Career Politician, Papua New Guinea
Decentralization, Balancing the Central and Local
decentralization, provincial government, financial decentralization, secession, intergovernmental relations, Papua New Guinea, Bougainville
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Thu Apr 1 2010
John Momis talks about his experience as one of the leading politicians from Papua New Guinea’s island province of Bougainville. He recalls the debate over decentralization in the 1970s and explains why Bougainvilleans emerged as the most vocal advocates of a sweeping devolution of powers away from the central government. He recounts the sense of frustration that led to Bougainville’s 1975 secession and the subsequent negotiations that brought the island back into PNG and led to the 1977 law establishing provincial governments. He talks about the problems that began to emerge under the decentralized system during the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as strained intergovernmental relations and an ill-coordinated transfer of administrative responsibilities.
John Momis was one of the leading politicians representing the island province of Bougainville during the first decades of Papua New Guinea’s independence and has regularly been credited as the central ideologue of decentralization in the country. A Catholic priest at the time, he was elected to the national Parliament for Bougainville in 1972 and was appointed chairman of parliamentary committees and de facto chair of the Constitutional Planning Committee by then-Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare. From his position on the committee, he exercised great influence over the formulation of PNG’s constitution and was a fervent proponent of a decentralized system of government. He broke with the national government in 1975 as Bougainville, dissatisfied with the degree of autonomy granted it, issued a unilateral declaration of independence. However, in 1976 he played an instrumental role in reconciling the island with the Port Moresby government. In 1977 he was appointed minister for decentralization. Except for a brief hiatus as minister for minerals and energy in 1980, he held the decentralization portfolio until 1982. As minister for decentralization, he was responsible for increasing governmental capacity at the provincial level and overseeing the central ministries’ implementation of the decentralization policy. In 1985 he served as deputy prime minister and in 1988 he was appointed minister for provincial affairs. At the time of this interview, he had just returned from his position as Papua New Guinea’s ambassador to China and was running for president of Bougainville in the 2010 elections. He won that vote.