No shipping, decline in basic services

The lack of shipping services to the Atolls of Bougainville District has negatively impacted access to education and health for islanders.

Members of the Bougainville Atoll Foundation today raised concern on the neglect suffered by their people.

Though these islanders live in close proximity to the Melanesian Islands, they are racially more Polynesian than Melanesian. But they are from Bougainville, and their elites pay tax to the PNG Government.

President of the Bougainville Atoll Foundation, Sione Paasia, outlined the major issue faced by the far flung, outlier atolls of Mortlock, Tasman, Fead, Carteret and Nissan.

“The problem in the Atolls and Nissan has been around for 30 years – since the beginning of the Bougainville crisis,” said Paasia, who is an aviator by profession. “Since the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2001, the problem has just escalated.

“We had a flagship that belonged to the provincial government and over 10 years ago, that stopped operating because of management issues, poor maintenance and all that. Even that, transportation has not been consistent to the atolls so today, the effects of the lack of shipping has expounded.

“As we speak, there is hundreds of students in the atolls who have gone for Christmas and there hasn’t been a ship to pick them and bring them back to the mainland to go to school. On the mainland, we also have teachers waiting to go and teach in the primary schools on the atolls.”

Paasia said this longstanding issue has caused a decline in the level of education on the atolls.

Health services are not faring any better, with health centres devoid of medicine as well as a shortage in medical personnel. Sadly, this has led to avoidable deaths.

“And yet, while we know this problem back to front, both governments – the national and ABG – have never been able to find a solution. And that is tragic and just unacceptable,” stated Paasia.

He pointed out that working professionals from the Atolls and Nissan contribute to Government coffers.   

“And we’d like to think that some of that tax we pay assist the atolls and assist Nissan. That hasn’t been the case.”

Paasia has further suggested an atolls and Nissan electorate, where they can have a guaranteed K10 million District Services Improvement Program funding every year.

“And that just may solve the problem, not just for health and education but the economy in the atolls as well, to enable sufficient economic activities.

“So we’re calling on the government of the day, both the president and the prime minister. Maybe it’s time to look at a separate electorate.”

(President of the Bougainville Atoll Foundation, Sione Paasia)

Carmella Gware