WITH the looming referendum and the future of the Bougainville copper mine hanging in the loop, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s recent appointment of himself as Minister for Bougainville Affairs in a recent minor ministerial reshuffle raised grave concerns on the overall peace process and the future of Bougainville. The Bougainville copper mine, the centre for secessionist rebellion by Bougainville landowners that erupted into a fully blown 10-year civil war between the PNG Defence Force and the Bougainville rebels from 1989 to 1998 resulted in the closure of then the world’s second largest open pit mine and the death of many thousands of people. Peace was reached with the referendum constituting the core of the Bougainville Peace Agreement that provides Bougainvillians with an exclusive right to selfdetermination.
Critical to this has been the internal unification process being undertaken by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) since its inauguration on June 15, 2015 that includes many reconciliations; the 2011 ceasefire ending the five-year Konnou conflict; increasing engagement with Me’ekamui groups; and progress towards ending the Morgan Junction roadblock. Unification continues to be essential as the region prepares for the referendum. The other critical factor is limited ABG funds. ABG president Dr John Momis revealed in his inauguration speech that because of PNG’s fiscal crisis when negotiating the Peace Agreement, the main National Government grants cover only basic costs of delivering services. “We have little internal revenue. The Agreement does provide a Restoration and Development grant, with a formula intended to increase when National budget development expenditure rises.