The issue of foreign ownership is a thorny one in almost any country, and it’s no different on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville.
But after years of conflict that have more or less wiped out all economic activity in the region, smart and ethical overseas investment must play a vital part in driving its growth, according to Wellington-based trade advisory firm Tuia International.
Tuia is working with the Autonomous Bougainville Government, headed by president John Momis, to develop a strategy for sustainable economic growth.
Stage one is a three-month project, supported by the two governments through the New Zealand Aid and AusAid programmes. The strategy will build on key sectors identified in the Bougainville Economic Policy of March 2010, identify priority sectors and opportunities for foreign responsible investment.
Funding for stage two, the year-long implementation of the strategies, has been applied for from the same sources and a decision is expected soon.
Gibson says we have a responsibility to step in and do what we can.
“We have a strong desire and interest in helping our neighbours and Pacific cousins do well.”
The Tuia team sees this project as a positive step towards helping the 250,000 people of the region bring about positive change; build their infrastructure and educational systems.
Upskilling the public sector so it is equipped to deliver on the strategy is also vital. The government is relatively new and does not have a deeply experienced public service in dealing with investment issues, according to Gibson.
“We can help this sector build confidence, transparency in its operations, clear accountability and political neutrality to help deliver the government’s vision for investment.
“Greater awareness of development, particularly the subsidiary benefits will assist in lessening the apprehension associated with foreign investment. This in turn will create an environment of increased openness to development opportunities and facilitate investment promotion activities.”
Sectors identified with development potential are agribusiness (cocoa, coffee, vanilla, chillies and spices), mining, aqua culture, energy, fisheries, infrastructure and bio fuels.
The possible re-opening of the resource rich copper and gold mine Panguna, which closed in 1989, has also been identified as a key driver in the economic future of the region.
Bougainville has a turbulent history, much of this revolving around the mine. Gibson says a key reason why locals are wary of foreign ownership comes down to bad experiences in the past with Australian involvement in the mine.
Part of a long-term strategy would be to restore the damage done to the mine, Gibson says – and there are various international groups interested in ethical and responsible investment Tuia is looking to approach to that end.
While President John Momis says many Bougainvillians are understandably uneasy about foreign investment, trade is essential to the future of the country.
“The waves of globalisation are lapping at our shores. We can’t stop this happening. Rather, we must prepare ourselves for it.
“Responsible investment is investment that is aligned with the values and cultures of Bougainville. It must be ethical, responsible and fair. We want to see our people meaningfully involved as investors and suppliers, as well as employees.”
Tuia’s involvement came about after Gibson spent two weeks there in January on a short-term scoping assignment for Volunteer Service Abroad, which has been working in Bougainville since 1998.
Gibson says the cultural connections the company has with other indigenous peoples in the Pacific, including Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, gives it the depth of understanding needed to deliver a strategy in line with the Bougainville culture.
Tuia is also involved with Maori economic development and investment across New Zealand, as well as work in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East.
“It is important this strategy belongs to the people of Bougainville. We will identify what the priority sectors for investment are, why foreign investment is necessary and what type of investment the government should be looking for,” Gibson says.
He says the island is still rebuilding its national identity, and creating a positive international image of Bougainville is a major factor in the long-term strategy.
It is due to hold a referendum in 2015 on full independence from Papua New Guinea.