ONE of the important issues facing the 2019 Bougainville referendum on independence concerns the question or questions that will have to be answered by Bougainvilleans when they vote.
Under the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the question or questions must be agreed between the Bougainville and Papua New Guinean governments, formulated to avoid a disputed or unclear result and include a choice of independence for Bougainville.
Speaking in the Bougainville Parliament, President John Momis said the time has come for the beginning of discussion about what will be put to the people.
“It is vital that all major Bougainvillean interest groups are fully consulted before the Bougainville government makes any decision on its position about the question or questions,” Dr Momis said.
“Only in this way will the process of deciding the question or questions be seen as credible.
“If we are to maintain support for progress with the referendum, especially the support of the international community, we must ensure that decisions on all matters of major importance are made in a highly inclusive manner,” he said.
“We are all aware that many Bougainvilleans with real interest in the referendum assume that there will be just one question, and that it will ask whether the voter supports independence, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
“But at this stage, because there has been no public consultation on the issues involved, we cannot say with certainty that all major groups support that approach, so we need widespread public consultation,” he said.
Dr Momis revealed that significant progress was made last year when the Joint Supervisory Body agreed to June 2019 as the target date for the referendum.
“Work has continued since then, which resulted in the signing in late January of two important documents,” he said.
One was an agreement between the two governments on establishing an independent body to conduct the referendum which has led to the creation of the Bougainville Referendum Commission.
The second document is a set of agreed administrative arrangements necessary for the operation of the Commission.
“For the Commission to actually begin operate it will be essential that it is provided with the necessary funding,” Dr Momis said.
“I am deeply concerned at reports that such funding has not been provided in the 2017 national budget, and will be asking our minister to follow up with the national minister for Bougainville Affairs as a matter of the greatest urgency.”