Prime Minister Hon. James Marape says the issue of independence for Bougainville is a very-sensitive one which must be handled with great care.
He said this in Parliament today when answering a question from Kandep MP, Hon. Don Polye, on the outcome of the recent Joint Supervisory Body (JSB) and consultative meetings in Wabag.
PM Marape said the Wabag meetings had established a process through which, by 2027, the political future of Bougainville would be determined.
He stressed the importance of seeing things from a Bougainville perspective as both sides entered into consultations for a political settlement by 2027.
“My Government is giving its utmost best to handle this issue with due care,” he said.
“In the meantime, I ask each and every one of us to step up on both sides (of Parliament) in a bipartisan approach in whatever capacity we can to support Bougainville, assist rebuild Bougainville.”
PM Marape said his Government had made a K100 million annual commitment to Bougainville starting in 2020.
“Independence or not, Bougainville is our responsibility,” he said.
PM Marape said there currently was no provision in the Constitution that allowed for independence for Bougainville.
He said despite the people of Bougainville voting 97.7 per cent for independence in the 2019 Referendum, “the problem is this: The Constitution does not provide for independence for any part of our country”.
He said even the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) stated that whatever the outcome of the Referendum, it would first have to be “ratified” by the PNG Parliament.
“Bougainville is also aware of this, for which I thank their leaders,” PM Marape said.
“They agreed that the Papua New Guinea National Parliament is the final place to deal with this issue.
“For the first time, since 2001, there was recognition on both sides that there is a silence in the Constitution on independence for Bougainville.”
PM Marape stressed that Bougainville was the greatest issue for his Government.
“In fact, there can be no greater issue facing our Government, or facing our country, when one part of our country decides to break away and be independent,” he said
“This is a very important issue, in fact, I rate this challenge the greatest challenge: Over COVID-19, over our economy and many other challenges we are facing today.
“The sanctity of our union as one country is very, very important.