BY DAVID A Z GONOL
OUR POLITICIANS TODAY ARE VERY HIGHLY EDUCATED and they should be able to achieve great things for this country with their knowledge and vast experience.
However, this was not the case back in 1964 when the first group of politicians entered the House of Assembly for the first time after the first ever general elections in the country.
Sir Koitaga Mano was one of the first uneducated politicians to be elected to the House of Assembly representing the then Ialibu-Pangia Tambul-Nebilyer & Kandep Open Electorate.
According to Sir Koitaga, many of his fellow politicians from the highlands were also uneducated. They could not even read or write, and yet they were elected to the House of Assembly. Perhaps it was just because they understood Tok Pisin.
When they first came to Port Moresby soon after election, they were taken up to Sogeri National High School. There they were taught how to eat with knives and forks, make their own beds and dress in a professional manner.
They were also taught how to conduct themselves in the House of Assembly during session times.
Of course these things sound simple today but back then they were necessary. How else could you expect these groups of uneducated village men to do things right and in a more professional manner?
I interviewed Sir Koitaga at length, especially concerning his House of Assembly days. He told me many things – some of which are rather funny whereas others are sad but those were the things they did with their limited knowledge while setting the foundations of this great nation.
The people see our politicians today simply as a ‘Money Face’, meaning they love money more than anything else. They love money so much that they commit public funds to their own use or award contracts to their relatives or cronies or park public moneys in secret overseas bank accounts or buy properties overseas using public funds.
However, the House of Assembly politicians were very simple and honest. Their discussions were also very simple. Their aim was to gain independence even though several Highlands politicians wanted to delay independence.
They talked about what kind of government system would be suitable for this country and how they would unite all the tribes in this country so as to live peacefully as one nation.
They didn’t talk about money very often. They only talked about their vision of what the future of the country would be like. Of course they successfully achieved most of what they had always talked about.
Among others, they gained independence in 1975, adopted for PNG the Westminster system of government, and brought into existence a powerful Constitution.
Even though they were lowly educated, they carefully planned and established the foundations of this democratic nation and so this great nation has stood the test of time, and received praises from other nations as the longest surviving democracy in the developing world.
Thanks to the wisdom of our forefathers.
I also asked Sir Koitaga how much they were paid and what they did with their pay. He said they were only paid about $150 per fortnight. Of course that was a big money back then, but they didn’t know how to use it wisely.
Every pay day, some of them would meet in an office at the back of the House of Assembly, bet money and gamble. Each of them would bet say $30 or $40 or $50. Some of them were state ministers.
I further asked him whether or not he took part, and if so how many times. He replied, ‘Bubu, mi plai tupela taim na win wanpela taim tasol.’ (Bubu, I played twice but won only once.’) Well, others may see this as something silly they did given their stature at the time, but I believe it was a prophetic act.
These were the founders of this great nation who were talking about the future on the floor of the House of Assembly and were at the same time gambling behind the scenes. Was that not a prophetic act which is being fulfilled today?
I believe this prophetic act of our founding fathers is now coming to pass. Most of our leaders are talking about developing this nation and yet behind the scenes they are awarding contracts to their cronies or buying properties overseas or depositing millions of kina in secret bank accounts overseas, thereby gambling away the riches of this nation.
On one of his recent visits to Parliament House, Sir Koitaga went up to the door, held the two kundu handles and said, ‘I proposed for a Kundu House but it was what Sir Michael and the late Sir Tei Abal proposed that got approved.
‘Sir Michael proposed a Sepik Haus Tambran and Sir Tei Abal proposed a Highlands Roundhouse. So you see the front of the Parliament resembles a Haus Tambran and the back resembles a typical round houses in the Highlands.’
I further asked whether or not he had made any contributions at the national level, and he said, ‘Of course I did. Before one term of parliament consisted of four years, but it was in one of the 1975 Parliamentary sessions that I moved a motion on a question without notice that one term should consist of five years. The Parliament agreed and that motion became law.
‘Another contribution was Somare’s face on the fifty kina note. It was not Somare’s idea that his face should appear on the fifty kina note, no. It was my idea.
How I proposed the idea is that during a Parliamentary session, the parliamentarians were discussing the issue of designs on the fifty kina note and I just stood up and asked a question without notice, saying, ‘Papua Niugini ol animal i lukautim or ol man i lukautim? Sapos ol man i lukautim orit putim pes bilong Prime Minister bilong yumi, Michael Somare, long dispela moni’. (Is PNG being looked after by animals or by men? If it is being looked after by men, then let the Prime Minister Michael Somare’s face appear on the proposed note.)
Sir Koitaga is now 82 years old. After serving the country as a politician both at the national and local levels for 58 years, he has now retreated to his village. He now lives in his Tamail Village in the Tambul District, WHP.
During his active political days he served three terms altogether in both the House of Assembly and the House of Parliament from 1964 until he finally lost in the 1977 general elections.
Apart from being a member for Tambul-Nebilyer, he had also been a ward councillor for his Komolgam tribe from 1964 until 2008 when he finally resigned.
In 2008 the Queen recognised his contribution towards this great nation and knighted him making him Sir Koitaga Mano.
I am working on his biography, trying to capture his whole life story including his involvement during the gestation period of this great nation.
Anyone, especially Sir Koitaga’s former friends and colleagues, as well as others who have personal knowledge of him and who would like to supply any old photos or relevant information should forward them to me.
Before such great men as Sir Koitaga are immersed into eternity, we must capture and preserve their stories so that the future generations can draw their inspirations from their predecessors who led simple, honest lives but achieved great things for our country.
David Gonol (29) was born at Marapa in the Tambul District of the Western Highlands Province. He is a lawyer by profession and an Assistant Registrar at Waigani in Port Moresby. He likes writing and published his first book, I’ve Grown to Love Jesus in 2011. He is now working on another one. He is not yet married and plans to spend his life serving God and writing books, poems and short stories