Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Ministers of the Bougainville Executive Council, and the Honorable Members of this House:
I rise today within the chambers of this August House to address not only the Members of this House but our citizens from North, South and Central Bougainville.
Mr. Speaker, in the last three months we have had to experience several challenges that have tested our spirit and perseverance to prevail as a people and government. We have had to endure a natural disaster that tested our perseverance and indeed our ability to operate as a government to deliver services to our people. We are now faced with a more pronounced view from the National Government on the fate of our political future and in retrospect we are expected to have the Bougainville Referendum Results ratified by the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea this year.
Mr. Speaker before proceeding further, I would like to inform the House that I have made a minor reshuffle in cabinet. I have replaced the Member for North Nasioi, the Honorable Mathias Salas as Minister for Finance and Treasury with the Honorable Robin Wilson. With that change I have assumed the portfolio of the Minister for the Department of Mineral Energy Resources.
I want to reiterate what I mentioned during the swearing-in ceremony of the ministerial appointments yesterday. As the Minister for Mineral Energy Resources, I want to expand the scope of the department’s functions to go beyond its sole focus on the extractive industry. The current energy crisis that we are facing on Bougainville and throughout Papua New Guinea is a stark reminder to us all that we must look at long term solutions to our energy needs. The predicament that we currently find ourselves in is a result of our dependency on fossil fuels to provide energy and electricity.
Mr. Speaker, Bougainville was a pioneer in the development and use of renewable and clean energy generation for domestic consumption. Through local ingenuity and our own innovative means, we were able to harness hydro and solar energy to light our homes, manufacture goods and utilize it for other domestic and industrial purposes. The advancement of technology has made it more economical and easier to utilize this technology at the community level. On a larger scale we have two potential locations to develop hydroelectricity for Bougainville. We have Ramazon in Tinputz District that needs to be developed and then we have the infrastructure at Togarau in Wakunai District. We have just set up the Bougainville Energy Office so I would like to see the office operational within the coming months to initiate the steps in progressing the two hydro projects.
We need to have a stable and consistent energy source before we embark on any large-scale development project. It is imperative that our attention is trained on developing a Bougainville owned energy sector that will cater to all our development needs in the infrastructure and investment space.
Mr. Speaker, I made this statement very clear upon my assumption of the Ministry of Mineral Energy Resources; for as longs as the ABG has had a Mining Department we have never actually opened a large-scale mining project. The department has focused solely on regulation and policy development of the extractive industry since the inception of the Autonomous Bougainville Government in 2005. While the government has gone as far as issuing licenses to would be developers in several sites on Bougainville none of these projects have amounted to anything due to several factors.
Mr. Speaker, our attention maybe on large scale projects but we cannot continue to ignore the multi-million-kina small scale mining activities that remains untapped by the government. It’s time we directly tap into this lucrative industry and capitalize in its potential to earn revenue for the government. The government currently owns shares in a new gold refinery, Bougainville Refineries Limited. The refinery gives us the opportunity to create our own gold bullion and generate revenue for the government. The three most important things the refinery will do for Bougainville are:
- It will provide financial security for the government and the people.
- Economic benefits through employment and revenue to fund development.
- Quality control of the gold produced by small scale miners.
- The refinery is a long-term investment by the government, the department will offer its full support to ensuring we capitalize on generating revenue from it in all aspects that are compliant with our mining legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the Panguna Mine Dialogue is part and parcel of the ongoing efforts to reopen the Panguna Mine. We have made significant progress with the landowners and the government however, there are certain areas with respect to landowners’ issues on ownership and legacy issues that will have to be addressed as we progress the dialogue. I remain optimistic that upon my assumption of the Ministry we will gain more traction in our efforts to reopen the Panguna Mine with a credible investor in the foreseeable future.
Mr. Speaker, this government, through the Department of Mineral Energy Resources, has the responsibility of protecting the rights of our people especially when it comes to the exploitation of their land and resources. In any resource development project on Bougainville, we must always adopt a rights before resources approach in dealing with the landowners, the investors and the government as the regulator and intermediary. I say once again that I am very optimistic of the progress we will make in the Department of Mineral Energy Resources both in the extractive and energy resource sectors.
This year is a very important year for our political journey to independence for Bougainville. This is the year the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea will ratify the 2019 Bougainville Referendum Results. The ratification process remains an important prerogative of this government’s political agendas for 2023. The executive government has had numerous consultations and even convened a Joint Supervisory Body Meeting with the National Government on the matter of the Ratification. These meetings and consultations have yielded some success but also several setbacks in the National Government reneging on its commitment to the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the several subsequent agreements we have signed with them in the last three years.
Mr. Speaker, the ratification process itself has been debated and dissected at length by both the National Government and our government. There are several technical issues that must be addressed by both governments before the actual ratification vote takes place within the halls of the National 4 Parliament. These matters have resulted in a standing argument between both governments on the following:
- Voting majority percentage being Absolute Majority as opposed to our position of Simple Majority.
- That there be “not less than two meetings" before the Ratification vote is taken. This was objected to because it means the matter can be debated in the National Parliament more than the required timeframe.
- That there be a Secret Vote as opposed to our position of an open parliamentary vote.
- Disagreements over the Sessional Orders that would preside over the National Parliament during the ratification.
Mr. Speaker, I have been given notice by the Attorney General and Minister for Bougainville Independence Mission, the Honorable Ezekiel Masatt on his wish to convene another Bougainville Leaders Forum. I support this initiative because we all need to have a say on how we want the government to deal with this matter. It is a matter that requires us all to present a unified front that represents the will and the aspirations of 97 percent of Bougainvilleans who opted for independence in the 2019 Referendum.
Mr. Speaker, there is a matter that I wish to make mention of on the floor of this Honorable House. This is the issue of war reparations or restitution and the role of the United Nations on this matter. The United Nations (UN) recognizes the importance of restitutions in post-conflict situations. The UN's position on civil war restitutions is guided by several key principles and frameworks:
- Transitional Justice: The UN promotes the principles of transitional justice, which include accountability, truth-seeking, reparations, and institutional reform. These principles aim to address the legacies of human rights violations and promote reconciliation and peacebuilding.
- International Human Rights Law: The UN upholds the principles of international human rights law, which include the right to an effective remedy for victims of human rights violations. This encompasses the right to restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and guarantees of non-repetition.
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The UN's SDGs emphasize the importance of peace, justice, and strong institutions. SDG 16 specifically 5 calls for promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.
- UN Peacekeeping Operations: In post-conflict settings, UN peacekeeping missions often include provisions for transitional justice and restitution. These missions may support local governments in establishing mechanisms for truth-telling, reparations, and accountability.
- International Criminal Court (ICC): The ICC, as a key international judicial body, plays a crucial role in addressing the most serious crimes committed during civil wars. The ICC seeks to hold individuals accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, thereby contributing to the restitution process.
- UN Development Progra (UNDP): The UNDP supports countries in postconflict situations by providing technical assistance, capacity building, and funding for projects related to transitional justice and restitution. The UNDP aims to assist governments in developing comprehensive restitution programs that address the needs of affected individuals and communities.
It is important to note that the UN's position on civil war restitutions may vary based on specific contexts and the dynamics of each conflict. The UN works collaboratively with governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to tailor restitution efforts to the unique needs and circumstances of each situation. We have an existing UNDP office on Bougainville, but I would like to see the UN’s position on civil war restitution expanded to accommodate the other five (5) key principles and framework.
Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members, and our people throughout Bougainville, we have no one else to rely on this journey but ourselves. We have even come to a point where Bougainville leaders are becoming an impediment to our growth and our independence aspirations. This is simply history repeating itself where leaders who are compromised will suddenly expose themselves in the manner that they speak and act on behalf of the people of Bougainville. These individuals will never succeed in undermining the sacred aspirations of our people, their demeanor will be become their ultimate undoing.
Circumstances may seem to be stacked against us but that does not mean we lose hope in our leaders and our government. This is the government that we fought and died for and it is also the democratically elected government that we voted for so we must continue to stand by it. I am calling on every single Bougainvillean from all walks of life to support the government through your prayers and in whatever means you can to ensure our ultimate political goal is achieved through a credible process.
Mr. Speaker, I have seen the resilience of our people through the trying times of conflict and I have witnessed our resilience as a people who want peace, development, and progress. We are blessed beyond measure in our human capacity to be innovate and transformative in our society, our economy, and our government. I salute our people for who have taken it upon themselves to create mini-industries from within their own communities. In the mountains of Ioro, we have our people producing soap and cosmetics, in Bana District we have a local business producing freezer goods, in Siwai, Buin and Buka Districts we have our people engaged in the tourism industry and promoting our cultures and traditions. We have many more people involved in producing cash crops and marine products in the length and breadth of Bougainville.
These are community-based individual or group initiatives that are making a difference in our communities. These are trend setters who do not want to waste time waiting for government support but feel that it is their patriotic duty to become independent at the community level which gives true meaning to independence readiness for Bougainville. I want to encourage more of this innovative and creative approach to developing Bougainville so that we inspire a mindset that promotes self-reliance in its truest form.
Thank you and God Bless you all and God Bless Bougainville.
Mr. Speaker, I commend this Statement to the House.
Hon. Ishmael Toroama, MHR
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