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‘Bougainville Update – Ministerial Visit, The Peace Process, And Development Of The B



6 MARCH 2003

Mr Speaker,

Introduction :

In line with the high national priority the Somare-Marat Government gives to the Bougainville peace process, I rise to update this Honourable House on recent developments in Bougainville.

In doing so, I draw on the observations made by the team of eleven Ministers who visited Bougainville two weeks ago.

I also draw attention to important issues currently before the Government, including some which we believe should be addressed on a bipartisan basis.

Ministerial visit to Bougainville

On 18-19 February, a team of eleven Ministers visited and travelled around Bougainville.

It was the largest group of Ministers with the broadest range of responsibilities to go together to Bougainville for many years, if ever (apart from the formal signing of the Ceasefire and Bougainville Peace Agreements).

The aim of the visit was to allow new Ministers to meet, and others to meet again, with key Bougainville leaders - and to see conditions on the ground for themselves.

My hope in arranging it was to provide colleagues with the opportunity to improve their understanding of our role in the partnership needed to facilitate the early, smooth establishment of the autonomous Bougainville Government, and in working with Bougainville leaders, ex-combatants and communities to bring the early return of normalcy on the ground.

The willingness with which so many Ministers set aside other responsibilities to come to Bougainville shows just how genuine the Government is when we say we are committed to full implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and regard practical peace-building as a high, national priority.

I believe our commitment is shared by Members on all sides of the National Parliament on the same bipartisan basis that has helped bring the Bougainville peace process so far.

The Ministerial team

Mr Speaker,

The team which accompanied me to Bougainville included Ministers with key responsibilities for social and economic recovery: the Ministers for Finance and Treasury, Hon. Bart Philemon; National Planning and Monitoring, Hon. Sinai Brown; and Welfare and Social Development, Hon. Lady Carol Kidu.

Other Ministers in the team have important roles to play at the present stage of the peace process, in preparing the way for the establishment of the autonomous Bougainville Government, and in helping to restore services and reconstruct infrastructure on the ground.

They include the Ministers for Defence, Hon. Kappa Yarka, and Internal Security, Hon. Yawa Silupa; the Ministers for Justice, Hon. Mark Maipakai, Public Service, Hon. Dr Puka Temu, and Works, Hon. Gabriel Kapris.

Two of our Bougainvillean colleagues came too: the Minister for Education. Hon. Michael Laimo, and the Minister for Mining, Hon. Sam Akoitai.

The official party also included the Commissioner for Police, the Defence Force Commander, the Acting Commissioner for Correctional Services, as well as heads and senior officials of other Government Departments and agencies.

The Member for North Bougainville, Hon. James Togel, was, unfortunately, obliged to remain behind to attend the Court of Disputed Returns.

But his initiative in launching the work of the North Bougainville Development Committee, which I was privileged to attend and address on the evening before we left, shows just how strong his commitment to practical peace-building really is.

The Governor of Bougainville, Hon. John Momis, met the Ministerial team on our arrival in Buka.

The official welcoming party included other senior members of the Transitional Consultative Council. This is the body, representing all major factions, which advises the Bougainville Interim Provincial Government in the exercise of its lawful functions and powers.

The Ministerial team was warmly greeted, both on arrival and wherever we went.

The way we were received showed how much leaders, officials and communities around Bougainville appreciate the interest the National Government takes in their situation.

It also showed how greatly they valued the opportunity to listen to Ministers, ask questions, and show us both what is being achieved and what remains to be done.

Judging from what I saw and heard as we moved around, as well as subsequent discussions with Ministers and officials, the visit was very welcome, mutually informative, and potentially very productive on all sides.

I thank my colleagues for the very positive and practical way in which they have shown their personal and political support for my Ministry’s efforts in promoting the peace process and the return of normalcy in Bougainville.

Meetings in Bougainville :

Mr Speaker,

After arriving in Buka and attending some meetings there, the Ministerial team divided into two groups, which made their way to Loloho and Arawa by separate routes.

One travelled down the East Coast, stopping off at Tinputz and Wakunai on the way.

The other went South, to Buin and Tonu, before re-joining the rest of the team.

The neutral, regional Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) provided transport for both groups.

Together with the United Nations Observer Mission in Bougainville (PMG), the PMG also briefed us, focusing on progress with weapons disposal.

The Government appreciates the support, information and generous hospitality our friends from the region and the United Nations continue to provide.

Highlights of the Ministers’ visits to outlying centres included projects which assist in the re-integration of ex-combatants and communities in very practical ways.

An outstanding example, whose positive effects can be seen in many different places, is the project through which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Australia and the European Union (EU) co-operate in distributing cocoa and coconut seedlings and restoring copra and cocoa dryers around Bougainville.

A total of 3.4 million cocoa seedlings was distributed between mid-2001 and mid-2002 alone.

Despite difficulties in getting products to market, current high prices for cocoa, in particular, add to the project’s public attractiveness, as well as its effectiveness in providing opportunities for ex-combatants and other Bougainvilleans to help themselves.

Another project which attracted the Ministerial team’s favourable attention was one which is actively supported by the Member for Central Bougainville, Hon. Sam Akoitai, where ex-combatants mill timber and make school furniture.

So, too, did the EU-sponsored steel fabrication project at Tonu.

But, even as progress is made on a number of fronts, other challenges remain.

Some of these challenges are critical to the future of these and other projects, and to restoration and development generally.

They include the need to honour previous Governments’ promises by repairing, reconstructing and upgrading the Buka Town and Ring Roads, as well as agricultural feeder roads all around Bougainville.

They also include the need to improve the availability and reliability of electricity, water supplies and communications in Buka and Arawa.

As Ministers were reminded by the businesspeople, officials and others we met, the Aropa airstrip has still to be re-opened; shipping services to Central and South Bougainville are inadequate; and administration almost everywhere needs to be made more efficient and effective.

Shortages of medical supplies are a particular concern. There is still a great deal to do before we can say that normalcy has returned and will be sustained.

Reducing the size and cost of the Bougainville Administration, while working to strengthen capacity at the same time, is an important key to making progress on other fronts.

I am, therefore, pleased to report that the Provincial Administrator for Bougainville is in Port Moresby this week to seek advice and support in implementing a public sector retrenchment programme which is, in many ways, long overdue.

Mr Speaker,

Immediately after arriving and being welcomed in Buka, the Ministerial team moved straight to a meeting, which provided a sharp reminder of the urgent need to ensure that policies and plans for the future do not overlook pressing local issues.

Some of these issues have been outstanding for many years.

The meeting that the Governor, Hon. John Momis, and I had agreed to hold with the people of Ieta Village, the traditional landowners of the area around Buka Town, made the point quite clear.

Issues raised at the meeting included an urgent request for a proper report on the environmental impact of the new wharf being constructed close to the market in Buka Town.

They also included a request for proper verification of all alienated land in the area, including Hutzena and Sohano Island.

The Ieta people want opportunities to participate in the economic benefits of activities carried out on their ancestral lands, such as stevedoring, and businesses which have been abandoned by their former owners.

Outstanding claims include payment of royalties for coronous used in the development of Buka Town during the 1980s.

They also include demands for compensation arising from the Bougainville conflict, such as assistance in re-building homes destroyed by persons identified as members of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) from the Bougainville mainland.

A number of colleagues from relevant Ministries were able to give helpful responses. Those from other electorates in or close to other towns drew on their own experience for advice.

I have promised the Ieta people a prompt and proper response to their grievances. I have written to relevant Government agencies to request their assistance in honouring the commitment I made.

Following a separate meeting with the business community in Buka, I have directed my Ministry to assemble a properly documented set of accounts for the very substantial amounts local business houses say they are owed by the Defence Force, the Bougainville Administration and other Government bodies.

As the responsible Minister, I will do all I reasonably can to see that lawful and properly documented debts are paid, and paid soon – so the autonomous Bougainville Government does not begin operating against a background of outstanding debt.

Interim Joint Supervisory Body :

Mr Speaker,

The House will recall the proposal I made last year that the joint supervisory body intended to manage relations and resolve any disputes between the National Government and the autonomous Bougainville Government should be set up on an interim basis, even before the new Constitutional framework for Bougainville becomes fully operational.

My aim was to establish a mechanism, consistent with agreed arrangements for the longer-term, so leaders and officials on all sides develop the habit of working together while establishing the agreed arrangements and making them work.

With my Cabinet colleagues’ full support, I raised the proposal with Bougainville leaders.

Their response was very positive indeed.

The result is that one of the main aims and successes of the recent Ministerial visit was that the Governor of Bougainville, Hon. John Momis, the President of the Bougainville People’s Congress, Joseph Kabui, and I officially signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing the joint supervisory body immediately on an interim basis.

The parties then convened the first formal meeting. I was privileged to be elected the first Chairman.

A number of important issues were briefly discussed in a way that gives confidence about the prospects for ongoing co-operation.

The next meeting of the Interim Joint Supervisory Body is due to be held at official level in Port Moresby in the first week of June.

It will be critical to managing the transition to the establishment of the autonomous Bougainville Government, the more so as the Peace Process Consultative Committee (PPCC) completes its responsibilities for weapons disposal.

Issues likely to be high on the agenda include restoration of civil authority (Police, courts and correctional services); joint implementation plans for Government Services; and the introduction of the new financial arrangements.

The agenda will also include such additional functions, powers and control over resources available under the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the agreed Constitutional arrangements as the Bougainville parties may want the autonomous Bougainville Government to assume.

Weapons disposal, and related issues :

Mr Speaker,

As Honourable Members already know, the new arrangements for the government of Bougainville under the Papua New Guinea Constitution, become fully operational when – and only when – UNOMB verifies, certifies and then notifies the Government that stage 2 of the agreed weapons disposal plan has been achieved.

At latest report, just over two weeks ago, the number of guns put away was 1, 784.

301 of these are high-powered, factory-mades.

While it is hard to be sure exactly how many weapons ever were or still remain at large in Bougainville, we do know that 85% of those handed in under the agreed weapons disposal plan are now at stage 2.

While the handing-in of additional weapons is not proceeding as fast as it did in the lead-up to the National Parliament’s vote on the new Constitutional arrangements early last year, it is moving ahead.

With the introduction of improved storage arrangements and co-operation between ex-combatants and Police in maintaining security and law and order, the unauthorized opening of containers and removal of weapons which occurred late last year seems to have stopped.

Many weapons have been recovered or returned, though, unfortunately, not all.

Following the National Executive Council’s (NEC) decision to help fund co-operation between ex-combatants’ and Police, the Police have come up with an appropriate legal framework for implementation.

Again, I am pleased to report that a number of officials from the main ex-combatant groups are coming to Port Moresby this week to discuss the details.

We will all have to be careful that the financial and legal limits applying to the arrangement are properly understood and respected.

The same is obviously true when it comes to the longer-term obligations accepted by all of the parties in the Bougainville Peace Agreement.

These obligations include the commitment by the ex-combatant groups to disband, and the requirement that Police and other public officials in Bougainville are recruited on individual merit (and not, for example, as members of groups).

Mr Speaker,

While the Ministerial team was in Bougainville, the Acting Australian High Commissioner was visiting there too.

His task was to inform Bougainville leaders, ex-combatants and communities that the Australian Government has decided the PMG must finish its work by 30 June and withdraw.

The New Zealand Government has since officially advised that it has made the same decision. So the need to progress and complete practical weapons disposal is quite clear.

Stage 2 of the agreed weapons disposal plan must be completed – and completed soon – if we are to have the advantage of the PMG’s presence when the new Constitutional arrangements take full effect.

It is, in fact, urgent not only that stage 2 is completed but that the decision on the final fate of the weapons at stage 3 is made very soon too, for much the same reasons.

The Government acknowledges the challenges involved.

We appreciate that many of the weapons still to be included at stage 1 and stage 2 are probably held by people in remote areas who are sometimes very reluctant to give them up.

We recognise, too, the commitment that leading ex-combatants, such as BRA Commander Ishmael Toroama and Chairman of the Resistance, Hilary Masiria, have displayed in promoting public awareness, understanding, support, and, above all, active co-operation in getting the guns out of the way.

The Director of UNOMB, H. E. Ambassador Noel Sinclair, is putting his heart and soul into encouraging greater progress.

The PMG is contributing very substantial resources. But the challenge remains. We have to get on and complete the job.

The National Government is ready to discuss how community-based verification can proceed as soon as the Bougainville parties are.

The same is true of the decision on the final fate of the weapons due to be made at stage 3.

The National Government, therefore, looks forward to an early meeting of the PPCC.

Both personally (as someone who has been involved in the Bougainville peace process since its earliest stages), and as the responsible Minister, I repeat the encouragement I repeatedly gave during my latest visit to Bougainville – for Francis Ona and his remaining supporters around Panguna to give peace a chance by committing themselves to the peace process, and joining in practical weapons disposal.

I am willing to meet them to discuss such issues and assurances as they may wish to raise at any mutually convenient time and location.

Like other women and men of good will, I await their reply. Meanwhile, I welcome the way in which the BRA’s A Company and other elements of the Me’ekamui Defence Force are opening up, and co-operating in practical weapons disposal.

Preparation of Bougainville Constitution :

Mr Speaker,

While we were in Arawa, a number of Ministers, including myself, met with the Chairman, Joseph Kabui, members and staff of the Bougainville Constitutional Commission (BCC).

The Government had previously received and I had briefed Cabinet on the BCC’s Recommendations.

I had also received the Second Draft of the proposed Constitution, which the BCC had just taken back to the people to promote public awareness and seek additional inputs.

As Honourable Members know, the process involved in the making of the Constitution for the autonomous Bougainville Government is set out in detail in the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the new Part XIV of the Papua New Guinea Constitution.

It provides for regular, frequent briefings and consultations, with adequate opportunity for the National Government to make its views known.

When the BCC comes up with its final draft, it goes to a body which is required to be broadly representative of the people of Bougainville: the Bougainville Constituent Assembly, which considers the draft, before adopting it (with or without amendments), and submitting it to the National Executive Council (NEC).

The process from then on is largely automatic: the NEC is required by law to advise the Head of State to endorse the Bougainville Constitution where it meets the requirements of the Papua New Guinea Constitution.

The Bougainville Constitution is then gazetted, and takes legal effect.

So the current stage, at which relevant issues and options are still under discussion, is of the greatest importance for anyone who wants a say in the making of the Bougainville Constitution.

The importance of encouraging Francis Ona and his remaining supporters to join in the process is clear.

So is the need for the National Government to make its views known.

The only question before NEC at the end, when the Bougainville Constituent Assembly adopts and forwards its final draft, is whether it is consistent with the National Constitution.

So any views on matters of policy or principle, capacity or the availability of resources, should be put now.

I have already said publicly that the National Government’s response to the BCC’s work should be prepared and submitted on a bipartisan basis.

Such an approach is not only consistent with the way in which the Bougainville peace process has generally progressed.

It will also help build the strong foundations of understanding and support that may be required to ensure the new Constitutional arrangements for Bougainville keep working well, even as Governments and Ministers change.

Cabinet has, therefore, agreed to set up a small bipartisan committee to consider the BCC’s drafts, and engage with Bougainville leaders on such issues as they may raise from a National perspective.

In addition to myself as Chairman, Cabinet has appointed the following Ministers, whose responsibilities are especially relevant, to the Committee: the Ministers for National Planning and Monitoring, Hon. Sinai Brown; Agriculture and Livestock, Hon. Moses Maladina; and Internal Security, Hon. Yawa Silupa; as well as the Minister for Justice, Hon. Mark Maipakai, whose Ministry will be ultimately responsible for providing legal and Constitutional advice on the final product.

In view of the important responsibilities the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Inter-Government Relations has in closely related areas, the Chairman, Hon. Byron Chan, will be a member of the bipartisan committee.

The views of other Members outside the Ministry will be represented by Hon. William Duma, and two Members of the Opposition, Hon. John Muingnepe and Hon. Mathew Siune.

The bipartisan committee will be expected to consult closely with the four Members who represent Bougainville here.

Finally, as Honourable Members will appreciate from my previous remarks about the timing of weapons disposal, the way in which the new Constitutional arrangements will come into full operation, and the need to prepare for elections, the bipartisan committee will have to meet and begin work immediately.

It will have to complete its assignment in a very short time. On behalf of the Government, I appeal to Members on all sides of this House to give the bipartisan committee their strongest support.

Conclusion :

Mr Speaker,

The Ministerial visit to Bougainville sent a very powerful signal to Bougainville about the Somare-Marat Government’s commitment to the Bougainville peace process.

The bipartisan committee sends another strong signal that the commitment is shared on a bipartisan, national basis.

I recommend the report of the Ministerial visit and the other issues outlined in this Ministerial Statement for the closest, most careful attention of this Honourable House, and, indeed, Papua New Guinea a s a whole.

Thank you.
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