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Asia Pacific Report

Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama today condemned a visiting Papua New Guinean member of Parliament for “mocking” the autonomous region’s independence aspirations during a drunken exchange in Buka last week, saying that he must “atone for his blunder”.

A video of Ijivitari MP David Arore allegedly abusing security guards and airport staff while getting ready to board a plane out of Buka last Friday has stirred wide condemnation by national and Bougainville leaders.

“Let us take this criticism in our stride and use this as motivation to continue to develop and progress,” President Toroama said in a statement, adding that sovereignty was “rightfully ours to claim”.

“We are a people who have withstood tougher challenges than the words of a drunken man,” he said.

Ishmael Toroama
Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama … “Sovereignty is rightfully ours to claim, we have paid for it with the unfair exploitation of our resources, our lives and the blood of the people who sacrificed their lives fighting for their freedom in an unjust war. Image: APR

Arore’s visit to Bougainville was part of a delegation led by the Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Mannaseh Makiba. The visit was to help national MPs better understand the autonomous arrangements on Bougainville and meet local leaders and the people.

Toroama said the trip was a success but strongly criticised the behaviour of MP Arore, saying he did not have the “right to use it to insult our leaders and our people”.

“Sovereignty is rightfully ours to claim, we have paid for it with the unfair exploitation of our resources, our lives and the blood of the people who sacrificed their lives fighting for their freedom in an unjust war,” President Toroama said, referring to the now-closed rich Panguna copper mine and the decade-long civil war over the exploitation and environmental degradation.

Unfair comparison
It was unfair for Arore to even compare infrastructure development on Bougainville to that of the rest of the country because Bougainville was a post-conflict region that was only now “steadily gaining traction on development and peace”.

“Bougainville bankrolled PNG’s independence and set the very foundation for every form of development in this country,” President Toroama said.

“Subsequently, we had a war waged on our people by the very same government we built.

“You [Arore] can mock our shortcomings in development but do not mock the sanctity of our aspirations to be an independent nation.”

President Toroama thanked Bougainvilleans who witnessed Arore’s “tirade of insults” directed at the Air Niugini and National Airports Corporation (NAC) staff for “maintaining civility”.

“In this respect we proved that despite his inebriated state and the discourteous behaviour our people still showed respect for the office that he occupies as a national leader.”

But President Toroama called for an investigation, saying Arore “understands our Melanesian traditions” and he was “stlll subservient to the law”.

Minister apologises
A PNG Post-Courier report by Gorethy Kenneth and Miriam Zarriga said the delegation leader, Bougainville Affairs Minister Manasseh Makibe, had apologised for the behaviour of MP Arore.

“We left in good note. However, such behaviour by an MP is wrong and unacceptable,” Makiba said.

“We will not allow the unfortunate incident to deter the progress we have made and good working relationship we have with Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) leadership and people.

“We were not aware of this incident until now. Generally, our visit was well appreciated by ABG.

“I apologise for Mr Arore’s behaviour.”

According to reports, Arore insinuated that Bougainville’s independence was “not negotiable”, among other derogative comments he made at that time.

Arore told the Post-Courier he would not apologise as what he had said was not intended to upset Bougainville, its people and the leadership.

“I will not apologise. I have nothing to apologise for because I did not say something wrong, I did not abuse anyone and there was no commotion,” Arore claimed.

“All I said was, ‘Yumi laik kisim independence (if we want independence), yumi stretim balus na stretim hausik (we must fix our airport and our hospital)’.

“I said these same sentiments in Manus, where I said to the leaders there, ‘Manus has a big and very good airport but the town is in shambles’.

“I think we have made this very minor issue a very big one.”

‘We’ll have him arrested’
Police Commissioner David Manning said the incident of a MP allegedly drunk and disorderly on a flight would be investigated with him waiting on NAC and Air Niugini for a report and complaint.

“We will have him arrested. We are awaiting the NAC and Air Niugini,” he said.

Civil Aviation Minister Walter Schnaubelt said: “He (Arore) was also allowed to board the plane drunk, which is a security breach.

“So (we are) getting a report from our team on the ground so further preventative action can be taken. This sort of behaviour must not be tolerated, and we leaders must lead by example at all times.”

MP Arore is a member of PNG’s parliamentary law and order committee. The Ijivitari Open electorate is in Oro province.

In 2019, a non-binding independence referendum was held in Bougainville with 98.31 percent of voters supporting independence from Papua New Guinea.

Report compiled from Bougainville News and the PNG Post-Courier with permission.

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