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Bougainvilleans ready for referendum, says MP Samb, Referendum commission lacks funds
9:49 pm GMT+12, 03/02/2019, Papua New Guinea

 Bougainvilleans are ready for the referendum and their leaders have prepared them well, Minister assisting the Prime Minister and Goilala MP William Samb says.
Samb, in a report to Parliament, thanked the Bougainville leaders for preparing their constituencies for the referendum which enabled people to understand the process.
He said the two governments agreed that PNG and the Bougainville Electoral Commission would establish an independent Bougainville Referendum Commission to conduct the referendum as per the organic law on peace building.
“The target date for completing necessary preparations has been agreed for June 15, 2019, which is not necessarily the actual date for holding the referendum,” Samb said.
“Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Autonomous Bougainville Government President John Momis have stated that they will work together to ensure that the referendum process received financial and other support required.”
Samb said the joint supervisory body for the referendum had adopted that the government would allocate K54.3 million (US$15.8 million).
“From that amount, K20m (US$5.9 million) has been allocated in the 2019 national budget. We are now in the process of discussions with the relevant ministries to secure the remaining K34.3m (US$10.2 million),” he said.
“Another allocation with the ABG is an amount of K10m (US$2.9 million), K5m (US$1.4 million) is to continue the ongoing process of weapons disposal as well as peace and reconciliation. The other K5m is to conduct the referendum.”
Samb said the charter for the Bougainville Referendum Commission was signed in January 2017 that provides for a board of commissioners, the chair and executive head of which is to be appointed by the joint supervisory body.
Meanwhile, with four months to go before the referendum, the Bougainville Referendum Commission has no funds to carry out its operations, an official says.
Referendum research project team leader Dr Thomas Webster said the commission was operating on a shoestring budget and called on the Government to release the funds allocated for the exercise.
The referendum takes place on June 15.
Webster said there was a “perceived indifferent attitude” shown by the Government on the issue as no funds was allocated in the 2019 budget for the referendum exercise.
“There is a critical need for funding on the referendum which is a part of the Bougainville Peace Agreement but the BRC has no money to do its work,” Webster said.
“Time is clearly not on our side. BRC needs the money for its operations — logistics, travel and ballot paper printing. And of course the updating of the common roll for Bougainvilleans, not only those living on the island but also those living outside.
“Bougainvilleans living in other parts of PNG have to be vetted before the actual issue of the writs.
“This means they will have to put in their voter registration and say which electorate in Bougainville they come from. The chiefs and elders will confirm their origin. This is to ensure the integrity of the referendum is not questioned.”

He questioned the whereabouts of the K1 billion (US$297 million) allocated last year by the Government for the referendum exercise.
“I understand about a billion kina was said to be released last to the BRC account. But the BRC has not seen this money. Where has it actually gone too?” Webster said.
He said most Bougainvilleans were looking forward to the June 15 event and understood the process.
In another development, Maprik MP John Simon is the latest MP to be appointed to the Bipartisan Committee on Bougainville Affairs.
Parliament appointed Simon on Friday which brings the number of members in the committee to five.
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister William Samb told The National that the appointment was part of the process to have a full committee.
The committee is made up of members from both sides of the house and is chaired by Southern Highlands Governor William Powi.
“They carry out their independent assessment of whether the autonomous region government is working and the funding allocated is being used to deliver services,” Samb said.
“They report to Parliament on their findings.”
Clerk of Parliament Vela Konivaro said there was a vacancy in the committee and Simon’s appointment had made it a complete committee.
Simon said it was a parliamentary committee to assist on the Bougainville issues.
“Due to the timing factor, I was appointed to assist with speeding up the process as the deadline (June) for the referendum is approaching,” Simon said.
The other members of the committee are Bougainville Governor Joe Lera, Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin and Samarai-Murua MP Isi Henry Leonard.

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