The Guardian 1 June, 2005

Historic elections on Bougainville

After 10 years of war with Papua New Guinea and a further eight years of reconciliation and difficult negotiations, the people of Bougainville began voting on May 20 for their own autonomous government. The new parliament is expected to be installed before the end of July. Anna Pha spoke to Moses Havini on the eve of his departure for Bougainville to assist in the elections and the establishment of the new government. Moses is the international representative for the Bougainville people, and has been based in Sydney.

"I am very excited about whatís happening now. Last year the Papua New Guinea parliament ratified the Bougainville constitution which allows the people of Bougainville to set up their own autonomous government. The autonomous government is virtually self-determination, short of independence. We have a provision [with the PNG government] for a referendum on full independence after 10 years. As far as the people of Bougainville are concerned they are already independent, morally and spiritually."

Independence struggle

The war dates back to the closure of the Bougainville Copper mine (now majority-owned by Rio Tinto) at Panguna in 1989 by angry landowners. The struggle that followed was in part an environmental one and also for independence from Papua New Guinea. Historically, geographically, culturally and ethnically Bougainville is linked to the Solomon Islands, but this was not taken into consideration when the various colonial powers carved up the region in the wars of the 20th century and thereafter. Instead it was given to Papua New Guinea when PNG gained its independence from Australia in 1975.

"The bullets stopped firing in 1997 and negotiations began with the government of Papua New Guinea. It took another five to seven years just to negotiate across the table and we found that they were the hardest in trying to negotiate a fair path from the government of Papua New Guinea. So it is the Bougainville peace process that forms the foundation of the current constitution of Bougainville."

To be recognised under PNG law, the Bougainville peace process agreement required the approval of the PNG Parliament on three separate occasions by more than two-thirds of its Members.

This proved to be a very difficult task involving considerable lobbying to convince PNG parliamentarians to support the agreement and, further, to be present in the parliament when the vote was taken.

"Not only did we have two-thirds of majority voting during the first sitting, but also during the second sitting and the third sitting. It was absolutely amazing and once again not only do I give credit to our leaders but also to the parliament and to the PNG leaders that are parliament because at that point it was really a point of no return towards achieving something good, towards achieving peace for all.Ö And itís a credit to all; they have passed the special legislation to create the Bougainville Peace Agreement in parliament."

Special seats

The new government will have a House of Representatives. Voting is for representatives of 33 electorates that have been established, and the position of President.

Three seats have been allocated for ex-combatants in recognition of role that they played in the peace process and the independence struggle and another three for women for the role that they also played in the peace process.

"The women were very much in the forefront in encouraging the men to talk peace. Secondly it is also in recognition of the fact that most of Bougainville is a Matrilineal society where the women are the custodians of our customs, our land and therefore we have continued to recognise this role of the women."

There are five candidates for president; the main contenders being Joseph Kabui and John Momis.

Mr Momis is an ex-priest, who has represented Bougainville in the PNG Parliament as a regional member for the past three years. He resigned from this seat to stand in the elections and the by-election will take place after the Bougainville elections. He is a seasoned politician having contested and won 33 elections in Bougainville and always with an increased majority. He appears to have strong financial backing and politically is happy to remain part of PNG.

In sharp contrast Joseph Kabui is a young rookie who has only won one provincial election. He was a seminarian in PNG who returned to Bougainville to work for his people in 1987. He joined his clan, his tribe in the fight against Bougainville Copper which was on their land. In the process he contested the provincial election in 1988 and became a Premier.

"Soon after that we had the Bougainville crisis and Kabui is a man who stuck with his people right through all the heavies in Bougainville."

He was also the vice-president of the Bougainville Interim Government during and after the war. He played a leading role in the struggle on Bougainville and also in lobbying the international community as far back as 1991 in Geneva and at the United Nations.

"There is a stark difference between Kabui and Momis. It is going to be really tough and Mr Kabui sees himself as the underdog but heís a man that has stuck with the people through thin and thick."

Political parties

The constitution provides for political parties but with a very strong proviso: if a political party is to be established, then before it can qualify and be registered, it has to have membership right across Bougainville.

"This is to stop factions developing", Moses said. "So, for instance, the Bougainville Peopleís Congress Party has members all the way from the top to the end and it is the same with all the other political parties that have been formed.

"Mr Kabuiís party is the only one which has got a set of policies and his number one philosophy is government independence. Heís for a strong leadership, good governance in the House of Representatives, against corruption, for protection of Bougainville resources, a good economy and also bringing the state in line with the latest technology.

"His position on land is as in the constitution ó the land is owned by the people and if the government wants to utilise the land it must first of all establish dialogue with the land owners. So the land is owned by the people, itís that clear cut."

Run own affairs

"According to the constitution we are going to run everything. We are going to have our own courts. We now have our own police force, our own Police Commissioner. The only two areas that we are not going to be responsible for are defence, which we are quite happy about, and foreign affairs. But even with foreign affairs there is a provision that we will be able to establish our own trade office, for instance, like here in Sydney, we will be able to establish a Bougainville trade office. But it will still be under the PNG High Commission in Canberra."

The question of resources and economic development are big issues.

"The constitution says that the people of Bougainville own all their own resources. It clearly states that no-one else, including Papua New Guinea, has any say over the resources of Bougainville. We made that provision very clear.

"Lately there has being a lot of discussions on the reopening of Bougainville Cooper, now they continue to compromise the position of the landowners but Bougainville mine is closed and it is closed forever. Itís not going to be reopened again.

"The position of the government according to the constitution is that the people of Bougainville own all the natural resources in Bougainville."


Moses is very concerned about corruption, and the dangers of instability and non-functioning of governments such as in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

"I am passionately against corrupt systems. I hate corruption with a passion and in our constitution unfortunately we havenít got enough anti-corrupt mechanisms. We have virtually inherited the PNG constitution so the only mechanism in the constitution is what Papua New Guinea has: the Ombudsman Commission. Now the Ombudsman Commission, its role is to reveal corrupt politicians, corrupt public servants. It unfortunately hasnít got any powers to prosecute those it has found to be corrupt. So once they have found corrupt politicians they then recommend it to a crimes tribunal to formally prosecute those corrupt politicians. But this hasnít really worked in Papua New Guinea for the last 22 years.

"None of those corrupt politicians have been put behind bars and this is one area that I would like to avoid at all costs in Bougainville and I would like to recommend that we establish more anti-corrupt mechanisms that must be independent."

Major tasks facing new government

The new government of course needs to pass all the necessary legislation for infrastructure and setting up the administration.

Moses sees the development of a strong economy as one of the major tasks, along with the highest quality education, health and other social conditions and the protection of their natural resources.

"At the moment people are looking at an agricultural-based economy because we can do that. Apart from agriculture there are other resources than copper ó silver and gold ó that we can also put in as part of that initial economic base. Tourism is on the agenda, but this would have to be a sustainable kind of tourism.

"For me I would like to see the standard of living of all families on Bougainville raised to a good standard. At the same I would like to see people maintain their traditional lives."

Land ownership and use

"The other important issue that the government will have to deal with is the land. Land is 97 percent owned by the traditional land owners. There would have to be some serious discussion between the new government and the land owners as to how the land should be developed in the interests of economic development. At the same time we donít like a situation where the government tries to use landownership ó this has been the case in Papua New Guinea ó where the World Bank and the IMF have literally gone to the government of Papua New Guinea to instruct them to get the land owners to put their land on a register.

"So these are the sort of issues that we will also be grasping with.

"For me, going to Bougainville is very exciting because I am looking forward to Bougainville setting up a government that must make a difference within the Pacific region and what I mean is that it will be important for us in Bougainville not to repeat the mistakes that some of the Pacific states have done."

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