NOOSA – Bougainville president Ishmael Toroama has expressed “alarm” at an article by former Bougainville government advisor Gordon Peake alleging he had “call[ed] into question the integrity of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and our commitment to the peace process”.
The article appeared last week in The Interpreter, a website published by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute.
Peake, a visitor in the school of regulation and global governance at the Australian National University, had reflected on an aborted meeting of the peak organisation managing Papua New Guinea-Bougainville relations, the Joint Advisory Body (JSB).
The meeting was called off in the midst of a PNG political crisis only after the Bougainville delegation had arrived in Port Moresby.
Peake wrote that in addition to president Toroama the “delegation included the other 13 members of his cabinet, department heads, heads of parliamentary committees, a ‘technical’ team, a ‘consultation’ team, a media team, a protocol team, logistics and support staff and ‘close protection officers’.”
The article went on to say that “paying for costs of meetings is easy. It’s much harder to find the currency that nudges the development of ideas and proposals.
“Between the hiring of a plane, vehicles and nights at the Holiday Inn in Port Moresby, the cost of this jaunt alone must have easily run to many thousands.
“That’s a hefty sum for a region which brings in less than $2 million per year and where travel between the region’s two main towns is fraught because of a downed bridge. And all for naught….
“The Bougainville delegation hung around Port Moresby for a week. ‘Technical officers’ from the two governments held a short meeting in the hotel’s ballroom one day. The delegation will leave with nothing more than a top-up of hotel rewards points and hoping no virus comes home with them.”
Although characterising the article as “satirical in nature”, Toroama was clearly very offended.
“It explicitly implies that my government does not take the consultations seriously and that we condone the wastage of government resources,” he stated.
“Mr Peake’s article further insinuates that the trip to Port Moresby to convene the Joint Supervisory Body meeting last week was a failure and in general Bougainville’s attempts at self-determination were futile.
“I do not appreciate the subversive means employed by Mr Peake to obtain information as a former [ABG] advisor and then twist the facts to suit his own devise.”
Toroama added that, while he understood Peake’s views were independent of the Australian government, it was quite alarming to learn that former advisors are using inside knowledge on Bougainville to abscond from the truth and provide a shallow analysis of Bougainville’s affairs.
Peake, an experienced research consultant and international development professional who has led a range of projects in PNG, Timor Leste and Vanuatu, responded in a brief comment to PNG Attitude.
"I stand by my analysis piece published in the Lowy Interpreter last week,” he wrote. “I put questions to the president's media office on 27 November via email and received no response."