Paul Lapun

Paul Lapun (1923- ), community leader and politician. Lapun was born in Mabis village, Banoni, North Solomons District. He entered the Chabai Catholic seminary at Chabai in northwest Bougainville in 1936 and evacuated to Rabaul just before the Japanese invasion to continue his education. In 1948 he left the seminary but continued to teach there until the 1960s. He established a plantation and a marketing cooperative which were independent of the Administration’s Rural Progress Society. By the 1960s some people believed he had supernatural powers and would deliver shiploads of “cargo” (Western goods) to the island. He did not encourage this fledgling cargo cult.

In 1962 the Administration sent him to Australia to observe the operation of local councils. On his return he founded the Banoni village council, which, unlike village councils in many areas, had the support of both the Administration and the people. In 1964 Lapun easily won the seat of Bougainville in the first election to the House of Assembly and was appointed undersecretary for Forests. In 1967 he persuaded the House to agree that 5 percent of government royalty receipts from the Conzinc Riotinto (later Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL)) mining project be returned to the local people. Under an earlier proposed agreement between the Administration and the company the people would have received the considerably lesser sum of 5 percent of the unimproved value of the land. In 1967 he became the the first parliamentary leader of the PANGU Pati. Lapun helped launch the North Solomons secessionist movement and in 1969 became patron of the pro-independence Napidakoe Navitu movement. His support for both PANGU, the party of national unity, and the secessionist movement, seems to be simply political pragmatism. He avoided public statements on his position and kept away from his electorate during election campaigns.

In 1968 and 1972 Lapun was returned with substantial majorities for the seat of South Bougainville. In 1972 he stepped down as parliamentary leader of PANGU in favor of Michael Somare. In 1972 he was Minister for Mines and Energy in Somare’s Government and closely involved in the renegotiation of the BCL mining agreement which gave PNG royalties which were, by world standards, very generous. However, in spite of the fact that he actively supported the establishment of provincial governments, he lost support in Bougainville as he became more closely identified with the national government. In 1975 the secessionist movement gained momentum and Lapun’s place was taken by younger, more militant politicians. He was defeated in the 1972 and 1977 elections. Lapun retired to Bougainville where he has remained throughout the Bougainville rebellion. He was knighted in 1974.

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