LEONARD FONG ROKA
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.