MY personal relationship with Sir Michael Somare dates back to our younger days. Fate brought us together over barbecue and beer in Wewak.
Little did we know that soon we would be partners in forging a path for Papua New Guinea. I was full of idealism and he was brimming with pragmatism.
The combination of two different yet attuned minds resulted in greater efforts to blaze that path; one which not many at that time dared to tread.
Our minds were shaped by the events of the tumultuous 1960s when young men in America were sent to wage war in Vietnam and personalities like Martin Luther King and the Kennedys were taking the world by storm with their ideals and advocacy.
There was the impending domination of communism, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, civil rights protests amongst much more.
Shouts of freedom from colonialism, racism, inequality, communism and capitalism reverberated in all corners of the world. I must say the stage was set for the curtain to rise.
If there is anyone who knew him up close as a person, I consider myself honoured and privileged. Like all of us, he is not perfect. There will always be critics and dissenters from his style of leadership. But this I have to say, for over 49 years in public service that I have known him he gave his whole life to the people of Papua New Guinea.
He was true to his commitment to the people. He pursued relentlessly the right to be free and he pushed to unify a diverse country. He did much and he did it faithfully. This has been loyal service at its best, yet to be matched by and emulated by our current breed of politicians.
Sir Michael exercised his role as a true politician – guided by his faith and embracing his role as a vocation. He ventured into the unknown, responding to a call without fear. He was there always ready to listen and to implement results of choices and judgements.
Unknown to him perhaps, his biggest contribution was in politics in the tradition the philosopher Aristotle and the theologian St Thomas Aquinas who believed that politics is the noblest of sciences because it is through politics that one can do the most good by passing good laws and politics in the natural order.
He exercised and maximised his political strength systematically by not taking the shorter route of traditional politics, where the needs of a select few take precedence over the common good.
Instead of shrinking from the challenges of his time, like the fear of independence and the injustices of colonialism, he literally gave himself to pursue his vision of an inspiring future for Papua New Guinea. It was a mark of a true leader that he took the bold step of making things happen and took ownership of major decisions, unpopular as they might have been.
I owe Sir Michael much. For a pragmatist to put his full trust and confidence in an ideologue like me is a rarity.
Here is a man whose vision was achieved because he trusted everyone, he encouraged camaraderie and he collaborated without any reservation to achieve results. Upon my election in 1972, he made me deputy and working chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee, paving the way for everything that we citizens are enjoying now.
Later he made me the Minister for Decentralisation and that again opened up opportunities for governance and development in every province of Papua New Guinea. Our professional relationship was never perfect. We had clashes and disagreements in many instances. There came even a point where I challenged and stood against him.
This, however, did not deter us from reconciling and collaborating to secure the best collective interests of Papua New Guinea. How can you turn against a man who all the way was a sincere and charismatic politician?
His reputation of calming things down where there were incongruities and to eventually convince everyone to move forward is an endearing trait that makes him a cut above the rest.
Sir Michael Somare, the man of the people clearly understood that parliament is the best venue where one can do the most good for the whole country; where his commitment to serve the people was unparalleled. Collegiality and first among equals (primus inter pares) took precedence in his leadership style. All these things clearly indicated the quality of a true leader who never assumed he was better than everybody else.
On behalf of the people of Bougainville I express our heartfelt gratitude to this man who together with Sir Paul Lapun stood up for the just rights of the landowners against CRA and the colonial government when many leaders opted to look the other way and keep quiet.
Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare understood and supported the people’s aspirations and grievances and rights. And Bougainville became the first provincial government to be recognised under his vision of decentralisation.
As the curtain falls, we give our applause and standing ovation. Thank you and may history be fair to you, acknowledge your contribution to this nation and the Pacific region and put you in its annals which you rightfully deserve.
So long my dear friend! We who share your dream stand ready to forge a new human solidarity necessary for the transformation of our society so that your legacy of always imagining inspiring future will be realized.
God bless Papua New Guinea! God bless Sir Michael Somare!
* Grand Chief Dr Momis is President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville