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Toroama on strategy, independence & challenge

Ishmael toroama portrait
Ishmael Toroama - “Corruption or perceptions of corruption continue to be a major stumbling block to the government"

KEITH JACKSON

NOOSA – Bougainville president Ishmael Toroama this week briefed the autonomous province’s House of Representatives on the “important work of independence readiness” on which his administration has embarked.

He said the program is based on the 97.7% referendum vote for Bougainville independence and comprises three key strategies.

The internal strategy aims at getting all communities ready for independence and has begun meetings in all constituencies, so far in Ramu, Lato, Halia and Nissan.

“Everywhere we travel, we are met with high enthusiasm and spirit,” Toroama said. “The length and breadth of Bougainville must show a united stand to the rest of the world.”

There is also an international strategy, with a policy paper recently approved by the Bougainville cabinet on cultivating international support.

This will be done initially through existing arrangements with PNG while aspects such as political, social, cultural, economic and trade arrangements are better understood.

The third strategy covers national affairs and Bougainville leaders continue to consult with the PNG government on the referendum result.

“We are on very cordial terms with the PNG government,” Toroama said, “with much goodwill and understandings on both sides as we journey towards our destiny.

“We, as leaders and as public servants, are the public face of Bougainville and we must maintain ethical standards of behaviour at all times.”

President Toroama said Bougainville had presented a detailed five-year timeline to the PNG government, each year including milestones, with independence to be fully declared during 2025 (with 1 September the desired date.

He said his government has established two secretariats to attend to its intellectual and strategic needs.

“The Bougainville Independence Mission Advisory Team is providing the intellectual grunt in our political engagement with PNG [and] the Bougainville Strategic Research Planning and Monitoring Secretariat will take lead on the higher level long-term vision and development strategies and the review and restructure of government.”

Toroama said that since the formation of the first post-crisis Bougainville government, 20 government-owned business enterprises had been established of which only four were still operating, and only two of these were generating revenue.

“This is a failure rate of 80% and a serious indictment on the performance of past governments,” he said.

The government is setting up business management systems to uphold good management principles, especially against the pilfering of funds.

Toroama said the government will soon announce new business ventures valued at K68 million and investments totalling K400 million which are expected to create 2,000 jobs.

Preparations are also being made to clear the way for talks relating to the possible reopening of the Panguna copper and gold mine.

He said that there are still considerable funds, totalling K2.5 billion, owed to Bougainville by the PNG government under the Bougainville Peace Agreement and other arrangements. He said government officials constantly need to engage with Waigani to ensure these funds are draw down.

“Corruption or perceptions of corruption continue to be a major stumbling block to the government both at the leadership and administrative level,” the president stated.

“Some of the practices, like officers hiring their own vehicles for project monitoring visits, must stop.”

“I am happy that Bank South Pacific recently paid K500,000 to the government revenue but this announcement should not shroud the monies previously diverted by the trustees of this shareholding.”

He said the government should work to recover these funds.

“The key approach to combatting corruption is to follow proper systems and processes that exist or to create new systems where none exist.

“There will be many changes as Bougainville transitions from an autonomous government to a future sovereign state and there will be times when we have to think outside the box to find solutions because the normal way of doing business will not be adequate.

“In saying this, I am not advocating ‘a free for all situation’. We must still be strategic, coordinated and systematic,” he said.

Toroama said the challenges are many and leaders and public servants will need to balance domestic responsibilities of governance, service delivery and development with participating in the political agenda.

“The journey ahead is not going to be easy on all fronts as we play catch-up on missed opportunities over the last 15 years,” he said.

“All we ask for from all our citizens, through your respective leadership positions, is their patience and support.”

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