More awareness needed for Bougainville Referendum

There is a need to increase understanding and awareness of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the Referendum.

Papua New Guinea researcher engaged with the PNG National Research Institute, Dr Thomas Webster says people need to understand that the Referendum is not about Independence.

Dr Webster said Independence is an option, but people need to understand it in the context of the Peace of Agreement.

The Civil War which started in 1988 on Bougainville lasted for almost a decade with more than 10 000 people killed, deterioration of infrastructure, no services and no schools for a decade of generations.

Peace negotiations leading to the Peace Agreement began in 1998 to 2001.

The implementation of the Peace Agreement is underway with a referendum expected to take place before 2020, targeted for June 2019.

The referendum outcome will determine future governance arrangements for Bougainville, and one of the options is for Bougainville to be a separate Independent country.

The 20 year timing has allowed peace to prevail then ultimately the referendum outcome will be determined by the people.

Dr Webster said the Referendum is important because this is the first time PNG is having a Referendum.

“In the past we’ve always left decisions to our political leaders in Parliament.

“The Referendum will allow people to decide and we need to make that awareness and let people know, not only on Bougainville but across the country, so that people will be aware of the process.”

Dr Webster added that there’s a need for better information, knowledge and informed discussions around the objectives of the Referendum.

“We need to increase understanding and awareness on the conditions for Referendum and possible outcomes and their implications.

“We need to show evidence that weapons have been disposed and people are free to vote and the outcome is a result of a process that people have been free to cast their votes,” Dr Webster said.

PNG NRI has engaged Dr Webster to lead its Bougainville Referendum Research Project which was launched this week.

Quintina Naime