The times they are a’changin'
14 June 2021
FICTION - Ambassador Akali Wakane – The Old Man – had long been a respected figure in Papua New Guinea but now he had become an instant hero, a household name in every settlement in Port Moresby and throughout the country.
Talk of his Supreme Court victory in the Old Dairy Farm land appeal had travelled fast, and around the streets and villages he had become known as ‘Rabinhat’- the man who took from the rich man and gave to the poor man.
That he had been instrumental in putting down a rebellion added to his lustre.
The Old Man had worked hard for two-months to win the appeal. On the day of the judgement, a tearful Fredric Farapo stood beside him on the Supreme Court steps to talk to reporters, television crews and hundreds of bystanders.
The Old Man raised his clinched fist in the air and said his court victory would undo all fraudulent transactions that had occurred between corrupt lands officials and unscrupulous foreigners.
It was now possible, even likely, that all dispossessed people would be able to reclaim their land.
He said all aggrieved people should organise themselves and seek redress in the courts. His firm, Akali Wakane Law, would continue to help any group that needed legal assistance.
There was a mighty roar from the bystanders who hoisted The Old Man and Fredric Farapo on their shoulders and carried them to their cars.
The spectacular images and the important message of hope reverberated throughout the city into every settlement, over the brown hills of Port Moresby to the savannah plains. They soared over the mountain tops and across the seas to the far reaches of the country.
The times celebrations lasted for days. The trust and confidence the people placed in The Old Man was profound. Nothing like it had been seen before.
The people settling differences through peaceful means had paid off. They knew if Ambassador Akali Wakane had not volunteered to help them, the country might have been plunged into a bloody civil war.
During the two months of intense court battle, The Old Man uncovered much illegal activity deeply entrenched in the Department of Lands.
Former employees had fraudulently given away not only the Old Dairy Farm land but almost all the Motu Koita traditional land. Unbeknown to the government, corrupt employees had been executing official documents with the forged signatures of the minister and the land titles commissioner.
Surveyors had been contracted to survey all vacant open grassland surrounding the city, zoned it, allocated sections and allotment numbers, and sold it mainly to foreigners.
Akali Wakane Law had exposed all this and more in the course of their investigations and in cross examination before the court.
Just before the title deeds for the Old Diary Farm settlement land were signed, hundreds of thousands of kina had been transferred from the Asian company to the bank accounts of two senior officers of the Lands Department.
The lawyer representing the Department said nothing for most of the proceedings, sitting red-faced before the judge. He could not explain how the new title deeds had been signed when there was no record of the state of ever buying the Old Diary Farm land.
The court established that the deal was fraudulent and land had been stolen on a massive scale. It accepted the old tattered handwritten agreement signed between Fredric Farapo’s relatives and the Koiari landowners many years ago.
Old photographs taken on the day of the transaction were also produced in court. Fredric and other people who were children then came forward as witnesses.
This was a legitimate transaction, proof that the land had been mutually given to the Orokolo people of Gulf Province in true Melanesian fashion.
The court ordered the state to compensate the settlers, build new homes and give them legal titles to the land on which the new houses stood.
It further ordered the closure of the bank accounts of the corrupt officials and the funds forfeited to the state. Those involved were to be immediately arrested by police and prosecuted.
One of those involved had died of a heart attack upon learning that Akali Wakane was taking the matter to court. Seven years previously he had nominated for election to parliament, but had come second after spending a huge amount of money bribing election officials. He had vowed to win next time.
The investigations had revealed that, in only two years, he had fraudulently sold many parcels of traditional land to foreigners. His bank account had swelled to millions of kina.
“The wages of sin is death,” the Bible warns.
As a youth, Akali Wakane had heard similar statements from the elders in the hausman. Not to steal, not to desire another’s wife, not to eat in front of a hungry person.
“Follow these simple instructions,” the elders said. “Do what we tell you and you will grow white hair on your buttocks.
“Do otherwise and you will go when the day is not over, when the sun is still in the sky.”
Fredric Farapo and his people had decided to formally thank The Old Man and invited him to a small gathering at the Old Dairy Farm settlement. He went with a couple of wantoks.
There something happened which troubled his mind greatly.
Fredric presented him with two exact replicas of the spear and shield he had destroyed during the stand-off at Independence Drive.
“Use this shield and spear to defend us in parliament,” Fredric said. “Do not fear to take these and nominate for the coming elections. The country needs leaders like you in parliament.”
The Old Man was caught off guard. He stood motionless like a crane waiting for fish. Many people were pressing him to stand for election since that speech on Independence Drive and the subsequent events.
He had brushed them off politely. He had never wanted to be a politician. But he did not want cast a shadow over Fredric and his people.
“I will think about it,” he replied tactfully as he received their gifts. There was applause and goodwill as the people turned to eat the food that had been prepared.
The shield and spear were taken to adorn the offices of Akali Wakane Law, displayed in a prominent spot in the waiting room as a constant reminder of the role of a peacemaker.
Some days later, as The Old Man was planning his visit to Brisbane to be with Delisa at the birth of his child, an excited call came from his first son, Charles.
“Mum’s given birth to identical twins – both boys. They’re all OK. They’re at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Miriam is with her.”
Delighted, relieved and a little regretful that he had not been there, The Old Man told Charles he would be with them for the christening within the week, and that Charles should gather the family.
It seemed to him that the twins were his reward for averting the rebellion and winning a court battle for the Orokolo settlers and many other alienated landowners in Papua New Guinea.
He would fly to Australia, be with Delisa and his new twins and think about what he should do now.
He wanted to be around his family for a while. He wanted to better understand the First Nations people of Australia. And he needed to think more deeply on the many invitations for him to do what he had always said he would not, seek election as a member of parliament.
Akali Wakane Kerowa felt the times had begun to change – and now they were changing him.
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