WILLIAM NAKIN MP| Edited
BUKA - The assertion by Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill that Bougainville may not be given its independence* is an act of sabotage of the peace process in Bougainville and the Bougainville Peace Agreement signed by the national government on 30 August 2001.
It also pre-empts the outcome of the referendum on the future political status of Bougainville next year and ratification of the outcome of this referendum by the PNG national parliament.
The constitutionally guaranteed Bougainville referendum will take place on 15 June 2019 in compliance with three instruments: the Bougainville Peace Agreement, Part XIV of the PNG Constitution and the Organic Law on Peace Building in Bougainville.
The peace agreement states clearly that the referendum cannot be held before 10 years and not after 15 years from the date of the inauguration of the first Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).
The anniversary of the ABG will be celebrated on 15 June 2019, the 15th year of its existence and the final day that the ABG and the national government were given to hold the referendum for the people of Bougainville to decide their future political destiny.
I want to make it clear to the people of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville that the referendum is a constitutional requirement that must be adhered to.
The outcome of the referendum and its final ratification by the national parliament is of real concern and it is something Bougainvilleans should seriously consider in the months to June 2019.
If the majority of Bougainvilleans decide to vote in favour of independence, there is no constitutional guarantee for the national government to declare independence for Bougainville, simply because the outcome of the referendum is not legally binding.
That is the truth we in Bougainville must realise before we cast our votes for the future of our motherland.
President John Momis has said many times and Peter O’Neill has repeatedly called for us to follow every word of the peace agreement, except this time the prime minister has gone one step further by reminding the country’s parliamentarians that they have a constitutional duty to protect PNG’s sovereignty.
The prime minister has in many public statements pre-empted the outcome of the Bougainville referendum, which to me as a leader is not healthy to the peace process in Bougainville. In fact it is a sabotage of the peace and unification efforts.
The people of Bougainville are very much aware that the outcome of the referendum for their political future is not binding, but they are happy that at least a referendum will be held and that it will provide greater opportunity for my people in north, central and south Bougainville to make a free, fair, safe and just decision on an outstanding political matter of the peace agreement – independence for their motherland.
The fight for Bougainville independence is not a new thing to governments of PNG past and present. It is not a new thing for the international community. It happened in the past and we were given a provincial government system which PNG adapted for all provinces. It happened again in 1989 and we were given the so-called highest level of ‘autonomy’ which is yet to be fully realised.
The fact remains it is not provincial government or autonomy that the people of Bougainville want. The people want the government of Papua New Guinea to give Bougainville its ultimate desire – a separate independence.
And the peace agreement provides the opportunity for the people to decide in a free, fair and safe referendum their province’s future political status.
Ultimately it is Peter O’Neill who holds the master key to Bougainville’s sustainable peace through peaceful means. He alone can make or break it, depending on how he handles the final outcome of the referendum.
The negative undercurrents coming from his recent statements will not help to move the peace process forward.
* On Saturday Mr O'Neill was reported as saying the PNG Parliament will have to endorse the Bougainville referendum whatever the outcome of the referendum. An official statement is awaited.
William Nakin is the Member for North Bougainville in the Papua New Guinea National Parliament