The Leaderboard: John Momis

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.Who is he?

John Momis is the president of the autonomous region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. A former Catholic priest, he became active in politics in the 1970s, and helped write PNG’s constitution. Momis has been deputy prime minister of PNG, governor of Bougainville, has held ministerial portfolios, and was PNG’s ambassador to China from 2006-2010.

John Momis of Bougainville, Papau New Guineau attends a reconciliation proceeding in South Bougainville during his first term. Source: Australian Civil-Military Centre’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

Momis was re-elected president of Bougainville for a five year term on June 8, garnering over 50 percent of the votes. He was first elected president of the region in 2010 and is the first candidate to defend his incumbency. His term will coincide with Bougainville’s mandated referendum on independence from PNG, which must occur before 2020 but is not binding upon PNG.

What can we expect from him?

We can expect Momis to provide leadership on the issue of independence from PNG. He is generally seen as in favor of autonomy within PNG rather than in support of full independence, but this position may be evolving. Shortly before the recent elections, Momis struck a different chord from the PNG government on its decision to ban Australians from obtaining visas to enter the region. He called on the government to remove the ban, and said that Port Moresby must respect Bougainville’s autonomy.

Momis is also likely to try to reopen the Panguna copper mine, which has been shuttered since 1989. Panguna, formerly the largest open cut copper mine in the world, would be the economic linchpin of an independent Bougainville. Momis said June 9 that one of his first moves as president would be to talk with Rio Tinto to gauge the company’s interest in reopening the mine. This may set up a showdown with Port Moresby, which says its laws override those of Bougainville, and it therefore must at least be consulted on decisions regarding the mine. Further complicating any reopening, the previous Bougainville government, also led by Momis, passed legislation in its final days saying that all resources are owned by their traditional owners, not the state. If Rio Tinto is uninterested, Momis may turn to a major Chinese corporation to reopen Panguna.

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