The unearthing of 10,000 years of agriculture
Delusional O’Neill's calamitous legacy

Bougainville: If it’s to be capitalism, let it be moral

Roka - Leonard on the shore at Kangu
Leonard Roka on the shore at Kangu - looking across to the Solomons triggers thoughts of the small friends who helped Bougainville achieve its post-crisis peace


PANGUNA - The population of Bougainville is around 300,000 so, when looking at other small Pacific island states and their standard of living, the province’s development does not need a mine operating at the scale we knew at Panguna before the Bougainville conflict.

All of us know that the Papua New Guinea government does not clothe us, it does not feed us and it does not protect us.

As people of the Solomon archipelago we have been an independent socio-economic and political entity since time immemorial. And this is the same for all New Guinean peoples and their relatives, the Papuans.

The only beggar we know is the government.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) is not a beggar simply because it is our government but it is a beggar because of its massive bureaucracy constructed for us by consultants sent here by our region’s hegemonic power, Australia.

The consultants designed a bureaucracy suited for an economically and educationally strong population. But in Bougainville they created a system lacking equality. And this is what the ABG leadership now promotes.

It emphasises a theme of Mark Davis’s book ‘The Planet of Slums’ (2006) that crime infested slums grew throughout modern day cities because post-independence governments abdicated responsibility for the poor in order to rule in the interests of local elites and others with wealth.

Davis added that these problems are on the rise because of the imposition of IMF-World Bank programs that are irrelevant to local experience and situations and harm rural and the urban communities beyond controllable limits.

The conflict on Bougainville in the last decade of the 20th century disrupted education and took down our economy. Many of our people are not educated to levels required by the bureaucracy and still stagger financially.

The consultants know that. They know our internal revenue is in trouble. But they also know the wealth at Panguna and in the land which bears our cocoa, copra and other desirable products.

Bougainville does not need millions of dollars to progress. We only need to do away with neo-liberalism, or extreme capitalism, where the core is competitive individualism.

In Kevin J Barr’s book ‘Wages in the Bible and Christian Social Teaching’ (2011) he refers to this exploitative emphasis on individual profiteering and so-called ‘free choice’ outweighing fairness concerns such as redistribution and social equity.

We Bougainvilleans also have to be realistic and understand that there is no permanent friendship in international relations there are only permanent interests. Hiding behind the façade of Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) and other less known contenders is the permanent interest in our mineral wealth.

We do not want this exploitative interest to risk our referendum and post-referendum peace.

To end the civil war a poor nation, the Solomon Islands, brokered the peace process along with New Zealand while Australia was fighting us.

But in time Australia grabbed the peace building from these smaller countries and led it since. Australia has a permanent interest in PNG but it is no permanent friend to us Bougainvilleans.

With that undying love for our natural resources it tasted before 1990, Australia engineered the bureaucratic machinery it needed to function and deliver the re-emergence of the same mine. Alas!

The Panguna mine reopening is being pushed by some blind locals with the support of BCL through the Panguna negotiations office, or ‘BCL pay office’ as the public now refers to it. This will fund the bureaucracy, not the service delivery our people need for development.

Positive progress will not come unless we have good and fearless leadership to deal with world class corporate juggernauts. And there is a price to pay if we cannot direct our own destiny.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their 2010 book ‘The Spirit Level—Why Equality is Better for Everyone’, observe that high inequality societies have great social and health problems as well as high crime. We do not want to travel further down that road.

It is well noted about the Scandinavian countries that they have government systems promoting greater equality and the people are better off for that. In Asia the Himalayan country of Bhutan has a faith based system upholding gross national happiness rather than gross national product. Bougainville needs such a system of moral capitalism.

Of course, there are such systems in Melanesia, although they are now fragile because our leadership has been blinded by the profit-orientation shoved down our throats by our big brothers.

Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and many small independent Pacific island countries have much smaller bureaucracies and economies than Bougainville but their living standards exceed those of PNG. They are peaceful and have the best social climate all year round.

We can aspire to that.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

David Kitchnoge

I'll try and expand my thoughts into a short article and share as suggested, Phil.

Philip Fitzpatrick

"The default Papua New Guinean response at those crunch moments is to surrender. White flag up. Too shy to speak up. Too embarrassed to speak up. And all manner of mickey mouse excuses".

Very pertinent observation David.

It can be equally frustrating from the other side too. There's nothing worse than having people smiling and agreeing with you just to be polite when you know it's not in their best interests or what they really think.

You should expand your comments into an article.

David Kitchnoge

Thanks Leornard Fong Roka. Very powerfully written with a lot of truth. The trick of course is in how to manouevre through the various voices and intentions and to hold our own at the table of competing interests.

It is not enough to write about what can be and should be and continue to quote other wise men and women to draw inspiration from. Each one of us would, if not already, find ourselves at the frontlines standing up for what should be.

I have two observations to share in this forum:

1) The default Papua New Guinean response at those crunch moments is to surrender. White flag up. Too shy to speak up. Too embarrassed to speak up. And all manner of mickey mouse excuses.

2) Most people don't always come here to screw us. Of course there is always that black sheep everywhere you go. But most come here with good intentions.

But where they fall and where we fall is when Papua New Guineans don't speak up and provide the appropriate context.

Unless you actually tell them about what your village looks like, the consultant in Moresby has no clue and will take your nod, nod, nod to his questions and suggestions as gospel.

Corney Korokan Alone

Informative and enlightening essay, Leonard Fong Roka.
Well done and welcome back, brother from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

The "Systems and Machinations of Rape" as Hon Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, eloquently said in his debate at the 74th United Nation's Assembly is deliberate and well protected by a cartel of do-gooders (in speech) but lacking or duplicitous in practice -

His announcement of the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area, with its Secretariat office situated in Accra, there was no delay in coup d'état attempts back in his country whilst he was in Washington DC for this UN Session -

Corporate sponsored war machines and grand scale thefts have been around for a long time since time immemorial. The activities have been closely guarded. We are able only to read and understand the origins of man made disasters now.

To once again borrow from the resolute son of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, "The question always remains, whether the rich nations are prepared for an equitable and fair trading order. It appears that they are not. We will continue to fight for a fair economic order".

Philip Fitzpatrick

This is truly inspirational writing coming from Leonard Fong Roka and has wide relevance, not only to Bougainville but to other Pacific nations, including Papua New Guinea.

Politicians in the region would be well advised to heed what he is saying.

Bernard Corden

“If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.” - Tony Benn

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)