The Bougainville Referendum for Independence has moved a step closer after a historic decision made by the Papua New Guinea Government and Bougainville leaders to set a target date.
The target date is June 15, 2019, one year before the window for Referendum determined by the Bougainville Peace Agreement closes.
The target date agreement was reached at last Friday’s Joint Supervisory Board meeting in Port Moresby.
Bougainville President John Momis said he was “very pleased” at the outcome.
“Although the date for the Referendum cannot yet be finally set (because of various legal steps required to be taken first), it would be impossible to plan the Referendum without a target date. With that date now agreed, we can plan the steps required to hold the Referendum, and the time and the funding and personnel needed to carry out each step.”
Momis also expressed his pleasure that the National Government had committed to provide the funding needed to carry out the Referendum preparations, beginning with the 2017 National Budget.
“The joint agreement...is a huge step forward,” he said. “It demonstrates once and for all the total commitment for the Papua New Guinea Government to full implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement and the associated Constitutional provisions.
“As a result there should no longer be any doubt among Bougainvilleans whether or not the Referendum will be held.”
The announcement will pave the way for complete weapons disposal in Bougainville. Some factions and individuals are still holding weapons due to suspicions that the National Government would refuse to hold the Referendum, Momis said, adding that those suspicions must now end and all groups must work towards complete weapons disposal.
“I call now for full disposal of weapons by the Me’ekamui Defence Force elements, the armed groups associated with Noah Musingku at Tonu and various former BRA and BRF members and groups that have retained weapons.
“Only then will Bougainville be able to be Referendum ready. The Bougainville Peace Agreement requires that the Referendum be free and fair.”
He said the legitimacy of the Referendum result would be in doubt if weapons remained in the Region.
The President applauded the clear commitment by the Prime Minister and other ministers to implementing the Peace Agreement.
“Once again, Papua New Guinea is providing a lead to other countries. I salute the Prime Minister for his very positive contribution to this historic outcome,” Momis said.
The unpaid funds to Bougainville by the National Government were discussed during the meeting and progress was being made.
Meanwhile, the South Bougainville by-election will start this week as announced by the PNG Electoral Commission at a cost of K2.5 million (US$789,000).
The by-election writ will be issued on Thursday and nominations close on June 2.
Polling will start on June 18 and end on July 1 and the writ returned on July 22.
Electoral Commission delegate John Kalamoroh said that the Finance Department has released funding of K2.5 million for the by-election last week. He has appointed John Itano, who is a district officer at the Buin district office, as the returning officer for the South Bougainville by-election.
Kalamoroh said the nomination period is seven days while campaign period is four weeks, adding that polling will be for 14 days and counting will be for 21 days.
The South Bougainville Open Seat was left vacant following the demise of the late MP Steven Kama Pirika who succumbed to illness whilst seeking medical attention in Singapore earlier this year.
By law, all by-elections must be conducted before July 27, 2016.
This is to comply with the 12 months anniversary rule as per s.105(1)(b) of the Constitution which requires all by-elections to be conducted prior to the 12 months period before the fifth anniversary of the date fixed to the return of writ of the previous (2012) general election which were returned on 27 July 2012.
The Nabak Rural LLG president seat by-election which was left vacant following the death of the president last year has been planned to run concurrently with the South Bougainville Open seat.