Thursday, February 04, 2010

Flip side of regional autonomy - Papua New Guinea must fully embrace it


A recent media editorial asserted that this year’s referendum in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ABG) could have enormous consequences for Papua New Guinea.

In this referendum, Bougainvilleans will decide whether or not they want to be a part of PNG, or become a separate independent country (a serious option?).

Once more, the last three PNG governments and parliament have unfortunately been complacent these past 14 years and has to date not seriously addressed this ‘sticky’ issue.

The government as usual, will again panic and do some last minute paper shuffling with policy writers to draft a new accord?

As seen many times before, PNG political leaders will wait until the 11th hour before the referendum to talk peace, or offer some poor excuse of political platitudes as to why the ABG should be a part of the PNG provincial entity.

The government still has no real policy 'White Paper' on this issue.

Hence, this year’s referendum is enough to jolt the ‘powers-that-be’ in Waigani from its deep slumber.

It is time senior public servants immediately advise the government on what the best option is on how to accommodate the issue of autonomy in PNG within the context of its future sovereignty.

The media editorial further highlighted several scenarios with far reaching implications, why certain Governors and provincial governments want autonomy like Bougainville and what the government should do now to address this vexed issue of autonomous regions.

The editorial on the whole, gave an adverse effect and reminded the government and public that: “This is a threat that must be taken seriously”. Is it a threat? I do not think so.

On the contrary, I see the issue of regional autonomy not as a threat but a positive development tool for the government.

It can be so if approached in a rational manner with a long term strategy of adapting levels of autonomy towards a positive outcome for PNG.

I see autonomy, especially political autonomy as a positive development goal.

We should now fully exploit this by having it adapt accordingly by each provincial government as a future political model for a multi-cultural society like PNG.

The present political and government system is not working for the people as it only fuels increasing levels of political corruption.

In future, PNG needs a regional (State) government system where the country is divided up into five states or regions.

Governments have had massive problems governing PNG since Independence. One future solution for PNG is to have separate state governments for Papua, Highlands, Momase, the New Guinea Islands (including the ABG) and a Central Government in Waigani - very much like the ACT; with five states and a territory.

Since the Bougainville crisis ended, four PNG governments have all but gone to sleep on the issue of autonomy.

The current regime is too pre-occupied prancing on the world stage with the climate change issue.

It has no contingency policy today if other provinces demand autonomy such as: New Ireland, East New Britain, Morobe and the Central Province.

The lack of a coherent national strategic policy and appropriate laws on how best to address future issues of autonomy within its national strategic policy context will in future, become a big problem for the government.

There are many good (and complex) reasons why provinces desire autonomy.

It will be for the same reasons why the others want autonomy, and they do realise they also want the same.

Autonomy means many things to many different people.

However, there should also be a common thread that must fully embrace in a bi-partisan approach by parliament than ever before.

Autonomy can be adapted as a form of self government, or self-rule.

As a compromised solution, autonomy can provide the possibility to share legislative and executive powers between the national government and the provinces, safeguarding both aims.

The future preservation of the integrity of a province, state and its sovereign territory; and self-government for minority groups in their specific region.

For PNG, the contemporary relevance of the autonomy issue has to be considered in both perspectives: as an efficient means of conflict prevention and resolution through accommodation of the fundamental needs of national minorities within the existing provincial boundaries.

This should also be seen as a fundamental right of national or ethnic minorities to be considered under national (and international) law. The whole issue of political autonomy should not necessarily be seen as a threat but a good sovereign challenge for the government, and its people.

The government has not seriously considered the looming referendum this year.

The politicians and their senior bureaucrats will procrastinate until the last minute and do not see it as a serious threat because it has no real official position on this important strategic issue.

Prime Minister Somare's government must now take ‘the bull by the horns’ and address this issue as part of its national strategic plan: Vision 2050.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Reginald. Not much thought on this issue outside of Bougainville from what I read.

    Tasol .. This year is Provincial election time. I don't remember the referendum being so soon -- isn't it still a few years away? [Correct me if I'm wrong]. But your main point about lack of preparation [particularly mental preparation and planning by the National govt] is very valid

    regardz ..