By Frank Senge Kolma
When I remember Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare, I think of “father”, “teacher”, “journalist” and “chief minister”.
The first three appeal to me because they describe the things I hold dearest: My father, my teachers and my job.
The last two words were the first I heard together with the name Somare sometime in 1973 and somehow they have left an indelible imprint.
He was a teacher and a broadcaster before he entered politics in 1968 at the ripe age of 38.
He used both the skills of teacher and communicator to perfection all his political life.
In a land of unassuming people, living difficult but uncomplicated lives, Somare appealed to that which the people could easily understand and relate to.
To a people long used to live by the fruits of their own labor, Somare spoke of self reliance and equated independence to it and they grasped the concept immediately.
The flames of nationalism which Somare and his group of fiery nationalists stoked to flame in the late 60s and early 70s flared instantly when the common man heard that Independence meant the abhorrent colonial ‘masta’ would no longer be in charge.
Oh, the people understood that well enough and appreciated that very much.
The people needed guidance, education, medicine, information and transportation and Somare spoke of those.
In adopting the Constitution and the institutions of State, Somare carefully selected and adopted those that the people could understand easily enough and dropped others.
When an Investment Code was proposed alongside the Leadership Code, he said both would be too difficult to sell to the people. He adopted the Leadership Code and dropped the other.
When in August 1975 the Constitution was adopted, it was without the entire section providing for provincial governments which Sir Michael’s government wanted dropped.
He said, with prophetic insight it turned out that, the provincial government system would be too unwieldy and people would not readily appreciate or run a national and provincial government system side by side.
The provision was only reinserted in October 1976 when Bougainville threatened to secede if it could not have its own provincial government.
Men everywhere follow simplicity and truth.
Christ, Ghandi, King and Mandela were simplicity and truth defined. The success we celebrate of our own Grand Chief today is because he belonged in that mould of leaders – selfless and people oriented.
He quoted no philosophy or repeated the words of great men to make a point. His examples were real life experiences, his points of reference were Papua New Guinean in origin.
He led by the example of his own life. He listened and took positive and fair action.
There is the story, true enough, of a time when a group of ministers in his cabinet conspired to remove another who had just flown home. Somare heard about it, postponed Cabinet for an hour and sent the Kumul to pick a bewildered minister up and return to Port Moresby. When Cabinet met, it was with the minister who was on the agenda to be sacked. Sure enough when the Grand Chief asked what was on the agenda, nobody owned up and he terminated the meeting without any sacking. A fair man he was.
Somare was as good as the company he kept.
He kept the best company at home in Lady Veronica and his children Sana, Arthur, Betha, Dulcie, and Michael. Few of us can appreciate the sacrifices this mother and children have made across the years. Sir Michael had his immediate family close by him every step of his long tenure in public office.
To have watched the Somare family members across the years right down to his death bed, I am reminded of the traditional wedding words: “…to hold and to cherish, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, until death do us part.”
Those words in this family setting are appropriate and accurate. In remembering the Grand Chief, we must give due credit to the Somare family.
He had the finest group of leaders ever assembled in the hallowed halls of the PNG legislature to assist him.
Men like Sir Pita Lus and Sir John Guise who joined the first House of Assembly in 1964, Sir Julius Chan, Sir Paulias Arek, Sir Paul Lapun, Dame Josephine Abaijah, Sir Iambake Okuk, Sir Thomas Kavali, Sir Tei Abal, Sir Maori Kiki, Sir John Kaputin, Dr John Momis and a host of others too long to name.
With the able support and advice of brilliant young Papua New Guinea minds too many to name in this space the fledgling civil service was given the breadth of life.
Together, with Somare as team leader, Papua New Guinea’s multitude of tribes was stitched together using Sukarno’s catch cry “unity in diversity” from next door.
Together, with golfing partner and long-time friend Fiji’s Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and others, the Grand Chief helped pull together the members of the South Pacific Forum group.
Somare held his own on the global stage and was immediately identified with PNG and the Pacific.
He had his moments in journalism and his moments with journalists.
We have watched him closely and he returned the favor. They were jovial moments and tense ones.
He sent our good friend, the late Sean Dorney, packing back to his native Australia in 1984 I think it was and gave me a mighty whack once in Parliament in March 1987.
These were awkward but passing moments and we always made up with the Grand Chief later and had laughs about them.
It was all in a day’s work in a country that Somare helped found that has a vibrant democratic government, a functioning public service, an independent judiciary, a growing economy and media freedom the envy of many.
Who can ask for more?
We farewell our pioneer media man, our pioneer teacher, our first Chief Minister, our first Prime Minister and our beloved Papa.
God rest his soul.
Sir Rabbie cherishes close association with Grand Chief
GRAND chief late Sir Michael Somare was elected the first chief minister in 1972 and took Papua New Guinea to gain self-government from Australia in 1973.
Sir Rabbie Namaliu was on the academic staff of the University of PNG when he was invited by Sir Michael to join his personal staff as principal private secretary and head of the office of the Chief Minister in January 1974.
His deputy was Dame Meg Taylor who is soon to retire as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum.
“I was head of his office until he appointed me to serve as the provincial commissioner of East New Britain in January 1976 with the specific mandate of unifying our people under a new provincial government which we achieved in July 1976,” Sir Rabbie said.
Sir Michael came as prime minister to promulgate the new East New Britain provincial government in July 1976, the second to be established after the North Solomon provincial government (Bougainville).
“After Independence I was appointed head of the Public Services Commission as chairman. In 1982 I successfully contested the national elections as a Pangu candidate.
“He was our party leader and won a significant electoral victory. He immediately appointed me as Foreign Minister.
“After he lost office to Paias Wingti in 1985 I succeeded him as Opposition Leader and Pangu Pati Leader in May 1988.
“When I was elected Prime Minister in 1988 I had the honour of appointing him Foreign Minister, where he served with me until 1992.
“It was not until 2002 that he returned as prime minister and I was appointed Foreign Minister, and then Treasurer, serving until 2007.
“Throughout our long association, which pre-dates my joining his staff, we did not always agree.
“When you are in politics for 40 years disagreements with even your closest friend are inevitable.
“But overwhelmingly it was a privilege to serve with him and maintain a warm and genuine friendship until his sad passing,” he said. Sir Rabbie said the most important thing was guiding Papua New Guinea to Independence in September 1975.
“Our achievement of a peaceful and smooth Independence was largely due to the respect he gained and maintained on both sides of politics in Australia as Chief Minister,” he said.
Sir Rabbie said the founding father had a clear vision for the emerging young nation – a parliamentary democracy, and independent judiciary, securing the role of Her Majesty as Head of State, underpinned by a modern national constitution carefully constructed with wide community and other consultation.
“It needs to be remembered that there was not unanimous support for Independence when it arrived in our then House of Assembly, and indeed in the community.
“But he used his negotiating skills, and his personal leadership, with great effect to bring together a secure parliamentary majority to deliver stable government so necessary for Independence to be granted by Australia.
“It was not an easy task, far from it. But Independence was delivered hand in hand with national unity and stability. That has served us well ever since.
“It is and will remain a lasting tribute to the Grand Chief. He served the nation well for over 40 years. For that we must ever be grateful. If you look at his long record of service another standout was his capacity for forgiveness!
“The various coalitions he put together to firm stable national government is testament to that!
“I personally valued his enduring friendship, and his political support, even in difficult and divisive times,” Sir Rabbie said.
“ Young man, what do you think news conferences are for? You can ask questions!” – Sir Michael