A team from UNCDF’s Local Development Finance Programme visited the Autonomous Region of Bougainville for a scoping mission in January 2016. The team visited the Pacific Ocean group of islands to launch a diagnostic study that will help the Autonomous Government of Bougainville (AGB) identify its vast potential and identify policy and investment solutions to deal with economic shocks and challenges.
The mission included visits to the island of Buka, mainland Bougainville’s former capital Arawa and coastal villages and towns. The autonomous region will be heading to the polls for a referendum in 2020, as part of a peace agreement completed in 2000, after years of civil unrest and conflict.
If Bougainville secedes, it could possibly be the world’s newest least developed country (LDC). The country has an estimated population of 249,358 (2011 census) and will require much-needed studies and research to ensure transformative sustainable growth.
During a meeting with the UNCDF team, the Finance Minister of Bougainville, Hon. Mr. Albert Punghau, said, “With concern to our economy, trying to recover from war, we have a lot to overcome.” He continued, “[UNCDF] can help Bougainville in starting to rebuild, but, you can only help when you know what the local needs are. We have specific needs and that is important to look at.”
The intent of the scoping mission is to start the LoOKING project in Bougainville. The LoOKING project is a diagnostic that is a new and innovative local development policy tool. By providing a well-researched foundation for evidence-informed policy and programmatic budget decisions by national actors and the development partners, the LoOKING diagnostic’s overall objective is to promote sustainable and inclusive local development.
The Minister of Economic Development of Bougainville, Hon. Mr. Fidelis Semoso, said, “This diagnostics research will assist the people of Bougainville in understanding what we need to realize our aspirations. We require expert help and studies. Let’s work in partnership to create an enabling environment that guarantees prosperity and peace for the people of Bougainville.”
During the scoping visit, the UNCDF team also met with the Minister of Primary Industries, Hon. Mr. Nick Darku, Secretary of the Minister of Primary Industries, Mr. Thomas Betitis, Director of Forestry, Mr. Peter Wanoreke, Director of Fisheries, Mr. Jinro Boisen, and Director of Agriculture and Livestock, Mr. Gabriel Wayen.
Aside from its history with the copper industry, Bougainville is rich in many natural resources. Copra, cocoa, timber spice and other garden foods are abundant in its agriculture. The Buka passage, the Solomon Sea and the Pacific Ocean are teeming with approximately eight species of tuna fish. Moreover, the region’s potential for tourism, which the islands’ namesake, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, described as an “earthly paradise,” is untapped. Diversifying the economy is important for Bougainville to secure a sustainable and prosperous future.
This is why the researching of the islands’ potential is an essential step in building a new economic base. Mr. John Avira, the Director of Economic Services for the National Co-ordination Office for Bougainville Affairs in Port Moresby, welcomed UNCDF’s efforts in launching the LoOKING diagnostic.
LoOKING has launched in the beginning of 2016. The project team is closely working with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Port Moresby and Bougainville; ensuring synergies are developed across other DFAT funded interventions and to enhance policy dialogue.