27 Jan 2005

New Bougainville constitution described as innovative

11:28 am on 27 January 2005

The new constitution for the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville is being described as innovative and a major step forward.

Bougainvilleans, who are due to hold elections for a provincial government within several months, are being granted much greater autonomy although defence and foreign affairs will remain with central government.

Professor Graham Hassall at the University of the South Pacific says there was consultation at grass roots level and a long period over which the constitution was developed.

He says although provincial governments have always had the power to pass laws, there is a significant difference to the autonomy that the constitution of Bougainville guarantees its people.

"The legislature will be able to pass laws that supercede the national law of Papua New Guinea. This is indeed a high degree of autonomy. If there's any law - a national law that applies to all other provinces - if the Bougainvilleans don't want to go with that law, they have the power to pass their own legislation."

Professor Hassall says there are some unresolved issues including the refusal of rebel leader, Francis Ona, to join the peace process and the no-go zone remaining in place.