PORT MORESBY – At a meeting here on Friday, Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill and Bougainville president John Momis agreed the important question to be put to Bougainville voters at next June’s referendum on the autonomous province’s political future.
The question gives the voters a choice of opting for greater autonomy or independence, the precise wording being, “Do you agree for Bougainville to have (1) Greater Autonomy or (2) Independence”.
The question itself raises other questions. Why has it been framed in the way it has? What is 'greater autonomy'? Is the offer of 'greater autonomy' as the alternative to 'independence' a successful demand by Momis or a clever distraction by O'Neill?
I'm sure these matters will soon be addressed by people smarter and better informed than I.
The agreement came late on Friday after weeks of delays at a meeting of a joint supervisory board attended by the chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, former Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahearn.
The referendum will mark the end of a 20-year process following the end of the Bougainville civil war which devastated the province and caused great loss of life over the ten years before it ended in April 1998.
In a media statement the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring the full implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.
They noted the importance of ensuring that the referendum is free and fair, and conducted in full accordance with the constitution and the peace agreement.
They agreed it was essential that people understand the choice they had to make and the process to be followed once the referendum has taken place.
Once the people of Bougainville have opted for their preferred pathway, the PNG national parliament will need to agree to either greater autonomy or independence.
The leader also endorsed a proposed budget of K34 million for 2019, with O’Neill undertaking to incorporate it into the 2019 PNG budget to be handed down later this year.
A comprehensive awareness campaign will precede the referendum.
The joint supervisory board will meet again in late January when further details of arrangements are expected to be released.