By ELLEN TIAMU
VINCENT Kumura was educated at a University in the United States. Returning from the bright lights of America to his “handred maunten” people in Bundi, he saw the decline and wanted to make a change.
Bundi is the largest district in Madang and shares borders with Eastern Highlands and Chimbu. The topography is mostly forested mountains and the highlands climate is cold most of the time. Most of the district is inaccessible by road.
Time there is standing still.
During the general elections just passed, Usino Bundi was deemed the hottest seat,and most volatile in contention, thus counting had to be done in the provincial capital of Madang – half a day’s drive away. Many of the lifestyle and cultures are similar to those in Chimbu and other areas with which they share borders.
Kumura contested the Usino Bundi seat, and as founder of Kumura Foundation, set up two years ago, it seemed the logical thing to do. The Digicel PNG Foundation Men of Honour (Community Ingenuity) award he received last year, which recognised his work to foster positivity in communities, made it seem like he would also be the people’s logical choice.
For Kumura, the award recognisedmen’s noble character, and that was what he took on the campaign trail. In a country where violence and corruption are seen as part and parcel of elections, his message was simple – peace and honesty.
Enlisting 150 young men in his campaign, he taught them that how they behaved and the words they spoke must be honourable.
Then how did it go?
Not good, Kumura said, the election was unfair and changing people wasn’t easy: “Even without proof, I can say that a lot of money is being played in politics in PNG. Corruption and bribery are now seen as normal in the political culture in PNG, (but) I did not want to make empty promises and act dishonestly just to win.
“Being a money player dictates your win. Our team decided against the accepted political culture. I have to live that principle of good character, act that principle.”
Kumura had a budget of K40,000 and campaigned for eight months as a candidate of the PNG National Party. During that time he and his team also conducted workshops around Bundi and spoke out against corruption and vote buying.
“If a community is well-informed and people are educated, they’ll be able to make right decisions,” Kumura said.
“For us there was no pig killing during elections. When pigs are killed, people expect something in return. We didn’t have haus sel or temporary canvas tents because you can’t acquit funds spent on those things you spend on for the haus sel.
“A candidate who eventually wins the seat is expected to spend more money to take (the haus sel) down.”
His campaign was based on truth, justice and fairness. His message was supported by crowds who turned up at his election rallies. People were united to a new culture. His prospects were promising when counting began and he took the race right down to the wire.
Things turned for the worse on the 11th hour and Kumura realised that people were still more concerned about what they could get out of the candidates than the bigger picture.
“People were worried about food at the end of the day, which proceeds to promote the culture of bribery and corruption.”
In retrospect, he’s thankful that he did draw support from much of the district: “Instead of dividing the district, my messages united the district and that is evident in my loss by a mere 22 votes.”
Kumura saw that people craved a new style of leadership and that was clearly evident when Kumura was eliminated from the race.
“A vibrant and young leader has just walked out the door,” was the remark that broke the silence that followed his defeat. Many became emotional and some cried.
Even members of the security forces shed tears as his entourage left Madang to return to Bundi.
“I was the only candidate that lived in Bundi, among my people. So on my way home after my defeat, I stopped at all the villages along the way, and then travelled to the other places that were not accessible by road, to say thank you to the Usino Bundi people.
“People were crushed, to say the least.”
Kumura’s next move is to see that Kumura Foundation is on solid footing. The community-based organisation helps people with healthcare, education and eco-tourism. It also helps communities in Usino-Bundi help their poor and disadvantaged group.
At the same time, he and his team are raising funds for a sub-health center at Snow Pass in Bundi where the only dispensary now is catering for about 6000 people. Kumura also runs an eco-lodge on a mountain at Snow Pass and organises workshops for women.
Will he be on the campaign trail in 2022? “Most definitely,” he said. “I believe that if more people act like we did at the elections, over time, honesty and strong principles will be the new face of elections in PNG.
“I cut through the ‘old’ system of campaigning and that is something that I have left behind for people to think about. It is something for young and aspiring leaders of this nation to seriously consider. Do not sell your values and principles. Stand on what is good and right.
“Honourable MPs should live honourable lives.”
And you can’t say more than that.
By ELLEN TIAMU