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By Matelita Ragogo

SUVA, Fiji (Islands Business Magazine, April 2004) – Some Bougainvilleans claim they will declare independence from Papua New Guinea whether or not the PNG ratifies a draft constitution currently before its Parliament.

And they hope to establish their new state by the end of this year.

Moses Havini, of the Bougainville Constitution Commission, told Islands Business that his people have never been more united in anticipation of the right to govern themselves after decades of foreign rule.

The fate of a draft constitution and consequently the people of Bougainville will be known "very soon." PNG had allowed this first step towards autonomy when it accepted the principles of the 1997 Bougainville Peace Agreement, which provided for the end of the Bougainville-PNG war, the establishment of peace and discussions towards Bougainville's autonomy.

"But even if they (PNG parliamentarians) throw it (draft constitution) out, we will go ahead and implement mechanisms of our own government,'' Havini says.

Bougainville's ‘late bloomer' status has worked to the advantage of secessionists. During that period they have learnt from other neighboring countries lessons that would become handy in their transition to self-government.

Havini says a prerequisite they have set for themselves will be an effective and strict anti-corruption mechanism. One way, they believe, is to have two legislative bodies - the House of Representatives and a Senate. A House of review will, for example, hopefully prevent legislation that will restrict people's basic human rights like requiring a permit from the state to stage demonstrations.

Also, an independent anti-corruption commission is in the making. The proposed body will have no ties to the government. And it will have the authority to prosecute and jail offenders.

Issues related to an increasingly globalizing world will be very carefully scrutinized, Havini says, to ensure that the people do not experience culture shock without appropriate support mechanisms.

Human rights issues will be provided for, protected and observed in totality. The role of their womenfolk in the struggle will be recognized through provisions that will ensure continuing participation in local and national governance and societal decision-making processes.

Most significant is a constitutional provision that does not provide for a standing army. An effective, well-equipped police force will be a priority. Apart from potential military-related social and political instability, Havini says, Bougainville will not need an army. Monetary savings is another motive. State funds will be better used for education, health, and so on.

Havini who has been involved in the liberation struggle speaks about these plans passionately, after experiencing the pain of a decade-long PNG trade embargo that deprived Bougainvilleans of basic essential services like medicine and education.

"We have been fortunate in having all this time to watch developments in other regional countries and learn from their mistakes, so in a way, having been deprived of our independence has been good for us preparatory-wise,'' Havini says.

Bougainville is well endowed with minerals and human resources. While state coffers will benefit from mining, agriculture and fisheries resources, Havini admits they will need help in professional areas like the development of an electoral system. "It will be up to the new government to develop what we have and devise ways of distributing benefits equally amongst resource owners,'' Havini says.

We have engineers, nurses and teachers but we will need experts. We are fully exploring all avenues available to us. "We have been fortunate in securing the unity of a people looking forward to the completion of this self-determination process." Havini was in Suva last month to attend a week-long Pacific Resource Concerns Center-facilitated conference on "Empowerment of Indigenous Human Rights". Recommendations from the meeting, which had representatives of indigenous movements including Kanaks, native Hawaiians and the Aboriginal community, will be submitted to the United Nations Economic and Social Council's permanent forum on indigenous issues when it meets in May.

Havini says apart from establishing a network of new friends for Bougainville, the conference broadened his horizon on issues affecting indigenous communities such as land ownership.

Referring to West Papua's experience with the UN system as a sad historical event that reflected outcomes enforced on unsuspecting people because of pressure on the UN by countries like the United States of America (when native West Papuans wanted the US-supported Indonesia to leave their land), Havini acknowledged that effective lobbying on the other hand did produce results.

"In the context of this conference, it will be an achievement on its own to have our recommendations and issues scrutinized by a committee comprising governments from around the world,'' Havini says.

"We must not lose faith in such systems. We should just continue our respective struggle and continuously highlight it to them because eventually, people will take notice."

Without New Zealand's intervention in 1997, Bougainville may still be a war zone. New Zealand flew some 300 Bougainvilleans and PNG reps (in July, 1997) to its Christchurch naval base and left the fighting groups to resolve their conflict "in the Pacific Way" without any interruption or pressure.

"New Zealand's contribution to our liberation is immeasurable. And since then, I see progress and am optimistic about our future." Bougainville is traditionally a part of the Solomon Islands. In true colonial style, a line drawn on a map when dividing the spoils of war based on an Anglo-German Declaration in 1886, "moved" Bougainville to PNG's territory.

Because of Australia's presence in PNG, Bougainville became an Australia territory as well and until 1975, Bougainville was governed under numerous League of Nations and UN arrangements.

Bougainvilleans speak 19 languages. They consider their "blackness" as a Solomon Islands trait, proof of their argument. They unsuccessfully declared themselves independent of PNG in 1975 when the latter broke free of Australia's rule. Copper and other minerals were discovered in the 1960s. By the time the civil conflict forced the mines to shut down in 1989, PNG government was receiving 63 percent of Bougainville's mineral revenue; 4.8 percent went to provincial governments; and a mere 0.2 percent to the landowners (the rest to the Australian miners, Bougainville Copper Limited).

International acknowledgement of the Bougainville issue came after Chan contracted a mercenary company, Sandline, for "offensive operations."

Chan resigned as prime minister after he lost his seat in the 1997 elections. The New Zealand-facilitated Bougainville Peace Agreement (the mother agreement comprising 23 sub-agreements) has been successful so far in maintaining a ceasefire.

April 13, 2004

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