LEONARD FONG ROKA
ARAWA – Inside the Department of Bougainville Peace Agreement and Implementation there is a dedicated unit entitled the Referendum Directorate.
Since early September the Directorate has been rolling out a public consultation process throughout Bougainville on matters the Bougainville Peace Agreement was silent or unclear on.
But for a few team members, heartache is all they endured. Let me explain
So many commentators on Bougainville affairs say Bougainville has the right climate for corruption. If so, then corruption is practiced beyond sight of and with ignorance amongst the people of Bougainville and the Bougainville government itself.
The consultation began in Buin on 21 September (a Thursday). The public and a number of stakeholders came to Nigeriai Guesthouse at Turiboiru Catholic Mission to offer their views on the coming Bougainville referendum.
Their outstanding concerns included referendum voter entitlement, voter rolls, voting age, what would be the question and the post-referendum transition – things like timeframe, security issues, fiscal capacity and administrative arrangements.
These matters are serious things for Bougainville’s future and for the people. But when you watched the public servants performing this task, there seemed to be a conflict of interest.
On the Friday, the team visited the public servants of the Siwai District and later went back to Buin. Then on Saturday, they went raising public awareness at Buin Market. But before the morning’s proceedings began, there was already alcohol available in one of the two vehicles.
With the market awareness done, the team went on to watch the Rugby 7s tournament at the Buin Secondary School. This arrangements did not work out, so a few team members went on a drinking spree.
Alcohol now took over one of the hired vehicles. It changed hands late into the night. Even people not part of the team had a share of the car. In the end the police had to rescue the vehicle at a village near the Buin-Siwai border.
The team spirit was gone and two junior team members decided to leave.
The remaining members, some in fear of repercussions from the previous incidents with the vehicle, left for Arawa leaving behind a shambles.
At Arawa in central Bougainville, complaints began to surface that some team members were coming to the leaders to get money for various things. So where was the massive travel allowance they had received from the ABG to do the referendum work?
In Arawa, a group in one of the hire cars went on another drinking spree accompanied by friends and relatives. While this happened another vehicle was doing family visits, shopping runs and so on; all private expeditions.
Then one of the vehicles had to do the run up to Buka to fetch the family members of one officer and return them back to Arawa.
All of this excess was happening at the cost of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
There were other complaints within the team. One officer handed a K20 note to another officer requesting a packet of doughnuts when all the team members were having snack biscuit with participants. There was no change produced. A packet of doughnuts is K2 in Bougainville.
“These officers, every time they come for money, they do not return the change,” one man grumbled. “And where have all the thousands of kina in travelling allowance gone to? The money with me is for the general program only and not to pay for doughnuts.”
The referendum consultation and awareness team is yet to cover parts of north Bougainville other than the Carteret islands in the atolls which have been covered.
Again complaints came in about the Carterets trip. It was said the two ABG hired dinghies contained family members of one of the officers on the trip from Buka to the atoll. On its return it was loaded with Carterets people.
So that is what happened to much of the ABG money allocated to collect the Bougainville peoples thoughts and address their questions about the coming referendum.
Leaders with the highest educational qualifications who should have been maintaining the office were in the field undermining the officers who the ABG was paying to interact with people and feed information back to the ABG to assist decision making.
This really shows that the ABG is giving big responsibilities to people who have high academic qualifications but no practical experience.
It’s all a bit of a shame, really.