational infrastructure.

We need to think Bougainville rather than thinking about personal interests that will not help our island’s future.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Leonard Roka

Lornie - As Keith said, he made an error. The Post Courier article I quoted had no 'not'. I was also concerned when I saw that 'not'.


David Lornie

Leonard, nice story and, as usual, full of fire. As you say, you are a fledgling politician and this is evident.

I make it a point not to comment on social media but in this case it concerns a story written by my reporter Winterford Toreas.

I refer to the following sentence: "If we do not remove the weapons, we are not relf-reliant and if we do not achieve good governance (the) Referendum will (not) happen.
I'm interested to know why you placed the word "(not)" in the sentence, as it did not appear in the original story and totally changes the meaning of The President's comments.

Winter insists the President said "referendum will happen". Do you know something we don't?

An editorial error, David, not Leonard's. Now corrected and thanks for engaging social media on this occasion to point it out - KJ

Leonard Roka

Mrs Short - PNG did not provide Bougainville with much education that is why thousands of Bougainvilleans still do not speak pidgin nor read and write.

Besides, that tiny education was all indoctrination that should be seen as genocide. Independence is a wise decision for we are Solomon Islanders.

Porandae - Blame not the BRA but blame PNG and PNGians who relegated and exploited us long before 1988. The crisis is not a 1988 problem but a problem that began physically in 1962.

But PNG saw us as some idiot and kept us under its claws.

No mining in PNG will change the face of PNG as Bougainville did. In PNG all mines feed the Tom, Dick and Harrys of PNG unlike Panguna that served PNG and not us, the Bougainvilleans.

But, there is a time Bougainville will back-date that historical subjugation and seek compensation in the Melanesian Way.

Ishmael Palipal

Wow, you people wondering if it is wise for Bougainville to be independent...

I wondered why PNG wanted Bougainville to be part of her country and instead granted her provincial government during the Panguna mine era. Doesn't this mean any thing to you?

Bougainville even declared itself "Republic of North Solomons" even before PNG got its independence.

On the other hand, I have been wondering why, during the time of the Panguna mine, was the PNG currency so high and today so low with all the mining in PNG.

Where is all the money going with this mining and the multi-billion LNG Project. Or is it all going down to Bougainville?

Reading the Bougainville Peace agreement, PNG has the obligation to pump money to Bougainville and according to those who drafted the peace agreement, the amount of money appreciates year by year until Bougainville has its referendum.

But still this money has not been giving as written in the peace agreement.

It is a pity that if the Panguna mine was still operating, today, you could take a bus ride from Lae down to the nation's capital like going up the highlands highway to Hela and save some money for charity.

But even now PNG has more mines than then. I wonder if that is wise.

Tim Ashton

You have won autonomy. My honest opinion is that Bougainville should continue along with autonomy whilst developing and recovering from the crisis.

Despite your society's amazing progress there is still much healing to be done.

Pushing to open the mine before the healing process is complete could very easily prolong the pain within some persons and groups and I am not sure that everyone pushing for the mine to reopen ASAP have the interests of Bougainville as their primary focus.

Bougainville should be aware of what happened to the people of Nauru when they were showered with incredible wealth. The Nauruans quite quickly lost contact with their culture and now face an epidemic of heart disease and diabetes.

Your culture served you well through the crisis. build slowly and build on your culture. Instant wealth is nice but I suspect will come with many negatives. with money comes greed and with greed comes internal conflict.

Caliph Porandae

I really sympathise with the families of the 10-20,000 Bougainvillian lives that were lost during the crises.

The BRA and PNG soldiers (government) are to be equally blamed, not just the PNG government. More so on BRA who initiated the crisis.

Now we have huge mining locations in other parts of PNG that sustain the PNG budget and Bougainville (like other provinces) has been benefitting exclusively from that for the last 25 years since Panguna closed down.

LNG in Hela and Gulf are coming up and Bougainville will continue to benefit.

We are Melanesians and we share what we have Mr Leonard Roka.

Mrs Barbara Short

Interesting, Leonard. Now try to condense this down to its main points!

Remember it costs millions to set up a mine.

Remember PNG did provide Bougainville people with education and health and many other services for many years.

It is a pity that way back you were not made part of the Solomon Islands. But now you want to be independent. I wonder if that is wise.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)