NOOSA – Bougainville’s president Ishmael Toroama has told Papua New Guinea prime minister James Marape “in no uncertain terms” that it is the resolve of the Bougainville people for an independent Bougainville.”
In a statement to the Bougainville parliament on Tuesday, Toroama said he had “made it clear that it was time to let our people go to be free as an independent sovereign nation.
And he said Bougainville was still experiencing political and economic sanctions by the government of Papua New Guinea despite the Bougainville Peace Agreement signed 20 years ago that ended the decade-long civil war.
“We have taken the consultation avenue as far as we can,” he said. “The timing is now right to address head-on the long historical issue of independence as expressed by 97.7% of Bougainvilleans through the 2019 referendum result.
Toroama said he told Marape at a two-day consultation with the national government in Port Moresby last week that “the issue of independence remains the greatest unifying factor for our people and government.
"It is a journey that we must all walk together and accomplish together.”
He explained that the Bougainvilleans’ “long yearning for independence from Papua New Guinea” was something “unique only to Bougainville and this sets us apart from the rest of the country.
“In the last 50 years our calls for self-determination have been ignored and we have had to concede to the political will of foreign powers.
“The people of Bougainville have had our rights suppressed through the exploitation of our resources, we had a war waged on our people and we are still experiencing political and economic sanctions by the government of Papua New Guinea despite the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the autonomous arrangements.
“Our message was clear; it is time to let the people of Bougainville to be free.”
Toroama complained that joint meetings between PNG and Bougainville officials “continue to be impeded by bureaucratic red tape.”
“Despite numerous resolutions passed by both governments we are still trying to resolve perennial matters that have been in limbo for as long as the existence of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
“I informed the prime minister that I was disappointed at the complacency and delays in fast tracking matters.”
Toroama referred to major issues including the outstanding restoration and development grant, revenue from fishing in Bougainville waters, transfer of Bougainville Copper Limited shares, tax remittances and the much protracted draw down of powers and functions to the Bougainville Autonomous Government.
“The ABG’s inability to exploit the full potential of its autonomy arrangement has created a scenario where Bougainville continues to remain dependent on the national government,” Toroama said.
“This induced dependency syndrome has rendered autonomy virtually impotent on Bougainville.
“While this is intentional or not, it questions the commitment of the national government to implementing the Bougainville Peace Agreement.”
Toroama said the timeline for Bougainville’s political settlement at sometime between 2025 and 2027 calls for a whole of government approach to our independence readiness.
“The timeline demands that we have a viable economy that is robust and ready to support our development needs,” he said.
“It demands that our government institutions are capable of implementing government directives to provide efficient service delivery and development for our people.
“It demands that we have a government that promotes democracy, transparency and accountability. Above all, peace and good order must prevail throughout Bougainville.”
Toroama said he would no longer tolerate corruption and complacency in the Bougainville Public Service.
“I have given the administration ample time to institute reforms but I see that people continue to resist change. Heads of departments should take note that the time has come for change in the public service.”
He said new public service minister Joseph Mona had been tasked to eradicate corruption and improve efficiency.
“The independence agenda now demands us to make practical decisions that are in the best interests of our people,” Toroama said.
Explaining that a Bougainville Constitutional Planning Committee will soon be established, he said that the people “all share a deep appreciation of the facts behind our call for independence. It is one agenda that rallies our people and this government in union.”