Although inadequately prepared, a resilient people built a nation
17 September 2015
WHEN Michael Somare and Gough Whitlam decided that Papua New Guinea would be given independence in the near future, the 15 members of the House of Representatives who formed the constitutional planning committee (CPC) were given the important task of making the independence constitution.
Because we wanted a home grown constitution, tailored to the specific needs and aspirations of our people we decided to conduct in my opinion the most comprehensive political engagement that any government had with its people in PNG.
Our constitution was not based on any one constitution of a foreign country. We did not send study groups overseas. When we needed to consider foreign model for adaptation, we brought in foreign experts to advise us and we picked and chose what we considered to be relevant.
We, the constitutional fathers found ourselves in the midst of our peoples searching for a new national identity. Our vision was enshrined in the national goals and directive principles of the constitution.
Having experienced racial discrimination, powerlessness, injustice etc we were determined to embark on the process of conscientisation, liberation and empowerment of our people.
We were not only interested in quantitative change that political independence would bring but more importantly in qualitative change which would uphold our human rights and freedom, respect the doctrine of separation of powers, that is the three arms of government, namely, legislature, executive and judiciary should be separate and independent of each other.
We foresaw the problems currently experienced. With respect to the working relations between the three arms of government which if not managed according to established democratic principles would be dangerously close to being dictatorial.
In answer to the question- what kind of society we wanted, the national goals and directive principles clearly suggest the creation of one that is sustainable and egalitarian, in which people would enjoy integral human development and their human dignity respected.
The national goals and directive principles encapsulate the kind of society we wanted to create, the kind of development we would like to have, the kind of values we would like to cultivate and defend.
They are like the sign posts that show the direction which we ought to follow if we are going to experience a sense of human fulfilment in our lives. The national goals and directive principles are like a set of benchmarks that beckon us to excel in our human endeavour to overcome poverty, fight corruption, injustice, conspiracy theory syndrome and promote integral human development.
While the national goals and directive principles are non-justiciable they become a moral imperative for a new “socio-economic and political order” for us if we are going to have a chance of shaking off the undesirable past with its evil of injustice, powerlessness, exploitation, corruption, lack of good governance etc.
It is incumbent on government, churches and educational institutions to be proactive in inculcating the values and principles of the constitution, our most basic law, governing our human existence in the minds of our people.
All forms of development whether economic, social or political should be broad-based and inclusive to get rid of the gap between the rich and powerful and the poor and the weak. In fact, in accordance “with the preferential option for the poor”, government policies should exercise positive discrimination in favour of those on the periphery of society.
Leadership belongs to all of us; it must not be monopolized by one person or group of persons; leadership must be shared by all members of the community. A leader will only lead other leaders and not followers, like the captain of a good team of players who are good in their own specialty.
If we all dream the dream of becoming active agents of change and development and make a concerted effort to the best of our abilities, we can succeed as a people of our own distinct cultural identity in the modern globalized world.
At this juncture of PNG’s journey as an independent country it behoves us to pay tribute to our leaders both living and deceased who had the dream that one day we would be free and had the courage and the generosity to labour tirelessly to forge ahead in the face of hardships to mould a new Christian democratic nation which has stood the test of time.
While we are conscious of the fact that we made many mistakes along the way, we must with confidence in ourselves and faith in God who has invited us to be his partners to build his kingdom in our midst by transforming our country into a just, intelligent and egalitarian nation that we can all be proud of.
Although the colonial power of Australia did not adequately prepare the people of PNG for independence, a lot of credit must go to the leaders and the people for their resilience to create a budding democratic nation which has a constitutional government which is functioning and gaining momentum and has stood the test of time.
Grand Chief John Momis is President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and was one of the architects of Papua New Guinea’s independence and authors of its Constitution
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