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Bougainville’s referendum: Part 3 – The future

Marape Momis
James Marape and John Momis - "Both governments must be prepared to negotiate in good faith whatever the outcome. They must be ready to negotiate hard with the aim of getting an outcome that is acceptable to both sides" (John Momis)

JOHN MOMIS | Bougainville President

This is the last of three edited extracts of Dr Momis’s recent speech to the Papua New Guinea parliament in which he addressed the history, current state and what processes will follow upon November’s referendum on Bougainville’s political future

PORT MORESBY - The provisions of the referendum on Bougainville’s political future leave the outcome to be negotiated between the Papua New Guinea and Bougainville governments, with the national parliament having the final say on what happens.

This means that some time will be needed after the referendum to negotiate and decide what happens next.

The objective of the PNG government should be to win the hearts and minds of Bougainvilleans. We need agreement on a common framework that convinces the people.

The essence of what our people want is still empowerment of a Bougainville government that can truly manage its own affairs.

It is a matter for the national government to work hard to convince Bougainvilleans that greater autonomy can empower a Bougainville government in the way that satisfies our people.

The outcome of the referendum must be negotiated.

This means there will need to be a process that provides for give and take on both sides. For many Bougainvilleans it has been a shock to find that the Peace agreement does not provide for the vote in the referendum to be binding. But that is what was negotiated.

There is a need for consultation between the governments following the referendum. The people will need to be prepared for a negotiated outcome.

I believe that if we are engaged in a process and acting in good faith, then the outcome can be something that is acceptable to all.

But if we enter the process with negativity it will not be possible to reach an acceptable outcome.

The peace agreement envisages a joint approach by the two governments. Whatever the outcome it must be both peaceful and mutually acceptable.

A good process will lead to a good outcome, whether that involves independence or greater autonomy. We can negotiate about the outcome, but maintaining peace is non-negotiable.

Both governments must be prepared to negotiate in good faith whatever the outcome. They must be ready to negotiate hard with the aim of getting an outcome that is acceptable to both sides.

The aim of any referendum is to determine what the people think about important issues. So the key thing that must be taken into account in the consultation after the referendum will be the numbers of people that vote for each option – independence or greater autonomy.

If there is an overwhelming number voting for one option or the other, that fact will have to be taken into account by the national government as it determines its position for the consultation on the outcome.

The PNG government cannot just ignore the results of the referendum. It must take account of the wishes of the people as it engages with the Bougainville government about the outcome.

I think that the focus of our discussions after the referendum should be to negotiate the nature of the new relationship between Bougainville and PNG.

Simply put, the options available in the referendum are choices between different kinds or levels of relationship between the two governments.

Just as we did when negotiating the peace agreement, the national government and Bougainville will have the rare privilege of developing something new.

Whether the agreed outcome is independence or greater autonomy, it will be significantly different to the current arrangements for governance in Bougainville.

Because the history of the two sides includes creating something new, we should not be afraid. Together we can confidently explore the new relationship.

I should mention that there is no provision for facilitation of the negotiations, but there may be a useful role for a facilitator.

Sometimes a respected person who is independent of the parties, but respected by them, can help them reach an agreement. In this case, it can be expected that the negotiations will be difficult and a facilitator may play a useful role.

While the Bougainville Peace Agreement is held in high regard by students and practitioners of peace processes around the world, the process will not be complete until the negotiations about the referendum outcome have been completed and implemented.

Both governments must be ready to continue their cooperation, and work to avoid any renewal of conflict.

The two governments need to work together.

They have the privilege of together attempting to develop something new that will contribute to continued peace.

Just as the peace agreement was a remarkably successful set of arrangements, we now have the opportunity to again develop something new, something extraordinary.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Momis is indeed smart and knows what a dangerous time it will be after the votes have been counted.

Letting the hard line pro-independence Bougainvilleans down gently is going to take some very fancy footwork.

Preparing the way, even if it lowers expectations, is a wise move.

Hopefully everyone will have grown comfortable with a peaceful Bougainville and won't do anything stupid.

William Dunlop

I'd be thinking he's got his horse hitched firmly in the front of the cart.

There has been far too much exploitation since day one, particularly the Australian politicians and their Canberra mandarins back in the 1960/70s as a means to fund PNG's independence on the cheap.

Then their PNG political inheritors oversaw a much greater disaster.

But I guess they were learning their craft and corruption.

Philip Fitzpatrick

John Momis continually reiterates the point that the outcome of the referendum will have to be negotiated to the satisfaction of both Bougainville and PNG.

This seems to preclude the possibility of outright independence.

So, no matter what happens, PNG and Bougainville will still be linked in some way.

One can't help but think that in terms of the referendum Bougainville has been sold a pup.

Still, John Momis is being a realist. He knows that a fully independent Bougainville would be very difficult to manage.

A negotiated relationship with PNG is probably the best option.

That the final decision rests with the PNG parliament is mandated by the peace agreement voluntarily signed by the PNG and Bougainville governments in 2001. Momis is indicating that, although the final determination constitutionally rests with PNG, Bougainvilleans are going to have a big say in it. The truth is that if Bougainville votes for independence and PNG denies it there may be a catastrophe. Momis is smart and trying to create good negotiating space here - KJ

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