By ELLEN TIAMU
FORMER Electoral Commissioner Sir Andrew Trawen passed away on Wednesday at his home in Port Moresby after a short illness. He was aged 61. He is survived by his wife Lady Anna and children Alcinda, Brendan and Charlene.
Sir Andrew retired in November 2015 after spending his whole working life with the commission. This is what he said in a special magazine produced by the Electoral Commission to farewell him in 2015:
“The journey, however, had been a very challenging, fulfilling and satisfying one. Now that I’m walking down the isle of official retirement from active public service duties I look back with great satisfaction that, indeed, there was significant improvement in the conduct of elections in our beautiful country since the first polls in 1977 after Independence in 1975.
“I can clearly recall that my greatest achievement in my whole career with PNGEC was when I was Acting Electoral Commissioner and personally led and directed the conduct of six failed elections in the Southern Highlands Province from April to June 2003.
“I must admit here that no election in my entire career had been the most difficult and challenging though many may argue that there had been some. And I pay tribute to my predecessor and my staunch supporter Reuben Kaiulo for being the most influential figure and for mentoring me during my career with the Commission. I salute you, brother RTK!
“Forty-one years and eight months to be exact with the PNG Electoral Commission had been a very long journey for me as a Trainee Electoral Officer, District Electoral Officer, Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Electoral Commissioner and Electoral Commissioner.
“While at the helm as Electoral Commissioner since I was first appointed in 2004, my greatest challenge had been to secure appropriate levels of funding for both national and local-level government elections from the National Government.
“My departure message on the way forward in terms of elections to the new management of PNGEC, National Government and the people of Papua New Guinea is to seriously take on biometric enrolment and electronic voting to improve and better the outcomes of elections in PNG.
“LPV (Limited Preferential Voting) system is the perfect and fair system of voting. LPV had a very good impact on elections in PNG, especially in addressing voter, candidate and supporter behaviour since its introduction in 2003.
“The best way to deal with election malpractice, electoral fraud, illegal election practices and activities is to move away from conventional ways of conducting elections and introduce biometric enrolment and electronic voting.
“Aspects of elections in PNG that I want and recommend improved include illegal election behaviour, activities and practices.
“Inappropriate levels of funding have always had negative impacts on the preparations and conduct of elections in PNG and will always remain a real concern for PNGEC unless the National Government fully meets its constitutional responsibility in providing appropriate levels of funding.”
“Obviously future governments should consider giving grants to PNGEC and let the Commission manage the funds without hindrance and delays rather than begging Treasury Department each month for monies appropriated for elections.
“To conclude, there has never been a dark moment in my whole career with the Commission.
“The brightest side of my career was my recognition by the O’Neill-Dion Government in 2015 prior to my exit as Electoral Commissioner with the Queen’s Knight Bachelor Award. The Queen’s Knight Bachelor Award was my third – Companion of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) and Member of the British Empire (MBE) were the two previous awards from Her Majesty.”
The magazine reported that most people, including former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, believed that Sir Andrew Trawen’s baptism of fire as the top election man was a supplementary election in 2003 and two successful national elections in 2007 and 2012.
The magazine said:
“First was the successful completion of the feared Southern Highlands supplementary elections in 2003 – the original ones in 2002 were failed officially by his predecessor Reuben Kaiulo after organised violent lawlessness stopped free and fair voting.
“Then Limited Preferential Voting (LPV) – the new way of electing national parliament lawmakers – was introduced successfully in Papua New Guinea under Trawen’s leadership in the Abau by-election in Central province before the 2004 Christmas when many all over the country feared the new system would be hard to understand. That was the public face of Trawen’s baptism of fire as the new election boss.”
Like Kaiulo before him, Trawen has grown up in the Electoral Commission joining the old Office of the Chief Electoral Officer in 1974 as
trainee election officer straight out of grade 10 at Brandi High School in Wewak, East Sepik, where he was originally from.
And after 41 years of service to the public service Trawen called retired from public service November 15, 2015.
Trawen was only Electoral Commissioner who served from the first national election in 1977 to his last in 2012 .
He first national election was as a trainee electoral officer, then as senior electoral officer, acting electoral commissioner, assistant commissioner, deputy electoral commissioner and finally at the helm as electoral commissioner – a 41-year legacy hard to equal.
The name ‘Trawen’ is synonymous with elections in Papua New Guinea’s young history. But many people don’t know where he came from. Many believe he is a ‘tolai’ man.
Originally from Ambukanjai village, Yangoru District in East Sepik, Sir Andrew was born on November 15, 1955, in a tin shed at Vunabau near Ralubang Plantation in Kokopo, East New Britain, to Tuanie Yuravie and Josepha Nengresingen. Trawen is the first of only two children. His only brother has died too.
Named after his grandfather Yuravie Trawen, Trawen is a devout Catholic and wherever he travels, whether within PNG or overseas, his Holy Rosary goes with him.
His day starts at five o’clock in the morning with a prayer.
Trawen married Anna, also from Yangoru in East Sepik, in 1979, in an arranged marriage. It was only after he returned to Wewak to pick up his wife that they first set eyes on each other.
In the magazine, Anna remembers the first time she was alone with him. His leave had ended and they were in a plane, sitting across from each other. Those tense moments were nerve-wracking for the young Anna who had never before left her village and was now going to another province with a man she hardly knew.
They spent the next 36 years together.
- Parts of this article have been reproduced with permission from Alphonse Muapi, media officer of the Electoral Commission.