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14 May 2016


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No Marcus, I think you and Kela have missed my suggested conjecture but can we at least agree to disagree?

Paul, I think you are missing the point.

There's one other aspect that appears to be the proverbial 'elephant in the room' that everyone knows is there but no one talks about.

I refer to that subliminal yet immensely powerful force called entrenched culture. It colours all our views whether we like it or even recognise it.

It's always the 'bogeyman', devil, evil enemy or the unknown but malevolent force that seems to bug us in times of stress. Traditionally, to the British it was the French. To the Nazis it was communist backstabbers and then the Soviet Union. To Sukano in Indonesia, it was the Dutch and then the internal Communists and after he slaughtered 500,000 mainly innocent people, then any outsider who stood in his way. The claimed external threat was an easy target so that the Indonesian empire could expand i.e. West Papaua and East Timor.

In many PNG traditional cultures the outsider or the different clan or tribe was the enemy. Or it might be the sanguma man or masalai or perhaps a dead relative or a witch doctor who was trying to harm you. Virtually anyone could become the cause of your trouble.

So why is it everyone always seems to decry what's happening in PNG but never accept the blame, even when there might be personally none at all?

It's just far easier to blame someone or something else than to accept you, yourself might have something to do with the problem.

Chris, I’d like to believe your argument but from the little I know about Australian history, I tend to get paranoid often. Regardless, PNG will progress with or without Australia. We may fall but we will get up and run again.

Kila Kapkora Sil Bolkin clearly believes that Australia's unduly hasty exit from PNG arose from a realisation that the country was not going to be a viable nation state.

The truth is somewhat different I think.

During the 1960's Australia was under significant international pressure from the UN to cease being a colonial power and the incoming Labour government responded to that pressure. Many former colonial states, as well as the communist states, were very actively opposed to colonialism in any form.

Their position was that all colonial regimes were inherently racist and exploitative and invariably involved the systematic denial of basic human rights. I think most historians would agree that this view was substantially correct.

Of course, the largest communist power, the Soviet Union, was itself a de facto colonial power through its domination of the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, but this did not prevent it from criticising other powers, especially the USA, for being "Imperialists".

Within Australia, the vast majority of the population knew little or nothing of PNG and cared even less.

At the time, I seem to recollect that there were about 50,000 Australians who were residents of PNG. The large majority of them were appalled by the haste with which self government and then independence were to be granted. Their concerns were shared by many Papua New Guineans, notably those living in the highlands.

However, these concerns were dismissed as being the product of self interest in the case of the Australians and ignorance in the case of the highlanders.

So the independence juggernaut rolled on, promoted by Michael Somare and others, with plenty of support from Gough Whitlam et al in Canberra.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Whitlam and his advisers sincerely believed that PNG could be a viable state and Michael Somare and his colleagues would have strongly reinforced this belief at every opportunity, not least because they believed it themselves.

To his dying day Gough Whitlam believed that granting independence to PNG was perhaps the finest thing he ever achieved in politics.

Always fond of the grand gesture, it suited Whitlam's temperament and ego to play the role of the wise and magnanimous statesman granting PNG its freedom from the colonial yoke.

So it was in this way that PNG passed largely out of both sight and mind in Australia. I doubt that it occurred to any Canberra based politician or bureaucrat that PNG was, in practice, desperately under prepared for the task of governing itself.

After all, they would have reasoned, if a relative handful of kiaps, police, didimen, teachers, medicos and clerks could govern the place on a shoe strong budget, why couldn't Papua New Guineans do it too?

So, in a sense, Kela is right that the country was abandoned to its fate, but not because PNG was thought to be non-viable or ungovernable. It was, in fact, the complete reverse: it was thought to be a comparatively easy task to create a viable nation state because the efforts of a small, thinly spread and poorly funded colonial administration made it seem so.

This major error in judgement so long ago has now come back to bite PNG and may, in the fullness of time, come to bite Australia as well.

Most of the kiaps were forecasting dire consequences Sil and unfortunately they have been proved right.

Or have they?

PNG has made giant strides and still has a lot to offer. All the ingredients are still there for a successful nation state. It just requires the right leaders. But it is getting very late in the day.

I keep coming across so many articulate and intelligent Papua New Guineans and I wonder why they don't do something.

And, Chris, I disagree strongly that Whitlam was impressionable. Gough was pig-headed and did what he thought was best (for Australia,not PNG). Somare was the impressionable one.

Kela, I think you nailed it.

Australia realized that PNG did not meet the criteria to be a nation-state with its treacherous land and seascape, tonnes of tropical diseases, a thousand warring tribes and its many more vulnerabilities.

Aussies did not want to clean the mess when the shit hits the fan and so threw it away to these naive boys and left for their temperate hideout.

Now, PNG with its over-rated constitution is in a shit hole.That's exactly what the Aussies knew would happen and it happened.

Sorry folks!

During my time in PNG I was aware of Michael Somare as the most prominent advocate for self government and eventual independence.

I met him during a visit to Kikori by one of the Constitutional Planning Committees mentioned by Dr John Momis. He was clearly the most forceful and articulate member of that committee and impressive in his grasp of the issues.

As is the case for most successful politicians, the times suited Somare. There was an Australian government all too willing to agree with him on the timing of independence and he was destined to inherit a funded, functional and reasonably efficient public service.

Also, while the majority of the people of Papua New Guinea struggled to understand what independence really meant and were thus fearful of it, the educated elite were generally in favour. This gave Somare and his Pangu Party a small but articulate support base with which to impress the already impressionable E.G Whitlam.

Somare showed a deft hand in guiding PNG to independence and, so it would seem, for the first few years following was a diligent and competent Prime Minister. This gave PNG a promising start as a new nation.

For this achievement alone, he deserves both respect and praise.

Unhappily, neither Somare nor his successors have been able to govern in a manner which has fulfilled the country's early promise.

The reasons for this are many: the problems inherent in managing an extremely diverse country, the impact of culture (notably the wantok system) and the seductive effects of power and influence that seem to beset all politicians, irrespective of race, colour or creed.

Thus I think that the judgement of history upon Somare will be somewhat equivocal. His early years pre-independence and immediately afterwards were probably his best, while in his later years he seems to have manifested the over confidence and sense of entitlement that all too frequently afflicts the rich and powerful.

To my mind he ranks as the most important and influential leader PNG has ever had.

Despite this, I also think that more time has to go by before a properly informed and balanced judgement can be made about the true worth of Somare's contribution to public life in the country that he helped to create.

Perhaps Mr Love Realtors should consider a partnership with LJ Hooker. (That's enough sausage man.)

More than enough - KJ

And one of our local real estate agents is called Love. I often have a chuckle when I drive past a house with a 'LOVE For Sale' sign outside. Cole Porter would be pleased.

And Rabbie Burns is worth a mention. When his great poem "Address to a Haggis" was translated into German, it came back as to the "Great Führer of the Sausage People!"

Exactly my point Joachim. What good is a document when majority of the people are living in poverty?

Peter W - The law of nominative determinism at work. I once attended a funeral service delivered by Pastor Way had a doctor called Death (to be fair he spelled it De'Ath). Hyacinth Bucket indeed!

The sausage man started it! Back on track now!

If only I could be so sure. What the sausage man starts he usually likes to finish - KJ

Peter K - He of the sausages. I remember two Australian Army Medical Officers having the names Captain Blood and Major Kneebone.

And then of course there are those men having Darling as their surname.

Sorry KJ, drifting well of topic here.

Yeeees, Mr Warwick - KJ

I think you got it wrong Marcus. The constitution is not meant for fixing up practical problems such as the bankruptcy of the economy & other socioeconomic ills we face.

The constitution is a very broad developmental guideline. Operational problems are for people like you and me: technocrats. If we screw it up, we should not blame it on the constitution. But yes, many PNGNS need to read & know about it.

If PNG deserves an historic monument it should be Constitution House at Motupore Island, Bootless Bay, where the Australians got the PNG leaders together and locked them in until they'd hammered out the constitution. Now the marine research institute of UPNG.

And I see UPNG have redesigned their web site.

Yes, the constitution is a fine document, but what percent of the PNG population even know that there is a thing called a constitution and what its purpose is?

One more. Can a constitution fix a bankrupt economy?

It was Hugh Foot who was at the UN. His brother Dingle is a name you just can't forget.

The Foots were one of that breed of political families which seem to enshrine their dynasty around the institutions of Government.

Isaac Foot (Liberal Member of Parliament)1922-1929

Dingle Foot, (later Sir Dingle Foot, 1905–1978, Liberal then Labour MP), son of Isaac

Hugh Foot, (later Baron Caradon, 1907–1990, Governor of Cyprus, Permanent Representative at the United Nations 1964–70), son of Isaac

Paul Foot (1937–2004, Socialist Workers Party/Socialist Alliance/Respect candidate), son of Hugh

John Foot, (later Baron Foot, 1909–1999, lawyer and politician), son of Isaac

Michael Foot, (1913–2010), Leader of the British Labour Party (1980–1983), son of Isaac

ASIO's interest in Somare is an untold story. Despite Whitlam and the UN (a man named Dingle Foot if I remember) they thought he was a closet Marxist, so had him under surveillance for some time.

And this article is interesting.

Perhaps our political heroes have stayed around long enough to become the villains - though not with the feudal connotation.

If the Principle of Subsidiarity had been applied during the run-up to self-government and independence there would have been a referendum, which would have been lost and independence would have been delayed.

Gough Whitlam and the UN were hell bent on granting independence whether Papua New Guineans wanted it or not. To that end they used Somare and PANGU as a tool for that ambition.

I think claiming that "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" is overstating the fact. I don't think the average Papua New Guinean actually knew what was happening with the constitution.

Somare's contribution was intervening so that it was done with a degree of sanity in an otherwise rushed process. That he was in favour of it happening helped a lot.

The constitution is a fine document and about the only good thing Papua New Guinea seems to have going for it at the moment. Achieving that is enough for Somare to rightly claim to be the father of the nation.

John Momis had a big part in the drafting and can also be rightly proud.

Interesting comments from various angles.

Indeed, the constitution is quite an idealistic document, which would appear to be, in many respects, underpinned by principles underlying the concept of 'common good' according to the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church.

I believe such guiding principles also embrace our traditional customary values and are not in violation of them as enshrined in the constitution.

There is nothing wrong for our constitution being idealistic or embracing dreams which may be deemed not easily achievable.

I think it was good for the Papua New Guinean leaders of the time to have had set higher standards for ourselves even if we may have failed to live up to them in reality for many reasons (some valid & some just stupid).

No doubt it was put together by Papua New Guineans of the time full of dreams and ideals for their envisioned emerging nation at the time.

As said above, it is better to have some baseline rather than to be 'brukim bus' into the future. I have heard that even our 2030/50 vision plans were not properly aligned with the our constitutional directive principles and goals.

All of us are indeed very dissatisfied when we see that reality is different from what is anticipated in our constitution. This should not be a reason for Papua New Guineans to fall into despair. The constitution challenges us to rise up, especially young Papua New Guineans who are potential future leaders.

Paul Oates said it well, it is not really whatever the system of government (socialism or capitalism-oriented) that matters. The strength and/or goodness of any government is more a matter of transparency, accountability and other such qualitative elements. In other words, the human factor in the system matters, of course, aided by whatever checks and balances are there in the system.

Public processes, procedures, policies, etc attain meaningfulness to the extent that people follow them or abide by them. But, as you'd agree, we don't always see this in PNG's public institutions.

If, for example, we can cut down on the number of cowboy politicians, CEOs, government departmental secretaries, etc., I believe we will greatly improve on our whatever achievements have been made to date.

Momis, Somare, Kaputin, John Guise, Chan, Namaliu, Diro, Narokobi, Tei Abal etc were men of the spirit of the time. Most of those who are still alive tend to still believe in the universality of the spirit of the constitution.

It is good to be challenged even if encountering many failures, growing disparities between rich & poor, by higher standards than to succumb to the base level and dwell there. Rise!

Well, we’re apprentices all the days of our lives. Thank you for that fascinating reference that I now have looked up and understand a bit better. ‘Oi’ve improv’d me edification’.

The ‘Principle of Subsidiarity’ or its prior Protestant equivalent, ‘Sphere Sovereignty’ is a clear expression of a formal society trying to ensure that the best way of doing things is to delegate the executive power down the line to the lowest competent person or entity. One can easily see how this concept would appeal to a PNG scenario, given the multitude of societies and tribal customs.

However, ‘with due respect M’lud’, the origins of these theories are far more relevant in ordered societies where there was already an expectation and concept of national entity and cohesiveness. The pillars of the church and state were then in competition with each other and this concept was a hoped for ‘Third Way’ of approach. Can that scenario be applicable in today’s or yesterday’s PNG?

Equally clearly, one can understand why Mr Momis now expresses this concept as his mantra given the inevitable direction Bougainville appears to be heading.

I have nothing but praise for those who assembled the PNG Constitution given the rush and time frames they had to meet. The issue is not the document itself but whether it is being followed in both spirit and intention.

Like the Westminster system of government and many other western concepts and ideas imposed on PNG, the circumstances then dictated that a square peg be fitted to a round hole and simply hammered away in the belief it will work eventually without something giving way or breaking off. In the broad light of day, subsequent experience has proven otherwise.

Whose fault is it? Well we are all to blame of course. The point well made by Marcus Mapen is that while Somare and Momis were eager for Independence, the vast majority of PNG people were never even consulted let alone asked. Those few that were told us in the bush ‘Don’t go yet!”

Subsequent actions by some leaders have indicated the people in the bush were right to be concerned.

Do we now have to be guilty of intentional obfuscation, in order to have at least a national figure to venerate?

Phil, according to your ‘theory of regressive evolution’, Somare didn’t give up, he just adapted.

Anyway, I think the real reason is that the people continue to vote in wrong leaders. Very few good leaders get elected into parliament. The few good ones that enter parliament find out that they have to adapt to ‘regressive evolution’.

In PNG wrong people get elected because of various reasons such as money, tribalism, regionalism; wantok system etc but the main reason is ignorance. More than 80% of the population (even educated ones) do not understand the political systems, economics and the long term consequences of their actions.

Conclusion. While Somare and Momis were ready for independence, the people have never been ready.

With respect to my learned colleagues, it’s a bit harsh judging the subsequent flawed performance of frail humans against the expressed ideals of the society they would like to create.

No society I know of has ever lived up to its ideals, but this does not mean the aspiration should be abandoned.

The ‘principle of subsidiarity’ is one of the key principles of Catholic social thought (hence the once Fr Momis’s reference to it, I guess) and it was the the English political theorist Algernon Sidney who first wrote that ‘God helps those who help themselves’, although the Lord must be envious that he didn’t think of it first.

The authors of PNG’s Constitution and attendant documents did a fine job and it’s good to know there are so many Papua New Guineans, including plenty of those who write for and comment in PNG Attitude, who still uphold these ideals.

I happen to believe John Momis is one of them.

Interesting observation Marcus.

Karl Marx didn’t exactly promulgate a political system like the one that has evolved in China or in Russia before that. He simply said that society was determined by the relationships that people had with each other.

He based his assumptions on what he saw in Europe and suggested that societies evolved through six successive stages, primitive communism (traditional PNG societies), slave societies (feudalism), capitalism, socialism and then communism.

If you can divorce this in your mind from the bogeyman built around communism it is a useful way of looking at a society.

What he probably didn’t take into account was the idea of regressive development i.e. O’Neill is taking PNG from capitalism back into feudalism.

Charles Darwin also missed out on the regressive element in his theory of evolution i.e. species can regress to a more primitive form (PNG politicians regressing into traditional bigmen).

Somare took PNG to a high point in its development but he was unable to stop the process regressing to what it has become today. At some point I think he gave up and decided to join the pigs at the swill.

The so called 'Principle of equitable distribution' seems strangely at odds with today's revelations of off shore bank accounts, millions made from selling other people's timber rights and fishing grounds and that a few own overseas mansions and fly overseas for medical treatment or to visit a casino.

Perhaps the stated Christian principle should be that: 'The Lord helps those who help themselves.'

I don't believe these known facts are worth extolling as virtues.

The main reason there was a peaceful transition at Independence was that there was no contest. Whitlam just walked away without any idea or mid term plan of what he was fixated in handing over for personal reasons.

I've never heard of 'The Principle of Subsidiarity' but it sounds like something dreamt up to support a very spurious and personal point of view. The absence of a strong, central government is the very reason PNG is where it is today.

Strength of government is not measured in how dictatorial it may have become but whether it is responsible and accountable for its actions. It is axiomatic that Somare largely presided over a period where a small number of local people have become very rich while the majority of their country is clearly worse off than before.

If that aspect is worth lauding then clearly the majority of people commenting on Keith's blog are totally out of touch with reality.

And don't forget Big Bertha and Arthur. Stop whitewashing history.

Well I'm being facetious. But in that photo, is Whitlam amazingly tall, or is Somare amazingly short?

I'm reminded of that old gospel song "when the tall and the short get together with the Lord."

I was at a function at the Uni of Western Sydney a few years back and in a discussion with Gough and his sons Nick and Tony. I'm nearly 6 feet tall and felt like a pygmy with a cricked neck - KJ

O'Neill does not want to listen to Somare now. But the wind will blow their names around PNG for a long time as the first prime minister and the current prime minister 'sleep' in their separate graves till the end of time.

I read President Momis’s tribute without surprise, it was after all delivered in recognition of an 80th birthday, in itself a remarkable achievement.

But Momis’s tribute was more than that; it was an acknowledgement of Somare’s achievement in achieving the peaceful transition to self-government, and to Independence.

After reading the comments, I checked Momis’s tribute again. In my view, in no way does it distort the history of that time.

I recalled the Chief Minister’s statement to the District Commissioners’ Conference in 1972, and the comments made that evening by Eddie Brooks, at that time a District Commissioner in the British Solomons, but earlier in Kenya.

Brooks said, “If we had received assurances evenly remotely like that, prior to Independence in Kenya, we would have been in raptures.”

I also revisited my copy of the “Summary Record of Talks Between Chief Minister Somare and Prime Minister Whitlam held at Konedobu on 20th February 1973.

Prime Minister Whitlam “expressed some surprise and disappointment to hear that the Constitutional Planning might not have determined the basic constitutional framework by December 1973, …”

I first met Michael Somare in 1964, when, as a radio announcer based in Wewak, he visited Maprik to cover the 1964 elections. I met him on many occasions thereafter: in the Sepik, in Bougainville, and in Port Moresby.

I met John Momis in Kieta in 1968, and we jousted on many occasions till I left Bougainville in 1973.

I know little about the period after 1975, but I believe that the people of Papua New Guinea, the people of Australia, and kiaps in particular, owe and enormous debt of gratitude for the way that Sir Michael ensured the peaceful transition to Self Government, and the transition from Self Government to Independence.

All sounds good, except that the country is now full of thieves, conman and Kanakas who don’t know how to run a country and/or do not really care about the rest of the people.

I took part in one of those great Constitutional meetings in Wewak in the early 1970s. I feel it was Bernard Narokobi who should get the most credit.

I took along some of the brightest students from Brandi High School who had a chance to pass their comments. We had a great time. One of them is now the PNG Rep at the UN.

We did our best in those early days to get the new Independent country running itself well. I stayed till the end of 1983.

I think some later Australian advisers had some very wrong ideas on how the country should develop and somehow helped to "bend the young tree".

Let it rain.

Let them write their versions of the PNG story.

The absence of truth will be hinted at by contradiction in the stories, missing or masking elements and verification by alternative sources.

No history is worse than poor history.

In order to fill in the details of a our map, we need to verify the terrain by ground proofing.

Not wishing to rain on anyone's parade but it is a fact that the victors always get to write (or re write), history.

To those of us who were there at the time and knew what happened then and has happened since, this 'doctrinal dissertation' is rather like a eulogy. Clearly the old phase that one must not speak ill of the dead seems to fit.

Yet the inconsistencies in this 'lauding' of Somare seems strangely at odds with the stated 'Principles' that are quoted and yet quite clearly differ with the facts. Why would this be so?

Is there some reason why Momis now wants us to see Somare as a great leader, glowing with the golden light of self satisfied achievement?

Would that have anything to do with the possibility that Momis was part of the process of creating the current regime in PNG and now wants to emulate that exercise in Bougainville? A potential exercise that will in essence follow the Somare's previous leadership and control in creating a similar, independent state?

Let's take off those rose coloured glasses and look at what actually resulted and is daily demonstrated in today's PNG thanks in no small way to Mr Somare and Mr Momis.

These are the stories that form the basis of history that should be taught in all our schools from primary level upwards.

It has been years since I was in school so someone correct me if I am wrong about the current curriculum.

If our leaders, particularly the 'founding fathers' fail to champion the writing and re-introduction of proper and complete history and conversion of that history into teaching material, i would say without hesitation that they have failed to be great leaders.

Great leaders leave behind a lasting legacy.

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