East New Britain’s Quest for Autonomy
It was extremely hard not to notice yesterday that PNG’s two leading dailies both ran the story about Governor General Sir Paulias Matane hinting that a major step toward the granting of powers of autonomy for East New Britain (ENB) Province will be taken some time this year.
East New Britain’s quest for autonomy is not new – it has its roots well before PNG became independent in 1975 with the establishment of the Mataungan Association in 1969. The most significant historical case for ENB autonomy was the simple fact that as the country was facing independence, there were only two provinces whose provincial budgets were not two-thirds financed by direct national government funding allocations: East New Britain and North Solomons.
ENB had the million dollar per year Tolai Cocoa Project and North Solomons had Panguna; this was aptly reflected by the fact that by 1978, there were only two fully elected provincial governments – East New Britain and North Solomons.
Alphonse Gelu of the National Research Institute has written a paper concerning national/sub-national governance within PNG which is titled A Research Framework for the Evaluation of Greater Autonomy for ENB. In the paper he outlines the main focus of ENB’s request for autonomy into three main areas:
- Political structures – including a Provincial Constitution
- Financial arrangements – including increased access to and control over revenue
- Administration – including enhanced control over an increased range of government agencies, functions, and personnel.
Gelu also makes the point that if the Government does grant ENB autonomy and any other province for that matter, it must take into account a number of factors. Firstly, the request for autonomy must be examined in terms of its benefits as a solution to existing problems. Secondly, it must be examined in broad principles of good governance. Then it must examine the feasibility of such a proposal in the context of Papua New Guinea – how will autonomy benefit the country as a nation?
Whatever the outcome, it is more than likely that the ENB case will be used as the model for future provincial requests for greater autonomy. Ironically, the provincial government system was established to discourage secessionist movements. Now it seems that it may just be the catalyst.