The Bougainville Referendum Commission has completed briefings to all Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) for the North, South and Central regions of Bougainville.
Yesterday’s briefing in Buka for Northern Region officers marked the last leg of engagement with all AROs, who are the administrative staff responsible for planning and administering referendum field operations.
In his opening remarks Chief Referendum Officer Mauricio Claudio thanked all officials, acknowledging the honour to be involved in such an historic event.
“Few countries go through such referendums, and so the eyes of everyone are on us: the two governments, the international community and the people of Bougainville. We need to hold ourselves and our work to a higher standard,” Mr Claudio said.
“The referendum process should not be questioned, that is our aim. The process must be seen by all parties as free and fair according to international standards, so that the political process after the referendum can proceed.”
Officials were briefed on finances and payments, a key issue for the smooth conduct of electoral processes around the world.
“We understand that there have been challenges in the early establishment of the BRC, but I can assure you that every field officer and awareness officer, nearly 1,000 people in total, have been paid in full for phase 1 and 2 enrolment activities – that is in accordance with allowances set by ABG and national laws,” Claudio said.
The BRC’s original budget of K55 million was reduced mid-year to K27.8 million in response to the limited funds of the two governments.
“Our funds need to stretch another six weeks to cover the extension, and also respond to the large turnout of Bougainvilleans living both here and outside Bougainville. We will need to account for funds we spend in Bougainville, PNG and overseas, and we will need every kina to deliver the referendum properly.”
During Phase 1 and 2 enrolment, the BRC has seen three areas slowing down payments to officials and service providers:
- Lack of paperwork including required approvals from regional coordinators
- Incorrect bank account details
- Difficulty of releasing funds from the BRC trust account because BRC Commissioner Manu is yet to be added as a joint signatory to the BRC Trust account by the national government.
The Chief Referendum Officer said the need to have Commissioner Manu appointed as a signatory to the account, together with the Chief Referendum Officer and Commissioner Gamato, had already been communicated to the two governments in order to speed up payments.
“I’m confident that the improved systems now in place will see approved payments sped up. However, we will always need to stick to the national and Bougainville laws in making those payments.”
“Our message is that all expenditure needs regional coordinator approval and must come with the right paperwork and the correct details in place,” Claudio said. Briefings also covered operations, enrolment, awareness and external relations.
Director of Operations, Desmond Tsianai, briefed AROs on their upcoming recruitment of polling officials to support almost 500 polling stations around Bougainville.
“We are looking for the best people, those who can uphold our status as an independent, neutral body,” Mr Tsianai said.
“While we work with everybody, we are ultimately an independent and impartial body.”