Bougainville Commentary

From a local commentator

The sidelining of Bougainville Chief Secretary Joseph Nobetau, for what can only be deemed political reasons, should be seen as an alarming concern on the eve of the independence referendum. At a time when the world is watching and waiting to see just how Bougainville and the rest of PNG will respond to the referendum vote, it is unfortunate that what they will see is a Government intent on self-interest and power over the rule of law.

There is no doubt that the President of Bougainville, John Momis is an honourable man. He has devoted a lifetime to the cause of Bougainville’s self-determination and no one should be left in any doubt to the commitment he has previously shown to his people and lands. But recent events have caused many in the Bougainville community to question what now drives the President, with many fearing that he has elected to be swayed by the actions of a few, rather than the will of all his people and that he has been corrupted by power, influenced by outsiders, and chosen a path of political expediency over than the rule of law.

Mr Nobetau’s case is just one example of where the President’s recent actions have given rise to concern. Another, the joint venture with Caballus Mining is a clear example of an initiative that the people publicly do not support. The proposal, which if approved will lead to an erosion of constitutionally guaranteed rights over natural resources, will ultimately see a small few (mostly foreigners) becoming very rich without any benefits to local landowners and communities. This is what caused the Bougainville Conflict to occur in the first place, leaving many to question how the President, a man of such esteem and intellect can be manipulated to support what is very clearly a one-sided deal.

Then there is the issue of corruption. The President continues to entertain a man in his Cabinet who has been charged with official corruption. He is also alleged to have approved the expenditure of state funds for his defence. The fraud squad, invited to Bougainville with the strong public endorsement of the President has been asked to leave, with the Justice Minister Willie Masiu going so far as to write to National Police Minister Kramer asking that he intervene. These are not the actions of a government committed to good governance. These are not the actions of a government committed to the rule of law. The sacking of Nobetau is a final case in point.

In times past the President would never have allowed himself to be influenced in such a way.

He would never give lip service or disrespect to the very constitutional laws that he himself

wrote. This is not the man that Bougainvilleans know and have grown to love and respect. In what seems to be his haste to appease the insecurities and jealousies and fears of a small few, he has chosen a path that will stop major reform from taking place and see anti-fraud and corruption measures grind the halt.

These are not the actions of man of integrity and principle.

Much has been said and written in recent weeks regarding Mr Nobetau’s dismissal. What is clear is that it is wrong. It is against the law. It is based on meaningless accusations, innuendo, and influence from a small few, perhaps even some outsiders.

As Bougainville prepares for its next vital chapter, as it looks to embrace the possible responsibility of statehood, now must be the time for strength and the courage of convictions.

Mr Nobetau was one man who stood for these important principles.

The people of Bougainville are watching closely to see what happens next. Come December, the next chapter in Bougainville’s history will begin to be written. The question is, can the people of Bougainville trust those empowered to negotiate their destiny and long-term political future?

Only time will tell.