NOOSA – Despite Papua New Guinea’s failure to convene a Joint Supervisory Body (JSB) meeting last week Bougainville president Ishmael Toroama has accepted reassurances from prime minister James Marape of his continuing support for the Bougainville peace process and post-referendum consultations.
JSB is the superior assembly established to facilitate effective policy-making and communications between the autonomous region of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, its importance heightened by last year’s overwhelming pro-independence referendum vote in Bougainville.
A delegation led by Toroama and including cabinet ministers, senior public servants and other stakeholders had travelled to Port Moresby for the JSB before it was suddenly called off in the middle of a political crisis which threatened to unseat Marape.
The meeting aimed to progress earlier discussions by Toroama and Marape and begin negotiations on a framework leading to the ratification of the referendum result by PNG parliament.
The Bougainville Peace Agreement under which the referendum was held enables the PNG parliament to make the final – and ultra-sensitive - decision on whether Bougainville will be free to split from PNG as an independent state.
There are also a number of other critical issues requiring negotiation and agreement between the PNG and Bougainville governments including substantial debts owing to Bougainville and a mechanism for the transfer of shares in Bougainville Copper Ltd currently held by the PNG government.
The shares are part of a 53.8% parcel relinquished by Rio Tinto in June 2016 when it made a shock decision to turn its back on the Panguna copper and gold mine which had been abandoned in 1989 as civil war broke out in Bougainville.
The mine still has a 20-25 year life but will take many billions of dollars to rebuild.
There is also the major issue of responsibility for the remediation of the environmental destruction left behind when Rio Tinto walked away from Panguna.
Toroama expressed disappointment that the JSB was not convened but revealed that a Joint Technical Team co-chaired by the chief secretaries of the two governments had begun talks on administrative arrangements.
Other issues to be agreed between the two government are the timing of a by-election for the Bougainville Regional Seat in the PNG parliament (now expected to start on Saturday 16 January for two weeks) and the protocols surrounding inviting foreign missions to set u development offices on Bougainville.
“I am mindful of the political situation that is currently on going in the national government and I am well aware of how its outcome will have an obvious effect on Bougainville,” Toroama said.
“I maintain my resolve that Bougainville and my government is not party to the outcome of the current political situation but I must insist that the national government meets its commitment to the Bougainville Peace Agreement.”