One of the founding fathers of an independent Papua New Guinea, Sir Michael Somare, recently celebrated his eightieth birthday. In his honour, another founding father, Dr John Momis, President of Bougainville, wrote this tribute.
MICHAEL Thomas Somare, the man from the Murik lakes of the Sepik River basin in the East Sepik Province, dreamt one day Papua New Guinea would be free and independent.
Many Papua New Guineans shared in the dream. However, Michael Somare did not wait for the golden opportunity to stake his claim on independence. For him and for his comrades it was time to extract gold (independence) from the existing circumstances instead of waiting for the golden opportunities to come.
I am sure he would have reflected on the prevailing socio-economic and political circumstances during the colonial era and, understanding both the weaknesses and strengths, the values and the world view of our people at the time, Michael Somare was convinced that his dream (or the dreams of his people) was honourable and legitimate and therefore worth our best effort.
The sorts of qualities he envisioned in his dream such as justice, human participation, integrity, love, peace, sharing etc, motivated him to confidently innovate and adapt to embrace a changing world.
Through his education, training and moreso his Christian beliefs, he came to know that man is by nature self-determining as he possesses an intellect and a will. His innate ability to envision a free and just society in which every man and woman would participate in the processes of development and governance enabled him to collaborate with other like-minded people to go for independence even though we were being advised that we were not ready.
Through the collective leadership of a coalition of visionary leaders that he was able to put together, Somare, by virtue of his charismatic personality set in motion the huge political mobilisation effort to get Papua New Guinea ready for independence.
When he became Chief Minister, he embarked on two important missions- one to transfer self-governing powers from Canberra to Konedobu and the other to set up a parliamentary committee of elected representatives to draft the future independent nation’s constitution.
The 15 member Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC) decided to take afresh new approach in making the PNG Constitution. Instead of just presenting the people with different models or types of constitutions from around the world, the CPC members decided to put relevant questions to the people about their felt needs and aspirations.
Small “Constitutional Planning Committees”, discussion groups, were set up in towns and villages to discuss the issues and deliberate on them before their decisions were submitted to the national Constitutional Planning Committee verbally in public meetings and/or in written submissions.
And because the process adopted by the bipartisan combined government and opposition CPC was an inclusive one, the political dialogue between Parliament and the people ended up becoming the most comprehensive nationwide political engagement that has ever been carried out in PNG.
Although there was a real sense of urgency to have independence without delay Michael Somare, who was the ex-officio chairman, exercised wise judgement in ensuring that qualitative change was not sacrificed just for quantitative change giving adequate time to the CPC to do its work.
Although there was a lot of uncertainty about independence, Somare’s decision to trust the people and allow them to participate, considering the time constraint, in the making of their constitution, gave the people a proud sense of owning their mama lo and ultimately being joyful that together despite the cultural diversity they successfully created an independent nation called Papua New Guinea.
This is a pretty amazing achievement for the people of Papua New Guinea who, despite facing huge challenges, rallied behind their leaders and together answered the clarion call to create a Christian democratic nation whose vision is enshrined in the five National Goals and Directive Principles of the National Constitution which is both a great legal and moral document.
Under the new regime they collaborated to achieve a common objective and goal. The kind of society the people of Papua New Guinea dreamt about and aspired to create is enshrined in the those National Goals and Directive Principles of the Constitution. Whilst they are not legally enforceable, they are nevertheless intrinsically and substantively necessary in the formulation and development of policies, programs and laws of our society and our country.
Failure to adhere to them is detrimental to individuals and on a grand scale detrimental to the collective welfare of all our people.
Again, another important political initiative Chief Minister Somare introduced and made part of the terms of reference given to the Constitutional Planning Committee was decentralization - structural distribution of governmental power and responsibility.
PNG is a highly diversified tribal society that needs a decentralized system and policy to enable the diverse people to be empowered through their involvement in socio-economic and political activities.
The principle of equitable distribution does not apply only to services but just as importantly to power which is the source of services. When power, especially governmental power is structurally and legally monopolized by the central government, people are marginalized and rendered dependent and vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by the powerful.
The Principle of Subsidiarity, which is an important Christian principle, stipulates that bigger bodies or governments should not usurp the role or power of smaller bodies or governments.
The PNG Constitution, through the National Goals and Directive Principles uphold and promote holistic human development and participatory democracy and equitable development for its citizens.
It behooves the government, churches and educational institutions and NGOs to embark on a program of conscientisation to enlighten and motivate all to realize the dream.