RABAUL - The parliamentary select committee on constitutional law headed by former Papua New Guinean chief ombudsman Simon Pentanu is looking at Bougainvillean views on whether their constitution should be modified to allow the current president to recontest for a third term.
The committee is also considering whether to abolish the three seats reserved for ex-combatants from the three main parts of Bougainville.
This is because of the critical importance of Bougainvillean unity and leadership continuity to enable successful negotiations with the national government in this post-referendum period.
The seats reserved for former fighters should be abolished once and for all. There is no need for them.
There should only be one united Bougainville where citizens have an equal chance of contesting and winning or losing elections in a free and democratic society. No one should feel left out.
Reserving seats for some groups under divisive identity labels such as ‘ex-combatants’ would not be in the spirit of forming a new, united and democratic government of the region.
Labels such as rebels, ex-combatants, resistants, revolutionaries and guerrillas were in common parlance in the context of Bougainville in past times but now Bougainvilleans are forming a new united, democratic and independent government.
They are not dwelling in the past but learning from it with the aim of constructing a better future for the region.
Taking a longer view of Bougainville and its fight for justice, peace and freedom, it could be argued that Bougainvilleans who really understand the genesis of their struggle (and where they are now), should not see any controversy in modifying the constitution to allow for a recontest by the sitting president.
This is to maintain continuity in the historic process of more clearly defining the final structure of an independent government that Bougainvilleans voted for.
It is to the advantage of Bougainville that we have John Lawrence Momis as a uniquely experienced leader, a competent man definitely needed at this crucial point in our history. This can only happen if he recontest and wins.
If it is true that Bougainvilleans no longer believe he is needed at this time, then he may be democratically sidelined through the ballot box.
A recontest by him would be a very democratic way of giving Bougainvilleans a chance of speaking their minds on how important continuity is in terms of shepherding the current process towards a collectively desired conclusion.
President Momis has a unique institutional memory and credibility in terms of PNG, Bougainville and regional politics.
He was one of the key draftsmen of the PNG constitution which gave form to the Bougainville constitution. Bougainville needs this lived experience to guide the crucial post-referendum process, not just technical knowledge of law and political science.
John Momis is that light that Bougainville needs most now. They do not need amateurs to navigate the rough waters in terms of negotiating the final destination they voted for.
Right now, Bougainville needs a strong leader. This leader is John Momis supported by capable elected parliamentarians.
Clear thinking Bougainvilleans are not caught up in the thinking, especially of the younger generation, that voting for independence with a 98% majority meant that “all shall be well” from then on.
In fact, the vote for independence does not mean much now. It was only an expression of choice. It only means that the majority of Bougainvilleans favour or desire independence.
However, right now, Bougainville needs the sitting president - a leader with regional and international credibility - to lead the post-referendum process that will eventually define what people want in terms of political and economic arrangements for their society.
Now is not the right time for an experienced leader to be relinquishing his key leadership post just when he is needed most. Bougainvilleans need continuity.
To some Bougainvilleans, it might seem that making the proposed changes to their constitution is doing violence to it or abusing a law.
This is not the right way of seeing things. Many Bougainvilleans respect the spirit of the constitution but see the need for the proposed change above a legalistic mindset.
Let the changes be done to serve the overall interest. Citizens of any nation do not arbitrarily change a national constitution for any insubstantial reasons. There are substantial reasons for change at this point in the peoples’ shared history and the people must rise to history’s call.
There is a the view that President Momis is a leader conditioned by the past and thus not very effective in leading Bougainville in a future driven by modern capitalist economics, science and technology.
It is argued that someone younger and well versed with current trends should be leading Bougainville. This thinking is false because society is much more than science and technology and their handmaid, the material standards set by unbridled capitalist economics.
Arguments against modifying the constitution to allow President Momis to recontest also arise because some Bougainvilleans with intentions to contest the presidential seat probably fear a recontest by Momis marginalises their chances of winning due to his popularity.
Some individuals go further, falsely accusing him of dictatorship and suppression while historically and politically the opposite is most true of him as a democratic but strong leader.
These underlying motives reacting against the proposed changes to the constitution would appear not to have much to do with the collective interest of the region.
It also seems that financial and administrative corruption is being used to score points against giving the democratic opportunity to the sitting president to recontest so he might finish what his generation had started.
It is sometimes asked why the government led by him is not stopping corrupt practices wherever they are happening. It should be pointed out that, even if some Bougainvilleans see corruption as a form of protest against the sitting president, there is no guarantee that those who accuse him will stop corruption once they get into power.
It is very doubtful that corruption will be reduced significantly when a new president assumes power. This is a longer-term issue related to lack of capacity and manpower, transparency and accountability in the Bougainville governance system.
Bougainvilleans must not be deliberately confused by individuals with ulterior motives deviating them from making the right decision in choosing the right leadership in pursuit of their final political and economic self-determination.
Bougainvilleans need President John Lawrence Momis as their captain. One truly knows where one is going, only when one knows where one is coming from.