1 Dec 2023

Bougainville negotiator dismisses 'non-binding referendum' line

3:54 pm on 1 December 2023
Vote count by referendum officials.

Vote count by referendum officials. Photo: Bougainville Referendum Commission

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Minister for Bougainville Affairs is misleading MPs, Bougainville's lead negotiator on the independence question says.

Manasseh Makiba told PNG Parliament this week that the Bougainville referendum results are non-binding, and it was the national parliament that will determine the region's future political status.

But the Minister heading Bougainville's Independence Implementation Mission, Ezekiel Massatt, said Makiba is wrong.

He said the referendum in 2019, in which Bougainvilleans overwhelmingly chose independence from PNG, was constitutionally guaranteed.

Massatt said Makiba's claim made him very angry because there is nothing in any legislation, or the Bougainville Peace Agreement, that said the referendum was non-binding.

"It was decided that the two governments would work on consulting and making sure that the transition to independence would be as smooth as possible," he said.

"And that is where the background is and suddenly this non-binding issue comes in, because if the referendum result is not effective on the date of the declaration it is therefore assumed that it's not binding, and that's not correct."

Makiba had been speaking in parliament after queries from Bougainville MPs about an apparent political impasse between Port Moresby and Buka on the referendum consultations.

But he told MPs there was no impasse.

However Massatt said: "We broke official talks a couple of months ago because we couldn't agree on the contents of the sessional order."

This order was Makiba's announcement to parliament that a vote on the referendum would require an absolute majority from the MPs, when Bougainville felt it should just be a simple majority vote.

Massatt also said President Ishmael Toroama is still waiting for a response from a letter he sent to Prime Minister James Marape months ago asking for a decision on an independent moderator to be brought in to mediate the discussions.

Both parties have previously committed to having the issues surrounding the referendum results fully resolved by 2027 at the latest and, for the vast majority on Bougainville at least, that means independence from PNG.

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