Presidential leadership for post referendum Bougainville

Bougainville is going through a major political metamorphosis ending one political status and entering into another entity.  The 15 years of Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) Tenure has ended but continues to exist under COVID 19 State of Emergency (SOE) Orders until September this year. At the same time, the Momis Presidency has come to an end as signalled by the recent Supreme Court decision. The timing of these two significant events is probably more incidental then intentional – a government coming to an end without the confirmation of what the next government will look like and the current President also ending his tenure. This leaves open the issue of a credible leadership “fit for the purpose” of creating a new nation. 

The Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) and the ABG were seen as pathways to a more permanent destiny and the people have already expressed their desire. The search is now on for the next captain of MV Bougainville towards the destiny.        

President Momi’s impending departure has opened the “flood gate” with about 26 candidates intending to contest the Presidential seat. President Momis has been the single most prominent leader for Bougainville because of his longevity and the high levels of leadership he has occupied over the span of 48 years (1972-2020). The flood waters are naturally bringing an assortment of candidates and practices in such a big field and voters are faced with an enormous task of choosing a credible candidate especially when little is known about some of the candidates from the current field. The lack of a stand out candidate is probably a reflection of the leadership monopoly that the outgoing President has held over four decades and also the death of some prominent leaders in their prime. The impact of the Bougainville Crisis on leadership is beginning to bite when most educated potential leaders were forced to leave Bougainville and hence foregone the opportunity to grow experiential leadership on the ground.  

The Post Referendum Agenda.

Any post crisis situation is usually characterised by a plethora of agendas to be addressed ranging from the rebuilding of broken lives through to the business of rebuilding state institutions (government) and social economic infrastructure.  Over the 15 years Bougainville has addressed many of these to some extent but there are some remaining key agendas that must be addressed in the forthcoming term of the Bougainville government.

Agenda one (1) concerns the 98% Vote – The Bougainville people have overwhelmingly set the goal post for independence at the recent Referendum.  Though non-binding, the expectation of the people throughout the three regions has been set and they will not settle for anything less. Autonomy in all its different forms such as free association has been rejected by the Vote. This is the first and foremost agenda for the incoming President- that is to secure independence for the people of Bougainville and spearhead the building of a new nation.  Securing independence will demand the exercise of political leadership at all levels – the national level, throughout Bougainville’s three regions and in due course the international arena.  It will require “political savy” more than managerial experience in an office.  The principle document guiding this agenda is the BPA. Familiarity in the nuances around its conception and its implementation over the last nineteen (19) years is fundamental because a theoretical knowledge will not be an adequate substitute. The ABG and the people throughout the three regions have been preparing for this journey and will need a leader who will seamlessly fit in without the need to “push start” the new President. Bougainville is largely united but there is still a bit to be done internally but which will require political remedies. The incoming President must provide the right antidote to such situations.  There is no time for the new President to be “learning on the job”. Agenda number 1 should sort out the “big men” from the boys! 

Agenda two (2) is Nation Building. After 19 years of rehabilitation and reconstruction, Bougainville has restored to some level the basic state institutions. It has a parliament, the judiciary and the administration. However, a nation comprises more than just the state institution and includes the private sector and civil society, particularly the churches and traditional societies whose customs and practices shape the behaviours of individuals. The question of legitimacy of state institutions is an everyday discussion in Bougainville and will not disappear until a satisfactory level of efficiency and effectiveness is achieved by the three tiers of state in tandem with civil society – the state needs civil society to accept it and by doing so give it legitimacy. State institutions on the other hand have to earn it by the way it executes its policies and programs beyond Buka. Bougainville is politically exercising a level of government and administration higher than the provincial governments but a cursory look indicates its performance to be lagging behind some provinces and must be fixed going forward. Articulating a long-term vision and reorientating the state machinery, private sector and civil society towards the common vision is part of this agenda. 

Agenda 2 also involves deepening the practice of democracy and good governance within the state institutions but in the broader society as well so that Bougainville becomes a mutually reinforcing society. The incoming President must be familiar with the nation building context in Bougainville and be able to provide the right leadership in this regard.

The State and the Nation cannot prosper and sustain itself without a strong economy. 

Agenda no three (3) is rebuilding the Bougainville economy beyond the tin-sheds that currently occupy the major towns of Buka, Arawa and Buin. Bougainville’s recent history is littered with a number of failed enterprises including attempts to reopen the Panguna mine. Strategising and planning for the economy should run parallel to Agenda 1 and 2. The task of developing the economic development strategy lies mostly in the hands of the bureaucracy and the private sector but the enabling functions fall in the political domain and the incoming President should possess the necessary understanding and experience in this regard. He/She should already have an excellent understanding of the economic situation on the ground at both the overall Bougainville level and the community and family levels. The incoming President must know why the focus on the Panguna mine failed to materialise over the last 15 years and not repeat the same mistakes either in policy or strategy in order to offer new solutions in resurrecting the mine.  

Agenda three (3) is Services Delivery – Delivery of services is an agenda that is on the lips of all citizens but needs to be put into perspective in the current scheme of things. The delivery of basic services such as health, education, police, courts, welfare services etc. etc. are a normal mandate for government and civil society organisations such as Churches and Non-Governmental Organisations. Politicians have assumed this responsibility upon themselves for ulterior motives thus undermining the service delivery mechanisms. Leaders cannot make decisions and implement the same decisions at the same time as it often leads to compromising of compliance procedures and standards. Politicians should focus on the task of setting vision and enacting policies and legislation.

It is important to distinguish between “wealth distributions” that many intending candidates are already advocating on face book against the need “to grow the economy”. Those advocating distributional politics are failing to understand basic economics and also do not understand the current trends of the national and international economy. Voters are likely to be left disappointed during the next five years if the distributional sentiments are not tailored in an appropriate manner. PNG’s economy has been on the decline for a number of years now and the downturn is likely to continue. Bougainville is currently dependent on PNG for its revenue. In order to distribute wealth in the form of “services delivery”, it must first be generated because you cannot distribute money that you don’t actually have. 

Strengthening the small holder cash crop economy is relevant but is only part of the picture. Major efforts must be placed on large enterprises (mining, agriculture, fisheries, tourism etc) with the potential to significantly drive the economy. The current level of services delivery will continue to happen but not at significant levels until the economy is up and running. Bougainville cannot build new feeder roads until it is able to fix and sustain existing ones. Bougainville’s need for economic development requires leadership that understands the economic situation in totality in order to provide the right leadership for economic development– mobile ATM approaches have limited impact over time. Connectivity into neighbouring economies should also be part of this agenda. There is some low hanging fruit in terms of enterprises (industry and agriculture) which have not been tapped into in Bougainville. 

Qualities of the next President – Having stated the key agendas above, we now turn to the subject of “the leadership qualities” the incoming President should possess. Implied in all of the above agendas is the quality of a “thorough understanding” of where Bougainville is currently at, in its political, historic and economic evolution. The incoming president must know how Bougainville and its people came to where it is today and where it is going. This understanding should not be a book knowledge but should be one accumulated through years of active engagement with the people throughout the islands. The notion of engagement is called “Hanmak” in Tok Pisin or evidence of your past engagement with the people.  Without the hanmak candidates may be seen as Eagles which hoover in the sky and only come down to earth to devour prey and then fly back to the sky. 

The ability to lead Bougainville and deliver on the 98% vote is the paramount quality required of the incoming president. As noted above, this requires “political craftsmanship that cannot be learnt in a formal classroom or acquired in an office”.  Experience in political leadership (especially in the crisis and post crisis years) is essential while familiarity with the national political leadership scene would also be valuable. Experience in high level consultations and negotiations and relationship building with a multitude of stakeholders is also an important quality especially at this time when the Bougainville leaders will be consulting with the PNG leaders over the 98% Vote.    

The rumours of large volumes of cash ready to be dished out indicates external hands at play. The normal leadership qualities trumpeted during elections of honesty, transparency, accountability and good governance are also important traits of a good leader.  Voters should look beyond the cash handouts and vote for leaders with a proven track record in these values. The challenge for the incoming president is to institutionalise these behaviours at all levels of the Bougainville bureaucracy including the Parliament so that it becomes a norm overtime.  

It may not be possible to find a single candidate that has all the leadership credentials demanded of the incoming President by the situation in Bougainville.  Should such a scenario eventuate, the new President should in the first instance pool together a group of politicians from the Constituent seats, who are imbued with the necessary understanding and the qualities described above. The President must be willing and able to mobilise the expertise of the educated Bougainville diaspora in PNG and elsewhere.  This has not happened since the formation of ABG and Bougainville has consequently stagnated.   

To the Voters, you have voted 98%. The exercise of your democratic right will determine whether you usher in a “Joshua” to bring the people across the river to sovereignty or someone who will deny you your passage to the promise land.

This article is intended to highlight the key agenda in post referendum Bougainville and the type of leadership qualities demanded of the incoming President by the current situation in Bougainville. It is hoped that the analysis will assist voters in deciding the most suitable candidate to be the next President for Bougainville. The analysis should also assist intending candidates to assess their own suitability for the position and the task at hand.