Upfront agreement on referendum outcome needed

Authors of the recently launched ‘Bougainville Referendum Outcome Issues’ report recommend that both the PNG and Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) agree upfront on how the referendum outcome will be implemented.

They also recommend that that these steps to be documented and signed off so that the people are clear about how the outcome will be implemented before the vote.

PNG National Research Institute (NRI) Director, Dr Osborne Sanida, said this during the recent launching of the report.

Sanida said the report offered the example of Scotland that had an Independence Referendum a few years ago. The British government and the Scottish government signed off on an agreement three years before the Referendum. This document provided clear guidelines on what to do if the result of the Referendum was independence for Scotland. In the end, it was not needed.

This important measure however, does not seem to have been applied in the case of the referendum on the British Exit from the EU or “BREXIT”. A vote was taken without knowing how the result of an Exit from the EU would be implemented. It is now causing greater division and arguments on the way forward, creating confusion and agitation by the different interest groups.

Dr Sanida said such a situation is not tenable for Bougainville and the country should try as much as possible to learn from this experience and have some agreements on how to implement the outcome.

He said this recommendation was made by Professor Christine Bell and Dr Robbie McVeigh during the presentations of their draft report at the June National Conference held this year.

“I understand that the Government authorities did take the recommendations seriously and at the subsequent July JSB, made a decision to establish a ‘Taskforce headed by two Ministers’ from the ABG and the National Government to commence planning for the implementation.

“I am reliably informed that not much progress has been made since then, about six months since.

“I would like to take the opportunity to urge the two governments to take this recommendation seriously and start preparing for the implementation. Each of the two governments need to plan separately and then come together to discuss and agree on a common plan for implementation,” said Dr Sanida.

Dr Sanida added we should not wait until the results come out and then start talking about how to implement the results. By planning early, both parties can avoid chaos, confusion and also avoid the likely emergence of conflict by agitated constituents who are unsure and suspicious of time lags in implementation of the referendum results.

“There should be practical discussions around two possible scenarios: ‘Greater Autonomy’ or ‘Independence’.

“If the two governments do not want to discuss the details of future scenarios, the least they could do is to agree on a framework and likely implementation time schedule so that the people know what is the plan of action,” he stated.

“The important point to make is that such an agreement provides clear guidelines on what the two governments would do and not to leave it to the time the results emerge and then start discussions on how to implement the referendum outcome. It provides a certainty, a sort of agreed pathway and practical steps on what to do.”

Dr Sanida said the next twelve months will be challenging but they stand by to contribute in whatever way they can on a journey to eventual peace and prosperity for the people of Bougainville as well as the people of PNG.

(Buka Loop filepic)

Cedric Patjole