There ain’t any money in writing
Momis condemns outbreak of sectarian violence in Buka

PNG’s grand chief reflects on how he helped build a nation

Michael Somare at the Waigani Seminar 2015SIR MICHAEL SOMARE

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!


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Johnny Blades

Johnson, the Grand Chief was interviewed by Ian Johnstone in 1995.

So here is the audio recording and its transcript of the interview, published in a collection of interviews with founding fathers of independent Pacific nations:

But there must be lots more to cover from him. Think of all the great yarns! From drawing up the constitution to Bougainville to the Taiwan diplomatic scandal to the launch of Vision City... moments in history.

Johnson Makaen

A great challenge indeed. The Grand Chief is a politician after all; perhaps somebody close or notable could consider. How about audio-recording his narratives for the start.

Michael Dom

Maski ia!

Dispela kain wok bai ol PNG slek tumas long mekim - givim long ol waitman, ah?

Ol PNG bilong nau em ol gutpela lain bilong beten tasol, nogat wok hat na tuhat, na tingting long gutpela sindaun bilong olgeta manmeri olsem ol lain bilong bipo isave mekim.

Blari useless lain!

Arnold  Mundua

Thanks Chris & both raised a valid point there. Somebody really needs to sit down with the Grand Chief and record all his experiences before he goes down with them.

But who in PNG would really want to do that when writing and literature in PNG is given the least or otherwise no priority at all? The recent poem post ed by Jimmy Awagl (There ain't any money in writing) is nothing but the entire truth about writing and literature in PNG.

Only if the government steps in seriously like it does towards sport where it creates a ministry in parliment and pumps in millions of Kina to train and provide incentives to the sports men and women would we see someone taking up the challenge to record Sir Michael's history. Otherwise, it will take a long time before a PNG writer decides to put his hand up to take up the challenge.

Maybe, a current academic might want to take up the challenge...but definitely not freelance aauthors lwho take up writing as a hobby. Simply, there's no advance or incentive to undertake such a worthy task.

Johnny Blades

I think Chris makes a very valid point. It is critically important that while he is still alive, Sir Michael be recorded on a range of subjects about the country's path into independence. No matter what you think of his record in his latter tenures as PM, Somare has been the central figure in the PNG story and future generations in your country will need to learn about him more than any other figure to date.

Please someone approach Somare's people towards making this happen. And really, someone needs to write a decent biography on him now. Not a hagiography of course, but something with some input from the man himself. There must be a bunch of people who frequent this website alone who would be well placed to do these things.

Arthur, the comparison between Somare and Blair seems a bit off. Blair is not loved by many at all in the UK - they mainly see him for the complete manipulator and liar that he is. Whereas Sir Michael seems to command enduring affection and respect from a wide range of people in PNG even if they disagree with his management of the country.

Arthur Williams

The Chief seems a lot like the UK's Tony Blair who too cannot believe that he messed up and that the people love him still.

Every day we here of the degraded state of services to the rural communities of PNG and references to this or that state asset not being maintained for the past 20 or 30 years. The Chief apparently doesn't seem to think that is a matter of concern.

His interview as Chris requests would surely not really tell us how he managed to buy expensive property overseas, or why he had to go overseas for medical reasons because he had not developed a better health system here.

I too thought he was a good leader after Independence but gradually he settled into the elitist trap of self-satisfaction with all he did when the truth was far from it.

Yes a part of PNG's history but I and am convinced many pray for real servants of the people to come into the leadership of the nation who will make a positive impact on the ordinary day to day lives of subsistence dwellers on the islands and coasts as well as the highlands of PNG.

Pass over the 40th Circuses in September and concentrate on helping the El Nino victims first.

Jack Klomes

Its experience like this that explains why our founding fathers wanted independence early.

It is an opportunity for those who believe PNG took independence too early to get a glimpse of what it was like and understand why our founding fathers advocated for independence.

Chris Overland

Sir Michael is possibly the last man standing of his generation of PNG politicians and is regarded by many as the most important of the country's "founding fathers".

In this brief speech he states that "the fight we fought before independence was a different fight", presumably referring to the activities of the Pangu Party.

Pangu was active in the late 60's and early 70's, and played an important role in convincing both Canberra and many in PNG that self government and then independence should be granted expeditiously.

Sir Michael was a key figure during this period and so his memories of events could and would constitute a major contribution to any comprehensive history of PNG.

Perhaps a family member or PNG historian could take up the task of interviewing Sir Michael to help him record his memories before it is too late to do so.

PNG would be the poorer if Sir Michael's detailed knowledge and experience of how the country became what it is today were to be lost to posterity.

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