Prime Minister, James Marape, says the National Government of PNG is committed to the consultation process as per the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the National Constitution.
He said this yesterday at the commencement of the Joint Governmental Consultation process following the outcomes of the 2019 Bougainville referendum where 97.7 per cent voted for independence.
He said the results for independence are high and clear but he also acknowledged that the Bougainville Peace Agreement has clearly subjected this outcome to the deliberation and vote by the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea.
PM Marape was responding to the formal proposition by the ABG President, Ishmael Toroama at the consultations, that Bougainville wants a time frame for 2025 for political independence and wants elections to be held for an independent government.
President Toroama told the consultations that by 2022 the process and framework towards attaining independence must be agreed to between the two governments.
However, PM Marape said all consultation processes and the agreements must be within the peace agreement.
He said, the outcome of the referendum must go before Parliament only when both the Bougainville people and the greater Papua New Guinea are prepared and matured to accept the results of the parliamentary vote.
“This consultation must take place to reach the final leg of the BPA and bring it to Parliament for ratification. We certainly welcome you from the ABG and are deeply honoured and find this the privilege of the highest order to be amongst the discussions.”
PM Marape told the meeting that he had a larger interest of ensuring that greater Papua New Guinea understands the special nature of the relationship and the deep history that we have with the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and appealed to President Toroama and his delegation to understand the reason why the pace of the consultations must take the interest of the rest of the country into considerations.
“This is no longer just about Bougainville and the National Government. It is now about Bougainville, the National Government and the rest of Papua New Guinea. The rest of Papua New Guinea must be on board when the final vote is taken in Parliament”
“This discussion goes toward testing the total sovereignty of our nationhood. But I believe that on both sides of the Bismarck Sea and on both sides of our people, we are of the view that a common goal can be found and a consensus can be reached.
“This conversation is something that we must not be fearful about but it needs to be made and staged to achieve a common good,” said PM Marape.
He told the first Joint Governmental Consultation Process meeting that both sides must come to the table with good intentions and to remain committed towards the BPA and embrace the National Constitution.
PM Marape in addressing the meeting assured President Toroama and his delegation that no amount of time and work will undo or dilute the results of the referendum and the desires and the wishes of the people of Bougainville.
“And whether it is one, two or three years into the future and as Mr President, you have stated it will be decided in 2025, one thing is certain, that the referendum and its results were secured out of a crisis that has affected us all on loss of lives.
“The referendum is secured out of a mutual agreement for peace and the results will stand for us all and into the future.
“So Mr President let me assure you that no one will dilute the results of the referendum and the intentions and the desire of the people of Bougainville as far as the overwhelming vote for independence is concerned.
“But for us now is to find the process amongst us that is clearly spelt out going forward. And as we commence this consultation process as espoused in the BPA, it is critically important to note and for each and every one of us to maintain the guiding principles of the peace agreement,’’ he said.
PM Marape said key amongst that is for the two governments to agree to a mutually acceptable timetable, define the next steps which will guide all of us into the next consultations before the results can be presented to the National Parliament for its consideration.
“I see the need to jointly agree on a schedule for us to move forward in our discussions”
“Mr President and members of the Bougainville House of Representatives, I thank you for all your welcome and reception to us and our Government whenever we come to Bougainville and also in such consultations like this.
“I can clearly remember coming to Arawa during and after the results of your referendum and we were thinking the reception was going to be hostile but the reception was very warm and welcoming.
“And during that time I mentioned to you in Arawa that the results of the referendum I am taking back as member for Tari-Pori Electorate in my Hela Province.
“Mr President, that conversation simply means when this matter is presented on the floor of Parliament, I maybe the Prime Minister of the country, but my conscious choice and vote through the ratification process will be reduced to just one vote. The rest of the members of the Parliament will express their views as far as the results of the referendum is concerned as individuals.
“Mr President I take note of your suggestion for us to work towards a deadline of 2025 and I hope that in our further conversations today and tomorrow we can fully understand each other better.
The Prime Minister said that Bougainville has always been a pace setter and it is important that as I lead my delegation in these consultations to seek to honor the wishes of the Bougainville people that we do so while at the same time ensure that we secure the rest of the country in a way that the sovereignty and unity of greater Papua New Guinea is intact.
“We must understand that we are the most diverse and united country and have come together as a nation in the last 45 years and we want to tighten the nuts and bolts that no one holds us to a gun induced referendum causing a pathway into the future.
“Mr President your position is different and whilst your experience and view is totally different from the rest of PNG, you must also agree with me that maybe because you see the sun first in the eastern most part of our country and the precedent you set is what your brothers and sisters in the west follow.
“I have a responsibility to ensure that these experiences are not propagated elsewhere in our country.”
“I am sure we will find a common place for your aspiration for self-determination, economic empowerment and political independence while at the same time keep the unity in PNG and PNG that excludes Bougainville.
“I appreciate where you are coming from and you have a constituent mandate and the people of Bougainville and PNG need a clear time frame going forward and we must not go in and out of the discussions and we can set the time frame forward.
“We pledge to you our commitment but there must be a trust and conducive environment for lasting peace and political settlement to be reached,’’ PM Marape told the consultation meeting.
“I don’t want us to come and talk and talk only. Let’s get it down and set the deadline and move forward and we know the issue you want independence and we are struggling to give you independence.
“We don’t want you to go away but you voted for independence so we set the deadlines and time frame going forward.
“Parliament will only determine and if they allow you to go we will let you go and we can exist as friends on either reside of the Bismarck Sea,’’ he said.
PM Marape said that part of his commitment to the process is that if Parliament does not accept the results of the referendum that his government is considering options to withdraw the matter and work again on the consultations to find common ground. This is in keeping with the voices of the people who have spoken.
“The comfort that I can give to Bougainville under my watch and not just me, James Marape but my generation of leaders, is that if Parliament decides to say no to independence, I place my recommendation that we will withdraw the motion and go again to one more round of consultations.
“I have given you my 10 years of commitment to help build Bougainville become economically independent and certainly Parliament will look into it within the 10-year time frame.
“But the President has indicated the time as 2025 and that means we need to handle it within 2022 but I appeal to our brothers and sisters in Bougainville that if Parliament says no to the referendum results then that is something we all must accept to sit down and discuss through such consultations again.
The two days meeting, which started on Tuesday, 18 May 2021 ends today. It is expected that the two sides will agree to a schedule to take the results of the referendum to Parliament today.