The year of 2020 has seen global changes through the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the virus has caused widespread disruptions and has also impacted on the Bougainville transition process that started when the referendum result was announced. So far Bougainville has been spared from any COVID-19 outbreak and has enacted its own State of Emergency. Public gatherings have been restricted to no more than 10 people, markets have been closed and for a number of weeks passenger flights between Bougainville and other parts of PNG have been suspended.
When the State of Emergency was declared PaCSIA and our donors and project partners decided to pause the Bougainville Transition Dialogues (BTD) for one month from start of April 2020 to beginning of May 2020. Because of international travel restrictions it is also unlikely that the PaCSIA team will be able to return to Bougainville until the and of 2020. The pandemic has also impacted on the transition consultation process between the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the National Government of Papua New Guinea and it has led to a delay of the general elections in Bougainville which were originally scheduled for May 2020. All of this has caused great confusion and uncertainty among Bougainvilleans. For a number weeks hardly any information made its way to the remote villages and people did not understand the new restrictions and preventative hygiene measures. They also became frustrated because of the election delay and started demanding information about the progress of the transition consultation.
The BTD aims to address these uncertainties and to provide official information from the ABG to the people in the villages. Mr Peter Hiro, BTD Coordinator South, Mr James Tanis, Special Envoy for Transition Consultation, have met with the Acting Secretary of the Department of Post-Referendum Consultation and Dialogue in early May and have sought briefings on the state of the consultation process. They have also discussed the BTD project with Mr Francis N. Tokura, the Bougainville Emergency Controller, and have received endorsement for the BTD to hold public transition dialogues while also distributing COVID-19 awareness materials and maintaining all required regulations about size of gatherings and physical distancing and hygiene regulations. Additionally they have met with the ABG Department of Health to gain access to relevant information materials. Mr Hiro and Mr Tanis are currently meeting with the coordinators of all BTD teams to update them with the latest information and to discuss plans for the resumptions of all BTD work fully compliant with the restrictions. We are proud to announce that the BTD network now also assists the ABG with awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic.
We hope that Bougainville remains safe from the virus and wish our local colleagues all the best for ensuring that Bougainvilleans are well informed about and have a voice in the ongoing transition consultation.