Abridged and edited from a research report, Institution Building in Post-Referendum Bougainville, by Professor Cheryl Saunders and Dr Anna Dziedzic for the National Research Institute. You can link here to the full report
PORT MORESBY - There will be four key questions facing decision-makers in Bougainville’s post-referendum consultations.
While the primary focus of the consultations will be the future relationship between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, there are other questions necessarily linked to this relationship.
The questions are:
What should be the future relationship between Bougainville and PNG, following the referendum?
What changes are necessary to achieve that relationship, in both PNG and Bougainville, in terms of governing authority and the way in which authority is exercised?
How should these changes be made, to ensure that they work as effectively as possible from the standpoint of both Bougainville and PNG?
Over what time frame should change occur and in what order of priority?
The future relationship between Bougainville and PNG might take different forms, with multiple different features, all of which are consistent with self-determination.
For the purposes of this report, as an aid to understanding the options, the possibilities are grouped into three broad categories.
We note, however, that there may be variations within each.
These categories are:
Self-determination for Bougainville outside PNG, as a formally sovereign state
Self-determination outside PNG, but in a form of free association with it
Self-determination in a form that leaves Bougainville formally part of PNG
There are at least three contextual factors that are relevant to the form and outcomes of the consultations.
One is the nature of the existing relationship between PNG and Bougainville. These two territories have been connected for the purposes of governance for over 100 years.
The legacies of this connection include both long collaboration and significant conflict.
Both legacies are evident in the considerable achievements of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, which brought a bitter conflict to a close in a way that has proved both manageable and lasting.
Bougainville’s peace process provides a model from which others might learn.
Nevertheless, from the standpoint of the consultations, these legacies tend to pull in opposite directions.
Complicating resolution further, a century of governance of PNG and Bougainville as a single entity also has encouraged the intermixture of peoples and the interdependence of economies.
Self-determination for Bougainville will require these to be disentangled to some degree, whatever form it takes.
On the other hand, geography, shared history and the realities of globalisation suggest that a close relationship of some kind will continue.
A second contextual factor that demands consideration is Bougainville’s capability, now and into the future.
Capability should be understood for this purpose as a combination of the knowledge, skills and integrity needed to develop policies, manage programs and run institutions in ways that work for the people of Bougainville and for the polity as a whole.
Capability, including ways in which it might be developed, is relevant to all the key questions for decision in the course of the consultations.
Capability is an issue that arises when any political community acquires major new responsibilities for which it has final authority.
In one sense, Bougainville has an advantage in this regard over many other newly empowered political communities, thanks to the experience of nearly two decades of autonomy since the signing of the peace agreement.
Capability is nevertheless a major issue for Bougainville, in ways that are documented in a range of relatively recent reports and reviews.
Bougainville and PNG have distinctive features and a distinctive history that must guide both the decisions that are made in the course of the consultations and the ways in which they are put into effect.
Properly used, however, the experiences of other countries can be a valuable source from which insights for the consultations between governments can be drawn.
A companion report, Increasing Revenues for the Bougainville Government, identifies 57 states that, like Bougainville, have small island territories, in order to examine their relevance as comparators for the purposes of Bougainville’s own economic and fiscal futures.
From this range, the report ultimately identifies 18 such states that are broadly comparable to Bougainville in terms of size and economic opportunity. This section of this report identifies three ways in particular in which comparative experience might be useful for the institutional and related issues covered by this report.
First, the experiences of other countries may provide useful insight into each of the broad options for the relationship between Bougainville and PNG.
Second, polities that are broadly similar to Bougainville in terms of geographic and population size, stage of development, and perhaps culture, offer insights into such matters as the range of institutions that Bougainville might need; the challenges of operating them; and the extent to which governance can be enhanced by local cultural practice.
Third, comparative experience can be useful also to demonstrate how smaller states, with limited resources, share institutions of various kinds, including by using institutions of others. Examples that will be given in the course of this report include currency, courts and diplomatic representation.
There is no shortage of public institutions that might be organised in this way, however, in the short term or even indefinitely. These practices are familiar in smaller states throughout the world, but the same range of Pacific states might be most useful comparators for Bougainville’s purposes.
Creating a polity to realise self-determination requires an effective political community, in addition to the institutions and other trappings of statehood. An effective political community requires cohesion between peoples, trust in public institutions and a shared commitment to the polity.
In an effective political community, disagreement is resolved through processes provided by or under the auspices of the state, potentially including customary law and practice. Members of a political community will not always be pleased by an election outcome, a new law or policy, or a decision of a court or other arbiter.
Where a political community is working well, however, people accept such outcomes as part of a system to which they belong and on which they are prepared to rely, even while working to change decisions for the future.
Bougainville already has a political community; however, greater demands will be placed on it by self-determination as Bougainville becomes increasingly self-reliant.
Although institutions based on western constitutional models have been established, customary institutions, such as councils of elders and chiefs, customary law, and customary methods of decision making and dispute resolution are recognised in Bougainville’s constitution and laws.
Customary institutions have a high degree of legitimacy and operate alongside state institutions in what has been described as an example of successful ‘hybrid’ state building.
Customary institutions and processes have played a crucial role during the period of autonomy under the peace agreement. Bougainville can continue to draw on these institutions to develop a political community that suits its new circumstances and needs.
But there are challenges in building political community in Bougainville as well. Regionalism and factionalism are as present in Bougainville as elsewhere.
The animosities of the civil war are not entirely overcome and continue to affect the cohesion of local communities.
Divisions could be exacerbated by future initiatives including, most obviously, reopening the Panguna mine.
The struggle for self-determination has been a catalyst for unity of purpose within Bougainville that could be weakened once that struggle is over.
Governance in Bougainville in conditions of self-determination is certain to be difficult, has the potential to give rise to dissatisfaction among sections of the people, and could undermine the solidarity on which political community depends.