BOUGAINVILLE AUTONOMY WILL NEED CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE: GENE

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By Harlyne Joku

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 5, 2000 – The National)---Parliament will have to amend the Constitution to give Bougainville more autonomy, Attorney General Michael Gene said yesterday.

This is because the formation of an autonomous Bougainville government is unconstitutional, Mr. Gene told key government executives at the Bougainville autonomy workshop at Port Moresby's Gateway Hotel.

Given the situation, he said, lawmakers should not be too rigid about the law.

Mr. Gene said the Bougainville delegation is asking for something that is not provided for in the Constitution.

"The drafting of a (Bougainville) Constitution and its adoption by a constituent assembly will have to be provided for by the National Constitution, an Organic Law or an Act of Parliament," the chief government legal advisor said.

Mr. Gene made the remarks when presenting a paper on the views of the Attorney General to the strategic workshop on autonomy for Bougainville.

He particularly referred to the proposal presented by the Bougainville Joint Negotiating Position on the Bougainville Autonomous Government.

Mr. Gene said proposed structures powers and functions of the autonomous government were unconstitutional.

"The Bougainville position under powers and functions is that they want everything else except certain aspects of Foreign Affairs and Defense. This is totally outside of our constitutional framework.

"This can only be done by amending the constitution and the various pieces of legislation that created and provided for these powers and functions," he said.

However, he told the participants that the government must not be too "legalistic or formalistic" about the issue and look at the Bougainville position in its entirety.

Mr. Gene said the entire proposal taken in its entirety would require the National Executive Council’s and Parliament's deliberation and resolution of the same.

"It is my view that there is tremendous opportunity within the Organic Law for powers and functions to be further defined and delegated to the provinces. Taking the Bougainville position in its entirety, it would definitely require constitutional amendment," Mr. Gene said.

He warned, however, that in the event that approach is taken by the National Government, other provincial governments would ask for greater autonomy.

And to avoid such a situation, the National Government's approach should be to look at the whole structure of provincial governments and identify other options for negotiation.

Mr. Gene advised the government not to restrict its deliberations to the Bougainville Position Paper.

He said it should firstly provide a response to the Bougainville position and then provide alternatives such as regional governments or any other forms of governments that give greater autonomy to the decentralized levels of government.

"For instance, the Australian federal system of government, New Zealand's arrangement with Cook Islands, Britain's arrangement with North Ireland and so forth," Mr. Gene said.

He said the process has the potential to impact on the whole constitutional and legal power structure of the provinces and that it is imperative that that factor is given serious consideration.

Papers were also presented by the Department of Treasury, Defense Force, Department of Personnel Management, and Police.

About 100 participants from all key government sectors attended.

 

AGREEMENT ON BOUGAINVILLE REFERENDUM WOULD BE A START: SIAU

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 5, 2000 – The National)---If the government rejects a referendum on independence, then it is also rejecting Joseph Kabui's Bougainville People's Congress (BPC) and Francis Ona's Bougainville separatist rebel movement, Bougainville provincial administrator John Siau told chief government advisors at the Bougainville autonomy workshop yesterday.

He said the Bougainville Negotiating Position calls for the leaders from the government and Bougainville to agree in principle. He added leaders must first agree on a referendum and the highest possible form of autonomy, and then work out the details and parameters.

Mr. Siau said it is important that the leaders sign in principle an agreement on a referendum and set a date for it to take place.

"We cannot move forward without satisfying the various parties," Mr. Siau said. "As we understand Francis Ona and his Republic of Mekamui, it has been independent since May 17, 1990."

"We can only convince him to take part in the negotiations if there is a signed agreement with (Mr. Ona's) government on whether it supports independence for Bougainville or not. In the meantime, he maintains his own Mekamui Assembly, his own Mekamui Defense Force," Mr. Siau said.

However, Bougainville Restoration and Peace Office Director Bill Dihm said the government will not rush into deciding "yes" or "no" on the issues of autonomy or a referendum.

He said the government prefers that all Bougainville parties present their views as fully as possible and the government will, at the right time, make a decision.

He said the government established a ministerial committee on Bougainville in March, which reports to the Cabinet on the latest proposals on Bougainville.

 

BOUGAINVILLE CRISIS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE: SOMARE

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 5, 2000 – The National)---Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare said yesterday that the Bougainville crisis was a learning experience.

Somare, who is also Mining Minister, said the government must be careful in the future and try to avoid similar problems.

Opening the in-house executive workshop on the Bougainville Autonomy Proposals in Port Moresby, Sir Michael said the Bougainville crisis resulted from some of the decisions that leaders, including him, have made.

"What has happened in Bougainville is an example of the result of some of the decisions we made then, only to find that they had resulted in problems," he said.

"Last week I visited Porgera, where there were land problems and compensation demands. We have to be careful to avoid the kind of problems that happened on Bougainville."

He cited the government's many failed attempts to bring an end to the crisis, which it finally did in 1997 when the then Prime Minister Bill Skate led talks that resulted in the signing of the Burnham truce.

"We have come a long way since 1997. When I was made Bougainville Affairs Minister I went out to the Bougainville leaders, promoting the need to be united, and presenting their agenda. Two key issues they came up with: the referendum and autonomy. But, and I have said this before, such is not provided for in our Constitution.

"On the issue of independence, we can talk about it but we will always maintain that Bougainville is an integral part of Papua New Guinea. They're a hard people to convince, though," he said.

Provided by Vikki John ( VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au

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