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Good governance essential for Bougainville Independence


Bougainville’s referendum presents an excellent opportunity for the island to instil a culture of accountability and good governance at the ground floor and a program of performance management should be the model.

Relations between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Bougainville have been strained since the former gained independence in 1975. The relationship reached its lowest point when Bougainville rebellion leader Francis Ona claimed independence from PNG and started a 10 year civil war in which 15 – 20 000 lives were lost between 1988 – 1998. The proposed solution to this conflict, referred to as a “joint creation”, was to build an independent state in Bougainville based on consensus following a referendum slated for the period 2015-2020. The time has now come for Bougainville to determine its future by instituting the provisions of this referendum in order to achieve independence. To prove to the people of Bougainville, the central authority in Port Moresby, and the international community, that they have what it takes to be a successful independent state, the government in Bougainville must build an effective and accountable public service.

What is currently problematic for the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) is the lack of governance that exists in the current administration of the autonomous PNG province. In order for an outcome of independence to be achieved in the referendum, three terms must be met: good governance, fiscal self-reliance and weapons disposal. The problems of good governance and fiscal management in Bougainville also apply to PNG, and Melanesia more broadly, because of the widespread culture of corruption and lacking accountability practices which politicise public service duties. The prevalence of “big man politics” and clan affiliations has ensured western conceptions of governance and fiscal accountability are undermined at all levels, with even PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill accused of corrupt dealings. Addressing these conditions can be achieved by embedding a strategic culture of performance management in the public service to ensure that structures of good governance and fiscal management apply to the whole public sector and provide an example of what this constitutes for the state as a whole.

A bellwether for Bougainville independence may be based on achieving good governance and fiscal accountability in the public service under the guise of a strategic culture of performance management. Performance management is an administrative tool seen in most modern Western democracies that emphasises good recruitment, ongoing employee training, sanctions for underperformance and rewards for high performance. However, a strategic culture which emphasises a whole of government commitment to performance management that overcomes the existing problems of corruption and politicisation which exist in PNG and Bougainville is needed to prove to all stakeholders that Bougainville is capable of determining its independence.

Implementing and maintaining performance management is the best method for building an independent state in Bougainville. The successful history of performance management in developed states, and the record of failures in underdeveloped states such as PNG, can provide lessons for Bougainville to ensure it obtains the best of both worlds. Bougainville often receives the highest rankings in health and education service delivery and must also maintain this with a limited pool of human resources from which to draw. Furthermore, Bougainville has the luxury of looking at the challenges faced by PNG in trying to successfully implement performance management in its own centralised authorities all the way back to its independence in 1975. Therefore, Bougainville as a possibly independent state would be best placed to maintain performance management to utilise limited resources to improve an already high standard of service delivery, while also looking at PNG as an example of what to avoid.

That said, performance management in Bougainville might be putting the cart before the horse. The ramifications of a failed independence outcome in the referendum are wide ranging and go beyond the scope of this commentary on performance management to incorporate issues of PNG and Bougainville relations, and the possibility of renewed violent secessionism. However, if the establishment of a Bougainville public service with a newly appointed Chief Administrator and the acceptance of support from the PNG public service administrator is anything to go by, the potential for performance management as an administrative tool that can enhance the governance and fiscal accountability of an independent Bougainville shows good signs of improving the lives of Bougainvilleans in the future.

Jack Buckley is a current Masters student at the Australian National University Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs and is a former intern at the Australian Institute of International Affairs National Office. He can be contacted at jackbuckley@live.com. This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. 

Published June 3, 2015

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