The man with the light brown eyes
PNG loses Rosa Kambuou, distinguished plant scientist & geneticist

Ethics, courage & giving the real leaders a chance

Albert Schram & Don Polye MPALBERT SCHRAM | Extracts

I am pretty bad at compromising my principles, and rather persistent at defending them. My wife however is even worse, and she does not make such a noise about it either.

Unitech SRC president 2012, Joe Kaowai, was induced by a former chancellor and registrar to "keeping the students out of council business", "not put yourself in danger by participating in public demonstrations", and "focus on the purpose of your studies". The usual mantra.

When on 17 April 2012, just two months after starting, I was dismissed for no reason whatsoever, Joe stopped the chancellor at the gate and asked him to explain. He could not explain, of course, and did not even try. He made a run for it and rammed his car into the gate. The rest is history.

What few people know, is that when he worked in Lae and Port Moresby, Joe was continuously harassed by members of the old university council. I then helped him fill out the forms for a European Commission Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, which allowed him to do his MBA in Spain for two years.

In 2013, when nobody wanted to talk with me, the brief time Hon Don Polye MP was Minister of Higher Education, he took the time to meet me in Cairns and listen to my story. He then took his decisions, and at the time there was little he could do to make my case progress.

More importantly, in just two months he managed to secure K500 million for all PNG universities which would imply a complete revamping of them. Part of this would be the counterpart funding necessary to unlock the Australian funding part of the Independent Review of the University System (IRUS), the Namaliu Garnaut report from 2010.

For Unitech, his alma mater, Mr Polye secured a K50 million budget for five years for international accreditation of our engineering departments according to the Washington Accords.

These decisions took a lot of effort, and did not benefit him personally, make him popular or gave him any electoral advantage. It was however what needed to be done, and it can be only lamented that the follow-up by his successors has been so lacklustre.

Unitech Chancellor, Sir Nagora Bogan, is another example of personal leadership. Behind the scenes he was working relentlessly to restore legitimate governance to Unitech with civil servants and national politicians.

When the students in December scared off the government lawyer, who was playing delaying tactics, council finally came out unanimously for my return. The chancellor quickly paid for an advertisement in the national newspapers, and the three staff organisations fell in behind him in support.

The students, however, were not aware yet of the situation, but that changed because of one man.

One former Unitech employee, Ken Polin, is another example. In February, he let me know he was going to hold a one man forum.

I did not know what it meant, but essentially he took a loud hailer and started to inform the students about the facts regarding the refusal of the government to renew my work permit and the management's lackadaisical approach to restoring proper governance to Unitech.

He also asked the students to go to classes and not use violence or intimidation. The students now became aware of the issues and started to preparations for their peaceful demonstrations. Ken was immediately threatened with dismissal, and later asked to resign. We asked him to stay on. One man can make a difference.

Unitech SRC President 2014, Eddie Nagual is another case. At one point, he was threatened by the minister with the final warning. A state of emergency would be declared, the army would move in, the academic year would be cancelled. Despite this immense pressure from five ministers who came to campus, he politely listened, and said, "Just bring our VC Schram back".

During the boycott, however, he was under great pressure from the radical elements, who wanted to attack police and burn property. Instead of giving in, he circulated a memo where he said he would personally call off the boycott if any violence was used, or property destroyed.

This did not make him popular, because students were tired and the radicals were taking over the movement. It did save the movement, and eventually brought success.

For this reason, we nominated SRC 2014 for the UNESCO prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence. In the course of the year we will hear whether they won the prize.

Countries need smart people with character to develop. Character is formed in the first six years of a child's life when our mothers teach us right from wrong, in other words ethical principles.

Character should be polished and made to shine later in life, or it is forgotten when other aims such as getting rich or being liked become more important, than fundamental aims of leading a good life, and being able to live with yourself. Smart people are formed by challenging their intellectual capabilities.

We try to do this in higher education. Smart people without character or principles, however, will only pursue selfish goals, and not contribute to development. They will run themselves, their organisations and their countries into the ground.

With all these excellent young and middle-aged Papua New Guineans, each of them with proven leadership ability, I am therefore optimistic for the future, despite the daily torrent of bad news in the newspapers.

My friend, Dr Roxanne Zolin from Queensland University of Technology has asked: "We can see there are so many excellent people in PNG, demonstrating great personal leadership and principles. Why is the country so messed up?"

We have established there are many excellent Papua New Guinean leaders. The country is messed up because its institutions, and the state, are geared to benefit a small elite, and extract as many resources for this elite. In this system, the real leaders do not get a chance. We must make sure, instead, that they do.

While at university, young people must try to establish their reputation for leadership, and practice relevant skills. Once they have done this, their lives and careers will take a turn for the better and take off.

I believe therefore that all our graduates should take it as their personal responsibility, that when they work to the state they put as a goal for themselves to speak up against corruption, and create some order in public administration by changing the institutions and the rules that govern them.

Our institutions in PNG should be more democratic, benefit all, not extract wealth for the benefit of the few. This task may not be glamourous, it may not give you a lot of money, but you will be doing the right thing and experience tremendous personal satisfaction and respect from your friends and adversaries.

Extract from ‘Principle based leadership and young adults in PNG: an optimistic assessment’ by Albert Schram. Read the full version here


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Michael Dom

Amen and Amen.

Albert Schram

Thank you for publishing this! Full disclosure: At the SRC dinner I delivered a shortened version of this speech, focussing on the examples of excellent leadership by courageous and wise Papua New Guineans of all ages.

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