Bougainville negotiator rejects 'unrestricted referendum’ line

Counting of votes by polling officers.
Photo: Bougainville Referendum Commission

Papua New Guinea (PNG) Minister for Bougainville Affairs is misleading MPs, says lead negotiator on Bougainville’s independence issue.

Manasseh Makiba told the PNG parliament this week that the Bougainville referendum results were non-binding and that the national parliament would decide the region’s future political status.

But minister Ezekiel Massatt, who heads Bougainville’s independence enforcement mission, said Makiba was wrong.

The 2019 referendum, in which Bougainvilleans overwhelmingly chose independence from PNG, was constitutionally guaranteed.

Massatt said the claim angered him because he said the referendum was not bound by any law or the Bougainville Peace Accords.

„It was decided that the two governments will consult and ensure that the transition to independence is as smooth as possible,” he said.

„In the background of that suddenly comes this non-binding issue, because if the referendum result doesn’t take effect on the date it’s announced, it’s considered non-binding, it’s not valid.”

Makiba was speaking in Parliament after questions from Bougainville MPs about the apparent political deadlock between Port Moresby and Bukka over the referendum consultations.

But there is no deadlock, he told MPs.

However, Masat said: „We broke off official negotiations two months ago because we could not agree on the contents of the session order.”

Makiba declared in parliament that a vote on a plebiscite would require an absolute majority of MPs, while Bougainville felt that it should be a simple majority vote.

Masat also said he was still waiting for a response to a letter President Ismail Doroma sent to Prime Minister James Marab a few months ago.

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Both parties have previously pledged to fully resolve issues surrounding the referendum results by 2027, and for the majority in Bougainville, that means independence from PNG.

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