Bougainville Special Correspondent
A lull of fear has enveloped inhabitants of Panguna after the passing of the controversial mining bill by ABG parliament recently. The landowners, who have been rarely consulted over the issue, nor had they been in any way involved in the talks over the bill, feel a sense of insecurity over the ramifications since now the bill is law.
Speaking to several locals in Panguna, every one of them indicated that there is now familiarity with the contents of this new law which is almost unknown. Mainly referring to it as ‘mining bill’ most were not aware that it had already been passed. Hence, this prompted much vile sentiments towards President Dr. John Momis and Ioro Constituency Member and Minister for Mining Michael Oni. The people have generally stated that the law has no jurisdiction over their resources, and that it is not the government’s mandate to decide over the Panguna peoples’ land. Here are some sentiments picked up from conversations with the people (translated):
“Living through the operation and then the crisis is too much in a lifetime, I do want to be alive when the mine reopens, because I know what will happen. And this law confirms it”
“Oni should not come campaign here in Panguna, he has done enough to put us into disarray…”
“John Momis, though he is legitimately the president, that does not give him the power to decide over our resources which we lost many innocent lives over in the crisis. This president is not a Bougainvillean!”
“We are troubled with the new mining bill (sic) because it directly concerns our land (Panguna). If the president wants the law, he might as well go dig up his place.
“Looks like we are going back to where we were just before the crisis erupted, when the authority cannot protect its people”
Election fever has also gripped the region, and the Panguna people are now very much wary of who to vote in to represent them. They want the law to be thrown out (rausim). Ironically, their own representative has been at the fore to pass the law. However, in a recent spate of events; a prominent chief in the Ioro 2 area came forward claiming that he has been receiving money from Ioro Member Michael Oni to convince his people in his hamlet to vote for the mining minister this election.
“Olgeta miting wantem member Oni mipla ol chief blo save kisim pei long em, na taim mipla stap lo miting em isave tokim mipla lo noken bilip long wanem samting ol narapla kenideit bai toktok lo mining bill (sic) ia” (We, the chiefs have been regularly paid in meetings we have with member Oni, and in the meetings he tells us not to believe what other candidates will say about the mining law.)
Besides the controversy surrounding the passing of the law, the desperation for the stranglehold of power is at the point where almost any means to obtain it are being used. And to what extent the people of Bougainville will see the desperation of outside interest promotion, the means to maintaining it will come down to how they play their political cards this election time. The people are afraid of what is to happen to them, especially the people of Panguna, let us hope they will make the right decisions when they hold the ballot paper.