After the gold rush, the funerals
Into the backblocks with the sorcerers

A record explained, or rationalised?

Julius Chan brought in the mercenaries, devalued the kina and hated the Ombudsman Commission

| Academia Nomad

Sir Julius Chan: Playing the Game: Life and Politics in Papua New Guinea

PORT MORESBY – As MP for Namatanai, Julius Chan was one of the founding fathers of Papua New Guinea, twice serving as prime minister (1980– 82 and 1994-97) and currently governor of New Ireland Province.

Unlike Michael Somare in ‘Sana’, who focused much on the principles and traditions that underpinned his statesmanship, ‘Playing the Game’ admits from the outset that it is a book about politics.

True to this, it tells of the rise and fall of Chan’s controversial periods as prime minister.

It tells of the alliances and betrayals of PNG politics; and it tries to explain why Chan made the decisions and took the actions he did.

The only non-political aspects of the book are initial chapters on Chan’s early upbringing.

Born the fifth of seven children on the Tanga Islands in what is now New Ireland, he is the son of Chin Pak, a trader from Taisan Province in China, and Miriam Tinkoris, a native New Irelander.

Educated at a Marist College in Brisbane, Australia, he started his career in the family business in New Ireland.

Chan’s interest in politics began in the 1960s and he was elected to the pre-independence House of Assembly in 1968, re-elected multiple times and deputy prime minister four times in addition to his two prime ministerships.

In 1970, he formed and led his successful political vehicle - the People’s Progress Party.

As you might expect in a political autobiography, Chan is critical of others and lenient on himself. This is understandable and, as this is a personal account, he can be forgiven for that.

In this book, in explaining and contextualising the key decisions he made, we finally get some answers on why.

Chan’s name is synonymous with the Sandline Crisis and the devaluation of PNG’s currency, the kina.

Whilst there are some economists and businessmen who defend the devaluation of the kina, almost no-one defends his decision to bring the Sandline mercenaries to PNG.

Kabuni Chan Playing the GameSo when I got the book, my main interest was to understand his explanation for the latter.

It’s best at this juncture that I state the assumptions I had before reading ‘Playing the Game’.

First, my view that ‘Sandline was brought in to kill Bougainvilleans’, a prevailing PNG narrative I subscribed to before reading the book.

According to Chan, however, Sandline was brought in to infiltrate rebel leader Francis Ona’s hideout to take him dead or alive.

Chan argues that the Bougainville crisis had gone on too long, and there seemed no end to it. He thought that eliminating the ring leader would begin reasonable negotiations.

Even if you’re critical of this logic, it makes sense to some degree. Sandline was a small group of mercenaries, which means they could not have taken on Bougainville. They didn’t have the manpower and resources to fight the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

It made sense if Sandline was brought in for a specific and limited purpose: in Chan’s words, to take out Francis Ona.

Secondly, because of Sandline affair, I had the view that Chan was responsible for the Bougainville Crisis.

Whilst he served in several cabinets, he writes that disagreements between Francis Ona, Rio Tinto and the PNG government started during Rabbie Namaliu’s prime ministership. These included demands for fair compensation and expressions of environmental concern.

Instead of renegotiating the Panguna deal, Namaliu sent in the Police Riot Squad and then the PNG Defence Force. Paias Wingti, who replaced Namaliu sustained this intensity and eventually escalated it into a full blooded war.

Chan insists that this inherited conflict predated him. And the conflict continued. Several peace talks collapsed and people continued to die.

Chan reveals the negotiations and deals that occurred, sometimes behind his back, to bring in the mercenaries. They included army commander Jerry Singirok, who some international media reports said favoured a group competing with Sandline.

But Chan opted for Sandline and lost the support of Singirok, who went on to lead the fight to deport Sandline. I hope Singirok writes a book one day so we get his side of the story.

On to another subject. One thing that I still don’t understand about Chan is why he has been, and still is, against the establishment of the Ombudsman Commission.

When the idea was first discussed by the Constitutional Planning Committee, Chan was against it and he has been consistently critical of it. In the book he says the idea of the Ombudsman Commission shows we do not trust our leaders. And he argues it hinders leaders from freely performing their mandated roles.

After the massive scale of corruption experienced in this country, I would have thought that Chan would eventually come around and argue for increased funding and staffing for the Commission so it could hold corrupt leaders to  account.

Chan has, however, never wavered in his criticism despite the systemic corruption experienced in PNG.

I’m glad Chan wrote this book. It gives answers to some of decisions he made, although one might not be convinced of all his explanations at least we get to hear from him.

I would have loved to read Sir Mekere Morauta’s story in his own words. I hope Paias Wingti, Namaliu and other senior leaders will similarly write about their time. Autobiographies give first-hand insights into the authors’ journeys, and ‘Playing the Game’ does that for Chan.

Chan, J. (2016). ‘Playing the Game: Life and Politics on Papua New Guinea’. University of Queensland Press, Queensland. Australia. It is sold for K45 at the UPNG Bookshop. Also available here from Amazon for $39 (shipped)



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Baka Bina

When writing my take on the Sandline affair in my novel 'Operesin Kisim Bek Lombo (OKBL)', I got a copy of the contract between Sandline and the PNG government.

Researching that contract, it was clear to me that there was a major flaw.

One section of it usurped the authority of the Defence Council and the Commander of the Defence Force, handing it over to the Project Coordinator (PC) of Sandline.

The reporting mechanism was for the PC to report directly to the National Executive Council [Cabinet] and the prime minister. That is a duty of the Commander.

The mechanism should have been for the PC to report to the Defence Council first then the Commander to the PM and NEC. It was this clause that was going to give any commander sleepless nights.

And the few Sandline men were not going to be engaged in training but to go to Bougainville and be involved while the PNGDF were mere boy scouts.

Sandline was not bringing in any more men. They were going to use PNGDF soldiers and because of the reporting line, the Commander of the PNGDF would have no control over his soldiers on Bougainville.

My impression was that the contract also gave the option to Sandline, if they were successful, to operate the mine (that is if their experiences in Africa were going to be a precedent).

That was my understanding when I read the materials in order to write my book, Operesin Kisim Bek Lombo (OKBL).

Below are some dot points from an extract of the contract about what Sandline would do. I had problems with dot (#) points 3, 4 and 5. What if PNG did not have the money after the repossession of the mine? The inferences were there.

#1 Train the State's Special Forces Unit (SFU) in tactical skills

#2 Specific to the objective; gather intelligence to support effective

#3 Deployment and operations

#4 Forces to render the BRA military ineffective and repossess the Panguna mine

#5 Provide follow-up operational support, to be further specified and agreed between the parties and is subject to separate service provision levels and fee negotiations.

Oh, by the way, in my book we get rid of the Sandline using 'purri purri' [sorcery] and with talk of cannibalism.

Arthur Williams

From The National (4 May 2021):

Sir Julius facing OC says Namatanai MP W Schnaubelt

NEW Ireland Governor Sir Julius Chan has been referred to the Ombudsman Commission (OC) for breaches of the Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Governments.

This was confirmed by Namatanai MP Walter Schnaubelt.
Schnaubelt told The National that Sir Julius was referred to the OC weeks ago, however, the OC and the fraud squad had yet to act on the complaints.

Sir Julius responded to his referral criticising New Ireland’s two MPs Schnaubelt and Kavieng MP Ian Ling-Stuckey. “They (Schnaubelt and Ling-Stuckey) can do whatever they like,” he said.

“I don’t have anything to hide. All the points they raised are dead issues. These issues have already being dealt with in the past on the floor of the provincial assembly, where they belong.”

Schnaubelt, however, said there were breaches to the Organic Law on provincial governments and LLGs.

William Dunlop

I remember Bob Abbot the Westpac Manager in Kieta telling a group of us in the Kieta Club about an opportunist from BCL who had borrowed many thousands of kina and had the proceeds remitted to his dollar account in Australia.

This was prior to the Chan government revaluing the kina, as I recall K1=$1.32. This was still the case in 1982/3 when I sold my blocks of flats in Korobesia and remitted the proceeds home to Aussie.

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