Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s address to the 2015 Waigani Seminar
IN celebrating the past, let me thank the creators of this forum that was born eight years before our nation.
While academics were busy establishing this platform, my colleagues and I were busy creating our political platform Pangu Pati, which was born on 13 June 1967.
For the architects of the Waigani Seminar, I know that it has been a long and often difficult challenge ensuring its growth, relevance and continuity into the future.
I hope the work put into the papers that are presented here are not collecting dust but are being used as source materials to allow readers to celebrate the past, understand the present and make calculated plans for the future through effective leadership that is guided by values, principles and adherence to the law.
It is difficult for me to separate my involvement in the making of this country because essentially the story of this country is also my story. And what better way than to hear it from me first hand!
I want to share some of my memories of the past; make comments on the present and give young people of Papua New Guinea my aspirations for the future of this great country.
I can indeed celebrate the past as I believe the experience has enabled me to help shape the future.
I will begin with the distant past; the 1950s and 1960s - the period when I was a young man that drove and inspired me to follow the likes of Sir Pita Lus, Tony Voutas and late Sir Barry Holloway.
There are very few people left of my generation.
Needless to say we lived through a time where our present and our future was in the hands of our colonial masters and our island, as we all know today, was divided into three parts: the west known as Dutch New Guinea and the eastern part with Papua in the south and New Guinea in the north.
Education for natives in the 1950s was rare. My choices were also limited in terms of jobs. I opted to be a teacher. There was no self-determination at the time. No native teacher in those years even dreamed of owning a car or going to the bank to get a loan to buy a house.
We fitted into a system that was remotely controlled from Canberra. There were curfews in the main towns for indigenous people of this country. And yes, segregation did exist. But I mention this not to incite anger or resentment but to paint a picture of the times.
The rights and freedoms that you enjoy today were not what me and my peers had in our early adult years.
The fight we fought before Independence was a different fight, it was for self-determination. And in 1975, we won!
I continued in the leadership role but the fight or rather the challenge was now different. We had to build a country. And just a month before, two years of exhaustive consultation with the thousand tribes ended with the birth of our Constitution on the 15 August 1975.
Passing the Constitution was the beginning of the unchartered road that I had to travel to bring into being enabling legislation and to establish the institutions that would enforce this legislation.
We thus achieved many things. We set up the unified criminal code to align all the laws of the two territories into one; we replaced the Interim Police Act with the Papua New Guinea Police Act; we enacted the Ombudsman Commission Act to ensure the integrity of leadership; and the National Council of Women’s Act to ensure the equal participation of women in decision-making.
We also passed the NIDA Act to protect small businessmen and women of this country and the National Broadcasting Commission Act to take over from ABC.
While cultivating change within we also had the challenge of building relations in the international arena such as admission to the UN, Commonwealth of Nations, the treaty of Mutual Respect with Indonesia; the Torres Strait Island Treaty and the recognition of China.
When everyone in the West was still afraid of Communism we were the first to establish diplomatic relations through our foreign policy of friends to all, enemy to none.
I’ve just shared with you some of the experiences of the past and most of you know the immediate past the 1980s and 1990s. Now I return to the scene in 2002 to a country on the verge of bankruptcy.
My record in fiscal management as prime minister from 2002 to 2011 when I was illegally removed speaks for itself. Before being ousted, we established the largest project ever in PNG’s economic and financial history, the liquefied natural gas project.
The idea of a Sovereign Wealth Fund was born to safeguard the future for generations to come. The incredible returns on equity in the project and corporate tax receipts would have ensured PNG’s buoyancy long into the future.
Today LNG cargoes leave the shores of PNG at a total average export value of $US44 million every three to five days. Go figure!
And understanding the present, as your theme suggests, means looking at where we are today.
Why are we today facing a Greece-like crisis? The answer is right before you and not for me to expound today. I can say in a nutshell: it is easier to spend money than to make it.
Returning to effective leadership, I understood my role as chief executive of the nation and subjected myself to the law. I like any ordinary citizen am not above the law. I have had two successful votes of no confidence against me according to the Constitution and I accepted the outcomes gracefully and stood down from office.
Similarly as a leader I faced the tribunal under the Leadership Code of the institution that I created - the Ombudsman Commission. I accepted the decision to be suspended from office for two weeks.
Practicing effective leadership and following the principles of good governance can only deliver us safely into the future.
I believe I have satisfactorily made my contribution to the future in my conduct as a servant leader.
I challenge you young people to be effective leaders in your respective arena of service. Be diligent!