“Mr Chairman, as we move forward, let us remind ourselves that it has taken 32 years since the unfolding of events in Bougainville, and 21 years since the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and a further 2 years since the declaration of the Referendum Results. The message is clear – this long journey must end sooner rather then later!! I look forward to reaching agreement on a way forward from here on.” Hon. Ishmael Toroama, AROB President, Papua New Guinea.
The Second Joint Inter-Government Consultations – The President of Autonomous Region of Bougainville Honorable Ishmael Toroama’s Opening Remarks – Papua New Guinea.
JULY 06, 2021
The Honorable Prime Minister, the Ministers in the Papua New Guinea Cabinet and the Technical delegates, the Chairman of this meeting and your team. A very special mention to our host, the Governor of Enga, Sir Peter Ipatas for the very wonderful welcome to my delegation.
I am most delighted that we have chosen Wabag for this meeting as the Engan people welcomed us warmly all along the Wapenamanda- Wabag highway. And as they say in the Engan language, I say “Yagablin” to the Governor and the Engan people!
Mr Chairman, let me begin my statement by thanking the Prime Minister for his very positive outlook on the agenda at hand. When the results were declared in December 2019 in Arawa, you immediately alluded to the tabling of the results in the National Parliament through the use of the “Tari Pori Bilum”.
In the Kokopo consultations, you equated the referendum results to Mt Wilhelm which is the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea. The Bougainville team proposed 2025 at the Kokopo consultations.
I am aware that your Technical Team has subsequently suggested a timeline to the ABG Technical Team with the declaration of independence in 2030.
I also am aware that the Joint Technical Team is struggling to reach a compromise date for the declaration of independence which the Leaders can approve at this meeting. Bougainville position is still 2025 and that the June 2027 is only being proposed as a compromise.
If 2027 is rejected, Bougainville will revert back to 2025 as stated in Kokopo. The date 2027, is in line with your statement in Kokopo. I request that the two of us take leadership control of this agenda and give clear instructions to the technocrats.
Honorable Prime Minister, you also proposed at the Kokopo consultations the idea of withdrawing the tabling of the consultation outcomes should it not succeed when it is tabled.
Prime Minister, you have at no stage, rejected the Referendum results. This indicates to us your commitment to finding a lasting solution for the people of Bougainville through the consultation process.
Honorable Prime Minister, it is important that there be an “in principle agreement” to continue the spirit of the Bougainville Peace Agreement on this last leg of our journey.
The purpose of this in-principle agreement is to continue the political franchise given by the National Govt through the amendment of the National Constitution to provide for the voice of Bougainville to be free through the referendum vote.
Honorable Prime Minister, we believe it is timely that we start visioning a new relationship between PNG and Bougainville. When Bougainville gets independence, it will gain independence from a Melanesian brother and not from a colonial master.
With the economic potential for Bougainville, this can only lead to a stronger Melanesian solidarity between our two countries and within the wider Melanesian group. So, there is nothing to fear from an independent Bougainville.
Many things will remain the same though Bougainville will have its own flag and national boundaries. If and when we reach this destiny, I am sure the two countries will sign bilateral relations covering various social economic, trade, commerce and security matters.
Honorable Prime Minister, I am not pre-empting the future political status of Bougainville by making this statement. The Referendum was a jointly agreed and implemented process under the oversight of the BRC.
The referendum was not an isolated activity as it was preceded by the signing of the Peace Agreement, the Constitutional amendment, the Weapons disposal, the establishment of the Bougainville Constitution and the Autonomous Government.
The referendum result is therefore also a jointly owned outcome.
The immediate task remaining ahead of us is the ratification of the consultation outcomes through a jointly agreed and owned Ratification procedure.
According to the BPA, it is the outcome of the consultations that gets ratified by the PNG Parliament. Parliament is not at liberty to ratify anything else outside of the consultation outcomes.
It is necessary that we must reach agreement on the ratification procedure and content. I think this is more than just showing the percentage of the referendum result but we should also reach agreement on the principles of how to implement the independence outcome of the referendum results.
Honorable Prime Minister, the Bougainville Peace Agreement was an “in-principle agreement” that provided the framework or road map for achieving peace and restoring Govt and Services.
In much the same way, we must reach an in- Principle agreement here in Wabag because I don’t want to leave Wabag without any clear pathway or principles prior to PNG going into elections.
Bougainville needs this comfort from you so that while you enter elections, the ABG can keep working while waiting for the 11th PNG Parliament to convene.
At the dinner, you invited me to look at the agenda through your lense. I have and I see a number of challenges that you are facing:
Firstly, you are concerned that Bougainville independence might trigger off fragmentation of Papua New Guinea.
We stand ready to assist PNG in conveying to the people of Papua New Guinea the unique position of Bougainville but more importantly the Bougainville option must not be available to the rest of PNG because the Bougainville history, the Bougainville Crisis, the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the Referendum are unique to Bougainville.
Secondly, I also see some sentiments that Bougainville is moving away from PNG for good. While Bougainville will have a new flag, a new international border and new national symbols, Bougainville will still be a Melanesian brother to PNG.
There are three types of relations – political, business, and personal. Honorable Prime Minister there will be absolutely no alterations at the business and personal levels.
What we are embarking on and trying to redefine is the new political relationship. We stand ready to participate in any joint programs to educate of the rest of PNG on the new political relationships.
The declaration of Bougainville Independence is not the end of our relationships.
Thirdly, Hon Prime Minister, Bougainville stands ready to assist PNG in conducting awareness throughout Papua New Guinea in order to put to rest any uncertainties there may be in PNG.
Honorable Prime Minister, we are addressing a political situation that needs a political solution.
If we leave too much to the Technical teams, they will keep coming back to us, the political leaders. So, let us make some political inroads making it easier for the technical teams to tidy up.
As you know, the spirit of the consultations so far has been very positive and I give credit to the Prime Minister for his openness and sincerity in the consultations so far.
This meeting builds on the momentum created through the signing of the Joint Communique, the Sharp Agreement and the Understandings of the Kokopo Consultations.
Mr Chairman, as we move forward, let us remind ourselves that it has taken 32 years since the unfolding of events in Bougainville, and 21 years since the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and a further 2 years since the declaration of the Referendum Results.
The message is clear – this long journey must end sooner rather then later!!
I look forward to reaching agreement on a way forward from here on.
Hon. Ishmael Toroama, MHR