BUKA - Sir Michael Somare has told the people of Bougainville the decision to decide the fate of the autonomous region rests solely with them.
“On 6 June next year the people of Bougainville will be given the privilege to choose whether to remain a part of Papua New Guinea or become an independent nation,” Sir Michael said in a thanksgiving address to mark his farewell visit to the region.
“You have a very experienced leader and statesman in Dr John Momis who will lead you in the right direction and you must be grateful that he is the one leading you, so you must support him,” he said.
“Prior to PNG’s independence, your president and I travelled throughout the country to gauge the views of the people on our path to eventual statehood.”
The country’s elder statesman said it had been an arduous journey to nationhood but, with the support of Dr Momis and PNG’s first knight and Pangu Pati leader, the late Sir Paul Lapun, and the late Sir Donatus Mola, PNG was able to gain independence.
“President Momis played a vital role in shaping this country through his commitment to developing a home grown constitution as de facto chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee,” he said.
In return, Sir Michael said that as prime minister he had always provided support to the autonomous arrangements on Bougainville to ensure the people were not marginalised.
“I give my heartfelt gratitude to the people and leaders of Bougainville for their support and belief in me as we were preparing the country for self-governance,” he said.
Dr Momis hailed Sir Michael as an iconic individual who was a trailblazer.
“Michael Thomas Somare is a charismatic man who was courageous enough to accept the mantle of leadership when he became chief minister and then prime minister at the dawn of independence,” Dr Momis said.
“Bougainville has always shared a close relationship with this man. Since before independence he was with us right up to finding a peaceful solution [after the civil war] on Bougainville.
“Sir Michael has been highly favoured by God to lead Papua New Guinea and I am privileged to know him professionally as well as personally,” he said.
Dr Momis said that Somare’s leadership had yet to be matched and emulated by the current breed of politicians.
“He exercised his role as a true politician – guided by his faith and embracing his role as a vocation, he ventured into the unknown responding to a call without fear.”
President Momis also paid tribute to Lady Veronica Somare for supporting her husband through Sir Michael’s long political career.
The story behind the photograph
President Momis is seen presenting the Sir Michael with a traditional mona (canoe). Symbolically it represents a time prior to independence when there was much mistrust about PNG gaining self government. As chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee, Dr Momis used the analogy of a canoe to explain that independence was an inclusive process for all Papua New Guineans. "Somare ino giamanim yumi. Em tu i stap insait long wanpla kanu wantaim yumi. Sapos kanu sink yumi olgeta sink wantaim, sapos emi ron gut bambai yumi olgeta i ron gut wantaim," Dr Momis said. [‘Somare did not lie to us. He sat inside the canoe with us. If the canoe had foundered he would have sunk with it. If it sailed well, we would all sail well with it.’]