A Remarkable Journey by Dame Carol Kidu, Longman, 2002, 161pp, ISBN-10: 0733932274, hard to get but available from Amazon Books Canada, $CAN11.01
In seeking explanations of how and why it has reached such abysmal levels I decided to re-read Carol Kidu’s 2002 book, A Remarkable Journey in the hope of gaining some insights and maybe seeing what the future might hold.
The reason I chose Carol’s book was because of her remarkable husband, Buri Kidu. If you want to know about integrity in Papua New Guinea he is the logical starting point.
If you read the publisher’s gushing blurb on the back of the book you could be led to believe it is about “an Australian teenager (in the days of the White Australia Policy) who dared to fall in love with a Papua New Guinean and join his struggle”.
It’s about that and their deep love affair but it is also very much about Buri Kidu and what he believed and how she supported him and tried to carry on his legacy after his untimely death.
Buri rose to the high office of Chief Justice at a very young age but his insistence on maintaining an independent judiciary eventually saw him cross swords with the politicians.
The tipping point came after the 1992 election when the Prime Minister, Paias Wingti, was experimenting with various legal manoeuvres reminiscent of the skulduggery later employed by Peter O’Neill.
One of Wingti’s more memorable escapades was resigning as prime minister and then having himself re-appointed immediately to avoid a vote of no confidence. This outraged Buri and his ideas of integrity.
A number of other issues brought him into conflict with the ruling party and when his ten-year term as Chief Justice came up for renewal the National Executive Council refused to re-appoint him.
They also overlooked the Deputy Chief Justice, Mari Kapi, who was the logical choice to replace him and appointed someone of their own choosing.
This almost led to the mass resignation of the judiciary, as had happened during the Nahau Rooney affair when, as a minister in the Somare government, she had criticised a finding by the Supreme Court and had been convicted of contempt.
After his death Carol tried to carry on his legacy and was elected to parliament in 1997, along with another female candidate, the legendary Josephine Abaijah.
She had a rocky time in parliament, at one stage being the sole member of the opposition.
In 2011 she had been outspoken in her criticism of the controversial Judicial Conduct Act, rushed through in 2012 by the O'Neill government and Speaker Jeffrey Nape, which empowered the government to suspend judges.
This was something that would have enraged her late husband and it was perhaps that more than anything else that made her realise that the carpetbaggers had won and she decided to retire from parliament before the 2012 elections.
There are a number of significant events in Papua New Guinean politics that you can point to as the beginnings of the rot that has now taken over.
In terms of integrity I think that the treatment and the subsequent death of Sir Buri Kidu could be seen as the beginning of the decline of that virtue among Papua New Guinea’s politicians.
He didn’t die a rich man, as Dame Carol makes clear, but he was sadly missed. He had been in two minds about accepting a knighthood and had been inclined to give more away than he kept. That in itself is perhaps a measure of the man.
Curiously, even though Dame Carol was open to the possibilities of sorcery and magic, Sir Buri was opposed to its influence, just as he was opposed to some of the other customs of his Motuan people.
It’s hard to imagine that there might still be men and women out there who share his exemplary principles.
I think there must be, maybe even in the current opposition, but how much influence they will have is hard to imagine.
For the people of Papua New Guinea we can only hope.
As for our own lot ….