Report calls for laws against witchdoctors
Bougainville puts press in political crossfire

Bougainville highlights need for a new PNG

Martyn Namorong -
Martyn Namorong - "PNG needs a new Constitution that recognises the different tribal nations and empowers them with their full rights to self-determination within a political union"

| PNG Signal

PORT MORESBY - Will Papua New Guinea break up if Bougainville is granted full independence?

For some PNG leaders the threat of balkanization has shaped their attitudes towards Bougainville leaving the union of 850 tribes.

One of them is prime minister James Marape, who recently pleaded with Bougainville's leaders to take into consideration PNG’s fate when deliberating on the matter.

But asking Bougainville to empathise with PNG is a bit rich considering PNG has never really empathized with Bougainvilleans.

PNG certainly didn't when Bougainville first demanded independence before PNG gained its independence and when the Bougainville people opposed the Panguna mine.

Instead of asking for Bougainvilleans to see things through a PNG lens, Marape should be preparing PNG to let go of Bougainville.

Bougainvilleans have already made up their minds on full independence as expressed in the results of the referendum on whether or not they remain an integral part of PNG.

PNG on the other hand needs a serious national consultation on its post-Bougainville political architecture instead of toying around with whether or not it should be defined in its Constitution as a Christian nation.

At independence there was recognition by the likes of the first Governor General, Sir John Guise, that the kind of centralised Westminster government PNG was borrowing from its colonial master would lead to separatist movements.

The context of Sir John’s concern was that prior to independence there were already movements of political self-determination across the land.

The aspiration for self-determination is as old as the independent Melanesian tribes that have for millennia defended their tribal lands from outsiders.

It was against this cultural grain that a forced unification was imposed by the West.

This has been perpetuated since 1975 by an elite whose minds have been successfully colonised. Colonisation in PNG has a black face.

But a tendency for self-determination need not necessarily mean balkanization is inevitable.

After all, Bougainville was initially amenable to being part of PNG at independence in 1975 and dropped its ambitions for independence.

However, Bougainvilleans were to be disappointed by a neocolonial government in Waigani and its instruments of suppression inherited from the colonial Administration.

Attempts to accommodate Bougainvillean aspirations within the nation-state model borrowed from the West led to a civil war remain a source of discontent nationwide with calls for autonomy.

The English language is not the native tongue of Papua New Guineans. Translating their self-determination aspirations inevitably involves losing some of the nuances of the political, social and economic autonomy control they wish to have.

We have seen this in the Bougainville experience where the Westminster model of the nation state has proven itself to be incapable of accommodating the political aspirations of the people of Bougainville.

Even after Bougainvilleans were granted greater autonomy than most other autonomous regions globally, they chose independence.

This reflected their bitter experience of Waigani continuing to deny them much needed development funding and thus stifling their progress.

The Melanesian world has for millennia been a multi-polar world with no strong political centre or hegemony.

The colonial powers imposed their nation-building historical tradition through a newly educated PNG elite.

The colonisers hoped the elite would administer a regime that would create a Western-style homogenous national identity under central control.

Such an animal is not necessarily evil, however the PNG experience has shown that it is flawed as it can easily be hijacked by a rent-seeking predatory elite.

The accumulation of power and resources at the centre of power has had little trickle-down effect to the periphery.

In natural resource law, many Papua New Guineans feel cheated by a system that enables itself to own and decide on the exploitation of oil, gas and minerals that lie under tribal lands.

Year after year sub-national administrations wait like beggars for Waigani to release warrants for their development activities.

Political leaders, proud of their people’s mandate, have become yoyos jumping into different political camps hoping to grab some crumbs for their people.

People who were once warriors have become worriers and bystanders in their own land.

Bougainvilleans clearly do not want to be part of this failed project and are intent on bailing out.

Through their natural resource laws they have demonstrated that the people should always be the centre of power and not the central government.

Waigani needs to catch up to this reality instead of looking for band-aid solutions towards maintaining central control through the nation state.

A second Constitutional Planning Committee is needed to seek opinions from the people of PNG as to the type of system of government that is more relevant to them.

PNG needs a new Constitution and a new political architecture to accommodate the different interest groups in this land post Bougainville’s inevitable exit.

The current centralised system has been rightfully acknowledged by many leaders, including the prime minister, as being unable to withstand pressures from separatists especially when institutions of the state are weak.

PNG is a pluri-national state that has been pretending to be a nation state for over 40 years.

Instead of obsessing over whether PNG’s Constitution defines it as a Christian country, we should be exploring models of government that may be more relevant to PNG.

Should PNG be redefined from being the Independent State of Papua New Guinea to becoming the Pluri-National State of Papua New Guinea?

PNG needs a new Constitution that recognises the different tribal nations and empowers them with their full rights to self-determination within a political union.


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Philip Kai Morre

PNG needs revolution and a new ideology to change its outlook to respect the aspirations of common people.

I don't think we need a new constitution and a new political system, what we have is the best. We have to make it work, a government for the people, of the people and by the people.

It's only corruption that is undermining the fabric of our government system so that development is regressing, going backward.

Michael Dom

A new PNG constitution is an intellectually valuable and socio-politically promising idea.

(So is Communism/Marxism.)

The plausibility of an idea no more promises positive outputs than it guarantees achieving a desired impact.

Is this notion of Papua Niugini as a federated state being mooted?

And if so, who are the proponents and are their intellectual debates on-going and accessible?

How is the theory being articulated? And how is it communicated (a) among intellectuals (b) to political leaders, and (c) to the voting public?

Where are we going with this idea?

What is the practical outcome of such an idea?

And at what stage would the nation be prepared to undertake the transition and transformation?

What is our current trajectory and when is a likely point of inflection?

How do we define the conditions required?

If history is any guide, it may be predicted that Bougainville must gain its independence, with all the attendant upheaval which it entails, in order for PNG to proceed to a political turning point.

Marape's desire to keep Bougainville provides little promise of achieving that turning point.

And the current collective political class appear to have have neither the foresight, nor the forbearing, nor the fortitude to federate PNG functionally.

Having said that, I like the idea. So, let's hear more about it.

Joelson Anere

The late Fulbright scholar, Dr Ray Anere PhD, had long predicted that "whatever happens to Bougainville will also happen to the rest of Papua New Guinea's 22 other provinces".

In 1982, Dr Anere was one of the first PNG citizens to graduate from Berkeley College, University of California.

Many of his political predictions about Papua New Guinea, have proved correct and are still unfolding in the country long after his sudden passing in 2018 of a heart attack at the National Research Institute residence in Port Moresby, where he was a Senior Research Fellow.

Papua New Guinea and its citizens should look towards the future and embrace the idea espoused by Dr Anere of having a federal system of government under a model based on consultation, communication or dialogue, and innovation.

This would accommodate the political aspirations of its many distinct tribal nations.

Dr Anere coined the term 'Cooperative States of Melanesia' for this model, which would have a President as head of government and head of state.

Lindsay F Bond

Of lands named PNG, unification is historically simply impost.

Of folk thus grouped PNG, huge task came of being so herded.

The PNG Constitution supposes support of equity. But is there?

Task at hand is of dignity in expressions, caring in negotiations.

Philip Fitzpatrick

If in fact Papua New Guinea ever decided to revisit its Constitution and political arrangements it should be done with a minimal of outside influence. Foreign consultants should be banned from any such process.

This doesn't mean that PNG can't look at overseas examples for inspiration.

There is a clear and identifiable problem with the existence and configuration of its central government. Maybe that's where such a process should start.

Chris Overland

I think Martyn Namarong is quite correct in both his analysis of the Bougainville dilemma and of its implications for PNG.

Denying Bougainville independence would be a catastrophe for PNG, while granting it independence will inevitably open up fissures in the wider PNG polity.

To my mind the solution lies in the creation of a Federal structure somewhat similar to Australia, Canada, the USA or even Germany.

The tricky bit will be ensuring that the country does not fracture into large numbers of tribally based entities that are too small to be viable states.

The other side of the same coin is figuring out how to create states that can successfully encompass people from several different tribal backgrounds.

There will be no simple solution to the basic problem which is how to accommodate PNG's many distinct tribal identities within the governance structure without hopelessly compromising its underlying viability.

What to do, for example, where one state has access to huge and valuable mineral resources while others are utterly impoverished.

Australia has solved this problem, in part at least, through the process called "horizontal fiscal equalisation" whereby an independent non-partisan body (the Grants Commission) advises the Federal government on the fairest and most equitable way to allocate tax revenues.

While this process is always accompanied by maximum political posturing between states the results are invariably accepted, however grudgingly.

Everyone knows that this process is the price of having a viable nation state as distinct from of group of squabbling mini states, some of which are very much poorer than the others.

The truth is that the large and wealthy states generally enjoy greater influence within the overall Federation, which is reflected in their ability to negotiate favourable outcomes upon a host of things ranging from food standards and labelling through to the national education curriculum.

No-one thinks the process is perfect but no better option has yet been devised. Federal states are messy, noisy creations, locked into a more or less continuous process of negotiation over just about everything.

As one of our Prime Minister's famously observed, "life is not meant to be easy" and, if PNG goes down the federal path, this is the one certain outcome.

Philip Fitzpatrick

"PNG needs a new Constitution and a new political architecture to accommodate the different interest groups in this land post Bougainville’s inevitable exit."

Well said Martyn.

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