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Bougainville is the largest island in the Solomon Islands chain to the north-east of Queensland, with a population of around a quarter of a million people. The island was an autonomous province of Papua New Guinea, with a referendum on full independence taking place in 2019.

Voters across Bougainville headed to polling stations 12 August 2020 as a critical regional election gets underway. More than 440 candidates are contesting the 40 seats in the region's parliament, including 25 wanting the presidency, which had been left vacant by John Momis's unwilling retirement. Momis had wanted a third term but the Supreme Court ruled this would contravene the Bougainville Constitution. The election was to produce a government in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region that will negotiate Bougainville's independence from PNG in accordance with last year's referendum result. Over a week into polling for Bougainville's election, authorities said 20 August 2020 that the process had been peaceful despite allegations of foul play from some candidates. Polling was nearing completion in most parts of the region but would be extended for areas that had requested more time to ensure all voters got the opportunity to cast their ballots. The Bougainville Government itself had laid out a timetable to have negotiation with the PNG Government sorted in time for a resolution to be put to the PNG parliament in September 2021. The election is due to run until 1 September and all results should be available by mid September.

the Bougainville economy is in a poor state. Both the PNG and Bougainville Governments have talked about the huge disparity between what the region generates for the national coffers and what would be required if it became independent. It is for these reasons that there is strong support from many of the candidates for the re-opening of the controversial Panguna mine, but others are saying the landowner issues around the mine first need to be sorted.

In October 2019 Bougainville held a vote in which its people chose between greater autonomy or independence from PNG. Bertie Ahern, the former Irish prime minister and head of the Bougainville Referendum Commission, announced December 11, 2019 that 98 percent of the more than 180,000 votes cast in the two-week referendum favored breaking away from Papua New Guinea.

A tentative date of 15 June 2019 had been set for a referendum on possible independence in the Autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville. But in May 2019 an agreement was reached by President John Momis and the then PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill. They agreed greater autonomy would be "a negotiated political settlement that provides for a form of autonomy with greater powers than those currently available under constitutional arrangements". And independence means an "independent nation state with sovereign powers and laws, recognised under international law and by other sovereign states to be an independent state, separate from the State of Papua New Guinea".

The Papua New Guinea and Bougainville governments couldn't agree just what question to ask in the Bougainville referendum on possible independence. The indecision delayed preparations for the referendum, which Bougainville had tentatively planned to hold on 15 June 2019.

Decisions were meant to be formally agreed at the Joint Supervisory Board, or JSB, which is headed by the respective leaders of PNG and Bougainville, Peter O'Neill and John Momis. But meetings of the JSB have been delayed several times in late 2018.

The deputy opposition leader in the PNG parliament, and member for South Bougainville, Tim Masiu said he questioned Mr O'Neill in parliament about the continuing delays. "Now the Prime Minister answered my question in parliament and said he was given four questions by the technical team, the government technical team, and he threw it back to them and them he only wants one question. I am not really sure about that, but, question or questions, that is something the Bougainville leaders and the national government will have to decide on that."

The JSB must also determine funding, with Bougainville president John Momis saying hundreds of millions of kina in constitutionally guaranteed payments from the national government were outstanding. The JSB's role is to oversee the implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement as preparations continue for a planned referendum on possible independence by June 2019.

Following dialogue between key ministers of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and their national government counterparts in Port Moresby, the ABG Minister for Peace Agreement Implementation, Albert Punghau, said progress had been made to ensure there was meaningful discussion and a more successful outcome compared with the last JSB meeting in June. The nine issues identified for discussion are:

  1. The referendum question(s) to be discussed/endorsed including the National Government to forward any alternative options.
  2. The engagement of an international security force through regional approach to increase the credibility of the referendum process in the eyes of the international community.
  3. Official gazetting of the Chair of Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) including the two PNG members for the BRC.
  4. Further payments of the Restoration and Development Grant.
  5. Further funding for Bougainville Referendum Commission.
  6. Funding for jointly approved Weapons Disposal Plan.
  7. National Government commitment to transfer BCL shares (19%) to the ABG.
  8. Unspent salaries savings to be transferred to ABG.
  9. Appointment of two National Government representatives for the Bougainville Senior Appointments Committee.

Speculation about the future of the Panguna copper mine in Papua New Guineas autonomous region of Bougainville, which ignited a decade long civil war in the 1990s, peaked when an application for exploration by former Rio Tinto subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), was put to a local vote. The outcome revealed that the mine remained a contested site and that a new battle for its riches is deepening divisions among traditional landowning groups. The mine still stands in ruin.

In 2013 the UN and ABG conducted a comprehensive Peace and Development Analysis (PDA), facilitated by Interpeace, which concluded that the historical drivers of conflict in Bougainville remained and that the region should not be classified as post-conflict. PDA findings in 2013 suggested that there were potentially more contributing factors to conflict in 2013 that raised risks of conflict compared to the situation in the 1970s and 1980s before the outbreak of the conflict. The PDA identified the conflict factors is 2013 as: (1) resistance to outsiders because of perceived threat to Bougainville resources, culture and identity; (ii) unequal distribution of benefits and costs from Panguna mine and from other natural resources; (iii) internal (communal) jealousies and disputes over land and other resources, which do not have easily accessible non-monetised means of resolution.

The first meeting of the Consultation Forum will be in Buka on the 23rd to 24th of January 3030, and representatives from all stakeholders in Bougainville will come together to discuss and strategize on pre-ratification consultations before going into the next step of joint consultations with the national government. The first meeting of the Consultation Forum was in Buka on the 23rd to 24th of January 2020, and representatives from all stakeholders in Bougainville came together to discuss and strategize on pre-ratification consultations before going into the next step of joint consultations with the national government.

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Page last modified: 28-08-2020 19:55:21 ZULU