The President of Bougainville, Ishmael Toroama, says the autonomous Papua New Guinea region needs a strong constitution guaranteeing the civil rights of the people.
The Constitution Planning Commission, which is comprised of people from different walks of life from thoughout Bougainville, is about to begin its work.
They will travel around the region soliciting the people’s views on what should be in the constitution for the new independent Bougainville that Tororama expects to emerge from the current negotiations with PNG.
He told the first meeting of the commission that the document must promote democracy, rule of law, social justice, equality and respect.
“We are all gathered here today because of one common ideal that unites us and that is our commitment to the Bougainville Independence Mission. This mission calls upon us to prepare the way for an Independent Bougainville.
“As patriots we are morally obligated to serve this cause with loyalty, honesty and commitment. It is a vocation that we all must undertake to ensure that we fulfill the felt needs and aspirations of our people as a means to empowering them socially, economically and politically.
“As a people who have suffered so much in the last fifty years we are finally on the path to freedom. In the past we watched passively as our resources were plundered and our rights were taken away from us. We suffered discrimination on our own lands, we endured political tyranny by a government sworn to protect us and we had this very same government wage war on our people.
“However, these challenges have made us a stronger people with a purpose and that is attaining political independence for Bougainville. This purpose is strong within us, it inspires to be patriots and it unites us as a people. The constitution of any country is made up of laws that are the guiding principles of governance within a nation and how power is exercised and shared for the benefit of its people.
“Our new Constitution must promote democracy, rule of law, social justice, equality and respect,” President Toroama said.
He said the constitution must also protect the rights of the people of Bougainville, resources and cultural heritage.
“Our Constitution must protect the rights of indigenous owners of the land and their resources. It must guarantee resource owner interests are protected to ensure that the government and the people benefit from any form of development and resource exploitation that may eventuate.
“Benefit sharing must be fair to our people in other words; we must adopt a RIGHTS BEFORE RESOURCES approach to development and this must be enshrined within our constitution for the protection of our natural resources and our people’s rights. When we look towards the exploitation of our resources we must also consider the impact our actions to introduce development will have on the environment.
“We must have a constitution that recognises the importance of the natural environment as it remains a very important source of our people’s livelihood for many hundreds of years. This relationship with nature has not evolved so much that our people still depend on their environment for food, building materials and medicinal uses, Toroama said.
The constitution must look at protecting the marine environment and the various ecosystems that are in abundance on Bougainville, he said.
“Never has a single ethnic group of people been marginalised in Papua New Guinea as the people of Bougainville. We suffered harshly at the hands of the colonial powers and then we suffered the same fate with the Government of Papua New Guinea.
“From these experiences we must ensure that we have a strong constitution that guarantees the civil rights of our people. We must enjoy the freedom to express ourselves, we must enjoy the freedom of movement, we must enjoy the freedom to be educated and we must enjoy the privilege to actively participate in development and the democratic process.
“We are creating history as we speak. We are going to create a homegrown constitution for the government and the people of Bougainville. It will be based foremost on protecting the people’s rights and empowering the government to efficiently and equitably distribute services to the people,” he said.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS