News and Public Notices

The latest from across Bougainville

President’s statement to the Australian National University Pacific Affairs Conference

Good morning excellencies, distinguished guests and colleagues. I am here today to represent the people and government of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.


Before I proceed I would like to extend the regret of the President of Bougainville, Hon. Ishmael Toroama who could not attend this conference. Nevertheless, my presentation will be a reflection of the Toroama Administration’s Bougainville Independence Readiness Mission and the Post Referendum Joint Consultations between the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Government of Papua New Guinea.

In 2019 a referendum was successfully conducted on Bougainville to decide on the status of our political future in accordance with the PNG Constitution. After having had jointly considered all the possible political options, the two governments agreed to put only two questions for the referendum; the first choice was for an even higher form of autonomy than the current arrangements; and the second choice was for Bougainville to become an independent sovereign nation. An overwhelming 97.7 percent of our people voted for a political independence from Papua New Guinea.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2019 Bougainville referendum is part of a bigger Bougainville Peace Process to restore peace on Bougainville after a ten year bloody civil war (1988 – 1997) and to satisfy our yearning for self-determination that even predates Papua New Guinea’s independence.

Bougainville’s historical struggle for the right to self-determination was subjugated by oppression and the marginalization of our rights. In the last 100 years we have had to endure the hardships from oppressive regimes who sought to take away our resources, our rights and even our lives.

As I have alluded to, our struggle for independence has been a long one, predating PNG’s Independence and continues to the present. After PNG attained independence in 1975 a political compromise was reached between the people of Bougainville and the Government of Papua New Guinea. This took the form of the 1976 Bougainville Agreement and resulted in the creation of the first provincial government in PNG that was later emulated by, and introduced to, the other

provinces in the country. The Bougainville Agreement allowed for a special arrangement of autonomy and self-government for Bougainville and its people.

Insurrection on Bougainville was reignited in 1988 when the landowners of the Panguna Mine sought to exert more control over their resources and to have a fair share in the benefits from the mine’s profits. The mine which bankrolled Papua New Guinea’s independence was operated by Rio Tinto under Bougainville Copper Limited. The refusal by the Government of Papua New Guinea to listen to the landowners resulted in a ten year civil war that cost twenty thousand lives and billions of kinas worth of property loss. No province in PNG has lost over 20,000 lives at the hands of the State through direct fighting as well as in conditions imposed by military embargoes around the island, resulting in the loss of lives through birth, sickness and diseases.

As the conflict progressed to involve the rest of Bougainville it was no longer seen as a war for our rights and resources but for the people’s right to self-determination after suffering at the hands of the National Government and its military forces.

The Bougainville Crisis as it was infamously known was fought between the PNG Security Forces and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in what turned out to be the bloodiest conflict in the pacific region since World War II. In 2001 the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) was signed between the people of Bougainville and the Government of Papua New Guinea. It is a joint creation that formally ended hostilities between both parties.

The Bougainville Peace Agreement was created to end the war and begin the peace process on Bougainville. It is also a living document that paves the way for self-determination for Bougainvilleans. The creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government in 2005 is a result of the BPA to administer the autonomous arrangements on Bougainville whilst acting as a transitionary government for Bougainville as we anticipate independence for Bougainville. The provisions of the BPA gave way for a constitutionalized referenda for Bougainville guaranteed under the Organic Law on Peace Building on Bougainville. The Agreement has three pillars; 1 Autonomy, 2. Referendum and 3. Weapons Disposal. The people of Bougainville have fulfilled these pillars.

Following the 2019 Bougainville Referendum, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Government of Papua New Guinea began the Post Referendum Joint Consultations. The Joint Consultations between the two governments is an important constitutional process required under Section 342 of the Constitution of PNG and the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement.

The essence of section 342 of the PNG Constitution cannot be ignored; it expressly requires the two governments to jointly consult and implement the 2019 referendum results (that is, political Independence for Bougainville).

Since January 11, 2021 there have been three Post Referendum Joint Consultations between the two governments. Consultations were held in Kokopo, East New Britain Province, Wabag, Enga Province and the nation’s capital in Port Moresby. These consultations were jointly chaired by Bougainville President Hon. Ishmael Toroama and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Hon. James Marape.

While a number of outcomes have been reached other issues are yet to be worked out. A major achievement has been a timeline for independence agreed to initially under the Wabag Joint Statement and Referendum Results Implementation Roadmap. The timeline specifies that the solution to Bougainville’s political future must not happen before 2025 and not after 2027. These agreements have been further documented by the signing of the Era Kone Covenant by our two leaders. However, the full process in the ratification of the referendum results in the National Parliament is intended to be covered under constitutional regulations, which are yet to be worked out by the two Government’s technical teams.

The Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001 became a critical second opportunity to ensure that the people’s right to choose their future political status be constitutionally guaranteed, as well as for the result of their vote to be acted on, as required and mandated by Section 342 of the National Constitution, through ultimate endorsement or ratification by the National Parliament of the choice of the people.

“Ratification” under the spirit of the BPA is an endorsement according to its ordinary meaning. It was not used in the BPA in its technical meaning under the PNG Constitution and/or international law. The referendum result is Independence and the two Governments are under constitutional duty to conclude the process in accordance with section 342 of the PNG Constitution and under international law and principles.

We have maintained our position during the Joint Consultations that the two governments are also obliged by international law and principles, particularly the right to protect the Bougainville people’s choice for independence. Furthermore, it is Bougainville’s position that the PNG Constitution is supreme, and not the Parliament. The National Parliament is therefore constitutionally obliged to accept the proposed pathway agreed to by the two Governments under the Era Kone Covenant through the proposed constitutional regulations that are yet to be agreed to by the two sides.

To reiterate on the point once again, “ratification” under its ordinary meaning was never intended to serve or be a veto power to overturn the outcome of the referendum, but as an opportunity for the Parliament to decide on the choice made by the people on their political status even it were to end up in a negative vote against Independence. In the event of such a result the parties are obliged to seek mediation through the appointed international Moderator.

Given that Bougainville’s right to choose its political status had been constitutionally guaranteed it has legally ushered in a new constitutional order in the country whereby it is not just necessary for the National Parliament to protect the choice of the people but be obliged morally to seek external self-determination as a remedy for the oppression the State had inflicted on the people over the years.

It is important for the PNG Government to recognize that Part XIV of the PNG Constitution is sui generis; meaning it is only applicable to Bougainville in accordance with the Bougainville Peace Agreement to suit its peculiar political status. Therefore, there should not be any fear or anxiety whatsoever on the part of the PNG Government to implement the referendum result.

In the same vein also it is necessary for the State to maintain the unity of PNG by ensuring that the decision of the National Parliament is not repeated after Bougainville’s independence. Any nation-wide consultation that has been proposed by the National Government with a view to raise political awareness concerning the referendum result/political independence is categorically within the prerogative of the PNG Government. The Toroama Government will not oppose it as long as it is consistent with Part XIV of the PNG Constitution and the Bougainville Peace Agreement 2001.

The important thing is that the Bougainville people were granted the legal right to choose their political status (“nationality”) and the 97.7% result has conclusively settled the issue. Bougainville’s position regarding the role of the National Parliament is as provided by the Bougainville Peace Agreement; namely to protect the vote of the people by endorsing the result of the referendum.

A failure to protect the constitutional and democratic choice of the people will amount to a breakdown of the State’s legitimacy; and is a ground for Bougainville to assert its right under international law to remedial secession. In that scenario it will also allow the Autonomous Bougainville Government to take appropriate action/s, should the National Parliament fail to ratify or endorse the choice of the people for independence.

Bougainville, whose system of government follows a presidential system of government, in terms of the election of its premier, under both its first and second constitutions is different to the Westminster System by the National Government of Papua New Guinea. Bougainville has tried to steer away or resist the watering down of the direct mandate of the people through the dominion of political parties, unnecessarily, as a viable system for its form of government in the future.

Looking into the future our President Hon. Ishmael Toroama has made it known in no uncertain terms that Bougainville will become independent. President Toroama has made it clear that Bougainville’s future will not be compromised with a lesser political arrangement outside of the constitutionally-sanctioned processes under Part XIV of the PNG Constitution. However, his government remains committed to the existing legal and constitutional framework that governs the Bougainville Peace Process and insists that the National Governments also commits to ensuring the joint implementation of this process.

Achieving political independence for Bougainville requires development on Bougainville to be holistic. This means developing the socioeconomic and political capacities of Bougainville to ensure service delivery to the people is far-reaching and that the people are actively involved in the development process on Bougainville.

The Toroama Administration has introduced a Six Point Strategy that looks at reforming and improving Bougainville through innovative means to raising revenue, improving law and order, improving the public service machinery and promoting good governance at all levels of government. These are part and parcel of our Independence Ready Mission and will set the foundations for an independent Bougainville in the future.

Complementary to our political drive for independence is our focus on developing the economic sector on Bougainville. We are without a doubt one of the richest resource-rich islands in the Pacific. We were the economic guarantor for PNG’s independence in 1975 so it is time we looked at providing for ourselves. The Toroama Administration has initiated several economic development programs through foreign direct investment and the development of industries on Bougainville. These programs will earn revenue for Bougainville whilst creating an independent financial structure for a fiscally self-reliant Bougainville.

This would require ABG undertaking rigorous policy and legislative frameworks in both the economic and the social sectors that would set the foundations for development, growth and prosperity for a new Bougainville nation. On that note, we are currently focusing on the low- hanging fruit economic investments whilst at the same time identifying high economic impact investments and programs that would help raise internal revenue generation opportunities. Furthermore, we are also deliberately investing in essential infrastructures such as power, telecommunication, water & sewerage, and transportation that would provide conducive environment for business and commerce to thrive.

We cannot deny the difficult history that Bougainville has endured and the present challenges we face as we continue to remain tethered to Papua New Guinea. Our people have spoken unanimously through the 2019 Bougainville Referendum to become an independent sovereign nation. We have fought and spilled blood to protect our rights and defend our people. In the same token we have promoted sustained peace and unity to date so it is time for the National Government to fully respect and endorse the wishes and aspirations of the Bougainville people to be politically free, liberated and independent.

In conclusion, it is the call of my President Toroama to let his people go! Thank you and God Bless you all.



Chief Secretary

[ Back to News ]