Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present my final Ministerial Statement for the year 2022 for the Members of this Honourable House. My statement will give an overview of this year and highlight several matters of importance to the Fourth Bougainville House of Representatives.
Mr. Speaker, the foremost priority of the Fourth House and the Toroama/Nisira Government is delivering Independence for the future Sovereign State of Bougainville. We have the Bougainville Independence Mission which sets out the course for this government to achieve political independence. The Independence Mission not only calls for an all of government approach to supporting this important mission it also calls for our citizens to be actively involved in the process of nation building.
This year we have achieved so much in advancing the political aspect of our independence readiness. The Era Kone Covenant has enabled a lot of progress in preparing for the ratification by the National Parliament by way of the Constitutional Regulations. Our technical team is currently engaged with the National Technical Team to deliberate on the parameters of the Constitutional Regulations and the Ratification Process.
Mr. Speaker, intergovernmental relations have remained cordial between the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Government of Papua New Guinea. At the Joint Supervisory Body Meetings, the outcomes have been progressive to provide more funding and technical assistance through drawdown of powers and capacity building of our departments. Issues such as fisheries, tax remittance and the Bougainville Copper Limited shares have been addressed at the JSB level. I am happy to report that the remaining BCL shares will be divested to the Autonomous Bougainville Government within the next three months.
I must extend my gratitude to the Prime Minister Hon. James Marape for continuing to implement the Bougainville Peace Agreement. We may have differing views but our mutual understanding to commit to implementing the agreement is unwavering.
Mr. Speaker, on a broader scale this year has been quite challenging for the government and the administration. We have had to endure challenges with funding constraints, law and order issues and economic woes from a minimal internal revenue. However, these challenges have not made the government lose sight of our key development priorities in improving economic growth by empowering the economic sector and improving law and order. In the next year the government will be putting a lot more emphasis on improving the economy and law and order.
The deterioration of law and order on Bougainville can be attributed to many things such as social issues, poverty or a general disdain for authority by certain elements. The real challenge to the government is our method of law enforcement on Bougainville. At the swearing in of the current Minister for Police Hon. Bosco Ragu this year I mentioned that “The Bougainville Police Service functions as a community policing oriented law enforcement agency as opposed to the Royal Papua New Guinea Police Constabulary’s functions. The BPS does not employ force nor does it have a paramilitary unit to deal with tactical situations. It is an agency that focuses on relationship building with our communities through local agencies to reduce social disorder. Its response strategy requires the Bougainville Police Service to look at the underlying causes of crime and mitigate it through community engagements.’’
It is time we revisit the core functions of the Bougainville Police Service by making police presence more accessible at the community level. It is important that we start educating our people on the need for peace and stability as we prepare for independence. Our citizens need to understand that policing is not only the work of the police but it is a community responsibility that everyone must take part in to promote peace and stability in our society.
A safe and secure Bougainville guarantees a conducive environment for development to flourish. So security and law and order are tantamount to improving economic growth through investments and growth in other development sectors.
For instance, the Tonolei incident transpired as a result of the wish to hasten development without carefully considering the repercussions. I am not blaming anyone for the tragedy that resulted in Tonolei however it is something we as a responsible government must take into account. The situation has gone as far as having the lives of our leaders being threatened over their involvement in the project. As the government on the ground, the Bougainville Executive Council has approved a peace building effort to seek a peaceful solution to the matter.
Many people were quick to criticize the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Bougainville Police Service for our apparent lack of attention to the problem in Tonolei. The problem in the Konnou Constituency has to handled carefully to avoid the anymore unnecessary loss of lives. A sudden or heavy handed response by the government would have resulted in an escalation of violence and further division amongst the people.
Mr. Speaker, as this Honourable House prepares to pass the 2023 Autonomous Bougainville Government Appropriations Act for our Budget we must look at the current state of our economy and our capacity to generate revenue. Despite our immense potential for foreign direct investment and resource development our revenue base is grounded in taxes and fees which amounts to an estimated K30 million, that is around only 7 percent of our annual budget. There are no direct revenue earnings from economic projects so we basically rely on fees for services and taxes. That is the reality of our current situation on Bougainville that has been in play since the Autonomous Bougainville Government was formed in 2005.
In any case realities can be altered and changed to suit our desire for our fiscal capacity to be able to earn sufficient revenue for Bougainville. While many will focus their attention on developing high impact economic development projects these projects will take time to develop. Essentially it is important to start developing our fiscal capacity through industries and businesses that we are already involved in. We have an abundance of natural resources that can be harnessed and developed for this purpose.
The government has plans that will be rolled out early next year. We are going to invest in downstream processing of our agriculture and marine resources. We will also begin regulating the multi-million-kina alluvial mining industry on Bougainville and formalizing it. The tourism industry is also another key economic industry that we have the potential of exploiting to raise revenue. We are going to focus on empowering and improving this industry through our existing tourism policy framework. More importantly the government has already begun encouraging the participation of local businesses in government business initiatives in retail and merchandizing as well as exporting cash crops.
The 2021 Bougainville Socio Economic Baseline Survey Report offers a good perspective on our potential for economic growth. The government has seen it best to adopt certain recommendations from the report that we deem necessary and practical for immediate implementation. We have already plans underway as well as several projects that are soon to be operational in the next six months. These projects are lucrative and will earn revenue for Bougainville.
Mr. Speaker the Autonomous Bougainville Government and Solomon Islands officials met in Honiara in the Solomon Islands on 29th November 2022 and signed the Record of Discussions on Trade and Investment between Solomon Islands and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville The joint encounter provided an opportunity to reaffirm that the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and Solomon Islands are longstanding traditional neighbours with shared democratic values and interests aligned to positions on key regional and border issues, strong people-to-people ties, and a growing and mutually beneficial trade and economic relationship. This is the first step in opening trade links for us at the international level.
Mr. Speaker I would also like to inform the House that two weeks ago I officially launched the Panguna Mine Impact Assessment in Arawa Town. It is the first step in addressing the Panguna issue from an environmental perspective. From the assessment we can gauge how much damage the mine has caused in the Special Mining Lease areas and the surrounding communities.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to address the Bougainville Public Service after the 2022 Thanksgiving Service at the Hutjena United Church. In my address to our public servants I revealed that I will be making several structural changes at the beginning of next year. These changes will be done at the political and administrative levels to ensure our governance mechanism and public service functions efficiently and are held to account.
Mr. Speaker the changes I wish to institute are imminent. After careful consideration and evaluation of the progress of my government these changes in the public service and the political level will be necessary to foster development in the key priority areas of economic development and law and order as well as the whole of government.
Mr. Speaker, I want make mention of the health and education sectors. The health sector will see the upgrade of the Arawa Hospital next year, plans are also underway for the upgrades of the Buin and Buka Hospitals as well. In terms of staffing I am proud of the efforts by the Arawa School of Nursing which continues to graduate medical professionals for Bougainville. The school will be formally taken over by the Department of Higher Education, Research and Technology as a tertiary institution, this means an improvement of its standards. Funding for the school is already available for the upgrade of its infrastructure next year.
Mr. Speaker, as we look at strengthening our capacity in all sectors we must always remember that the key to running our own affairs is access to quality education for our children. With our curriculum based on the Papua New Guinea Education System we must capitalize on this opportunity to ensure our primary and secondary schools has space for our children to have quality education. I am proud the local initiatives to build our own tertiary institutions. We have the Bougainville Technical College and the Arawa School of Nursing. By next year we will have the Bougainville Teacher’s College set up and ready to accept its first intake of students in 2024.
Mr. Speaker, there several other infrastructure development programs that this government has initiated. In the transport sector the government has successfully tendered the final phase of the John Teosin Highway sealing and we have initiated the upgrade of the Kukul to Kohiso road to prepare for the complete sealing of the Buka Ring Road. The government has allocated funding to rebuild the Pangara Bridge and Tavera Bridge in Bana District and it will allocate a further K6 million for feeder roads with K2 million each for North, South and Central Bougainville next year.
Our goal for an independent Bougainville is not an easy feat to achieve. Every day we are breaking new ground into new territory that will have its challenges. I understand that most of us are frustrated by the seemingly slow process when it comes to securing funds, implementing your development programs and even the slowness of the process of attaining independence for Bougainville. I want to assure you all that by working together we will attain independence but we will do so within the legal framework that governs our political journey. Due process is important to giving credibility to our independence.
Mr. Speaker, before I conclude I would like to take this opportunity thank you for administrating the parliament this year. I also thank each and every one of the members of this Honourable House for their contributions this year. I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2023. As you all return to your respective constituencies for the festive period I want you to bring this message to our people;
Do not lose hope, we are on the right path to delivering the desire by 97.7 percent of Bougainvilleans for independence. Trust your government, your leaders and continue to support us by your participation in developing Bougainville and keeping the leadership in your prayers. As we celebrate the birth our Lord Jesus Christ the King of Glory, we are reminded of His mercy and Grace for He is the same God that we prayed to during the dark years of the War, He is the same God that we prayed to during the negotiations and he remains the same God that we pray to today. He delivered Bougainville during those very trying times and He shall do so once again. Have Faith and have Hope.
God Bless you all and God Bless Bougainville.
Mr. Speaker I commend this statement ot the House.
Hon. Ishmael Toroama, MHR
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