NOOSA – Discussions about Bougainville inside Papua New Guinea’s parliament have had a significant and disgruntled repercussion in the autonomous province itself, NBC Bougainville has reported.
Prime minister James Marape presented a statement on the Bougainville peace process to the national parliament and opened the topic for debate amongst MPs.
When news of the parliamentary exchanges got back to Bougainville they “stirred mixed emotions” among senior Bougainville leaders, including feelings of “shame” that there was little knowledge about the Bougainville issue in the PNG parliament.
Marape told parliament that the final proposed political settlement on Bougainville will be put to a vote in 2025 and that the agreed settlement, whatever it turns out to be, will be implemented in 2027.
He said that, while Bougainville independence is “one possible option of settlement”, he and his government had “not made any commitment to the Bougainville government that independence will be the final outcome”.
A Bougainville leaders’ forum, comprising a cross-section of national and sub-national leaders from the province, held a special session on Tuesday to scrutinize the deliberations of the national parliament.
The influential forum is the province’s catalyst for developing issues and positions that Bougainville’s official consultation teams take up with the national government.
The forum felt that Marape’s statements fell short of what was expected and expressed frustration and shame that PNG politicians in general were poorly informed about Bougainville issues.
The Bougainvillean members of the national parliament were told they should be doing more to inform PNG parliamentarians about Bougainville affairs and the views of the Bougainville people.
There are four Bougainville MPs in the national parliament - regional member and vice-minister for Bougainville Affairs, Peter Tsiamalili, and three members representing open electorates in the province, William Nakin, Sam Akoitai and Timothy Masiu.
Speaking at the forum, President Ishmael Toroama urged leaders to be confident of attaining independence as the final political settlement.
He assured them his government will continue to consult strongly and effectively with the national government to determine Bougainville’s political future.
"I ask you all not to panic; be confident,” Toroama said.
"There is still more to discuss and we will continue consultation till we reach the end of the process.
"There is so much misunderstanding. We will have to step up our efforts to correct these.
"These are our challenges," he said.
In May Toroama called for Bougainville to be given independence by 2025.
However, for this to happen, the PNG parliament must first ratify the result of a non-binding 2019 referendum in which 98% of Bougainvilleans voted for independence.
The Marape government has been reluctant to set a date for independence, or even mention the word in official communiques, saying Bougainville's self-determination is an issue to be handled carefully as it affects all of PNG.
In June Toroama upped the ante by setting 1 September 2025 as the target date for declaring independence.
Then in July Toroama and Marape held talks and agreed a timetable that could lead to the transfer of many powers by 2023 and full independence in 2027.
Soon after, the PNG governor-general Sir Bob Dadae said PNG could disintegrate if Bougainville became independent.
Since then Toroama has been more restrained in discussing independence.
He said in a statement last month that the next five years will be critical in Bougainville’s independence aspirations.