NOOSA - In his inauguration address to the Bougainville House of Representatives, new president Ishmael Toroama revealed his leadership strategy, the first element of which is the autonomous province taking “political control of its own destiny”.
“We must be masters of our destiny, and we can only do this by putting our own ‘software’ into the structures and institutions we are going to build,” Toroama said, launching his five-year term as president of Bougainville’s 380,000 people.
“Ideas from outside must be adapted and adjusted to fit our way of thinking. It is only through our own intellectual control that we can chart our own pathway and create our own identity and a place in the global society.”
He called upon “the enormous talent” of the educated Bougainville diaspora in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere to assist with this endeavour.
Toroama is presiding over a parliament in which 70% are first-time members, including three pairs of family relations – a husband and wife; a father and daughter; and a mother and son.
“We are entering a very important five years as the people have given us the enormous responsibility of securing the 98% vote [for independence in last year’s referendum]. I am fully aware of this responsibility,” he said.
Toroama, who campaigned on a platform of independence, corruption elimination and law and order, said the sacrifices of the 10-year civil war of the 1990s will not be in vain.
“I pay homage to the 20,000 people who died during our struggle for freedom.
“Many died not in combat but from a lack of access to services. My victory is in their honour,” he said.
“Independence has been our dream since the days of our forefathers. We have fought for it, and won the war, but we have not yet won the battle. My government’s priority is to continue the preparations [in] dialogue with the government of PNG.”
Toroama said that if the Bougainville people want freedom, the government must expel individuals, systems or institutions that are corrupt.
“I am aware of the weaknesses in the current financial management system as it has too many leaks,” he said. “We must fix the leaks going forward.
“Our dream of being masters of our destiny, will amount to nothing if we cannot behave in civil ways. We have signed the peace agreement, we have contained weapons, we have reconciled amongst ourselves as well as with PNG and, above all, we have conducted a highly successful referendum.”
He said there is no longer any reason for anyone to carry weapons and committed his government to combat increasing law and order issues especially relating to drugs, homebrew and gender and family violence.
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision for the people. You can’t beat the garamut for nothing,” he said.
“However, in restoring Bougainville to normalcy, we have simply re-established the old system under new labels. We have not encouraged the innovative ability of our people, so evident during the crisis years. The end result is that Bougainvilleans are again in danger of becoming bystanders on their own land.”
Toroama said the first step to building a new society was to establish trust and confidence in the people.
“People have desired change as expressed in the high number of new members in this parliament,” he said.
“However, while we are pursuing change we must also maintain balance between old and new, because the new leaders need to be mentored by the experienced leaders in the ways of running a government.”
Toarama said his government will have a targeted plan for growing the Bougainville economy.
“The Panguna mine will be a key target but we will not put all our eggs in one basket,” he said, adding that other mining ventures, agriculture, fisheries and tourism as sectors that can create employment and generate revenue for Bougainville.
“We welcome foreign investment, because without outside funding and technologies we may not be able to exploit our natural resources.
“But we expect a fair share of return and participation in the form of shareholding or equity in large scale projects. The medium to small enterprise sector must be controlled by our people.”
Speaking of his dissatisfaction with the performance of the Bougainville public service, Toroama said “the administration must change from being paper pushers to being agents of change.
“Too often public servants are accused of being self-serving, more interested in their perks and privileges or in how much allowance they will get when they go to Port Moresby instead of going to Torokina, Buin or Nissan. Their behaviour must change.
“My presidency intends to have a closer look at the public service in order to realign with the needs of the people,” he said.
“It is impossible for government to move Bougainville forward by itself. The private sector and civil society organisations must be mobilised to play a greater role than at the moment.”
Toroama said that if his plans were to succeed, Bougainville must set its house in order by putting in place a number of preconditions including appointing a vibrant political leadership, establishing a small, high-powered planning secretariat and emphasising education in and beyond the classroom.
Addressing the PNG government directly, with prime minister James Marape seated in front of him, Toroama said the PNG government had caused Bougainville “immense pain and suffering” but had subsequently “helped us in restoring our lives and are helping us to rebuild our government systems and institutions.
“We have reconciled and buried our differences as true Melanesian people. However, a lot more needs to be done in helping our Bougainville people live a comfortable life. I am aware that Bougainville may not have received its share of funds as agreed in the Bougainville Peace Agreement. I intend to explore this further with the prime minister.”