Radio New Zealand | 23 August 2018
An MP in the autonomous Bougainville parliament says Australian aid to the region is being used to jockey for position ahead of the vote on possible independence.
Bougainville is due to vote next year on whether to remain part of Papua New Guinea or choose independence.
Donor nations have started increasing their support but MP Joseph Watawi is taking issue with Australia sending in teams of advisers, without consultation.
He says the advisers are there to gain political power and influence for Australia when what Bougainville needs are nurses, doctors and engineers.
Mr Watawi told Don Wiseman he thinks the Australian assistance is focused on the possible re-emergence of the former Australian owned mining company, Bougainville Copper Ltd – the company which sparked the Bougainville crisis.
JOSEPH WATAWI: So rather than Australia trying to get back here under the cover of BCL, to re-open the mine, I think it is a fair thing for them to seriously look at how they can provide some form of redress to the people of Bougainville through supporting the current, ongoing reconciliation process in Bougainville. That’s what I see it is currently lacking.
DON WISEMAN: You have been critical of Australia sending in advisers but the truth is isn’t it, that the ABG – the Bougainville government – still needs advice. It hasn’t got a lot of the capacity it needs if it is going to get itself organised for this vote.
JW: So called advisors, which have flooded the Bougainville administration, I think some of these are absolutely unnecessary. Only on areas which we think we need critical advice then we should be able employ people that we identify and people that might come from Australia, but there are other places. In PNG we also have a lot of retired public servants who may be able to engage in terms of providing capacity in whatever administrative area that we think we need and require that kind of advice. I don’t see a wholesale advisory capacity that should come from retired Australia. It is like Australian aid is being given to Bougainville and we take it on the right hand and they take it back on the left hand. So it really doesn’t make any sense.
DW: When you say unnecessary advisors, what are you thinking of?
JW: Well in areas where we think it is necessary that we should have some advisers, then we should engage people in those areas that must be identified in terms of strategic advice in what ever areas. For example in terms of growing the economy, I think it is an area we think we can probably need some expertise in giving us some rough forecast on what they think the economy will be like in the next ten years down the road. So these are some of the areas I think we could be able to take on advice, but anything else, in terms of weapons disposal – what do they know about weapons disposal when we own the weapons here, and we think we had ways and means to deal with people who are holding onto weapons.
DW: The New Zealand government has also stepped up its involvement and I see from a press release you have put out that you are quite happy with what New Zealand is doing. So what is the difference between what New Zealand is doing and what Australia is doing?
JW: New Zealand I think, because they are also based with the culture of the Maori people and I think they know how to deal with the indigenous people and the manner in which they offer their support and assistance, particularly on the policing service, I see the role New Zealand plays also involves some kind of customary, cultural relationship that sort of enhances the manner and the attitude they are offering the kind of advice and support, in terms of capacity for Bougainville, and that’s the difference I see.
DW: There are discussions around restarting mining on Bougainville, and BCL is one of those, but it is not of course an Australian company anymore is it? You have tied this Australian involvement into a possible return of BCL but BCL is now owned by Bougainville and the PNG governments, isn’t it?
JW: The sale by Rio Tinto to the PNG government and the ABG was a rush job, and I think it was just a way out, of Rio Tinto not willing to address the legacy issues in terms of the environmental damages and all of these other things that they had created while operating the Panguna mine. And not only that but even they wanted to basically pass on some of these liabilities to the ABG. I think Rio Tinto on that note basically, just acting, like, you know, we don’t want to know what happened to you guys. We picked up the wealth and whatnot from your ground, and therefore we do not to come and recognise the difficulties you are suffering, the pain the people have gone through. From my observation and analysis this is very unfair.