By HELEN TARAWA
William Dihm, the youngest Papua New Guinean to be appointed as a departmental head at the age of 32 in 1985, clocked 40 years of service to the Government last year before calling it a day.
Last week, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Rimbink Pato, the management and staff hosted a luncheon to acknowledge his contribution to the country.
Pato said the former acting secretary was an inspiration to many of the foreign service officers and the public servants.
“I want to pay special tribute to his wife, Alice, children and family who have been a tremendous support throughout his diplomatic career. Alice was chairlady of the Diplomatic Spouse group in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2013. She also assisted the department in briefing spouses of heads of missions overseas,” Pato said.
“This occasion to farewell you is not and end but the beginning of a new encounter and you will have all the time to help us when we need it.
“Thank you for the great service that you have given to our nation and I wish you a happy retirement.”
Acting secretary Barbara Age said Dihm’s retirement was symbolic of a change in the guard as there were many senior colleagues’ current and former colleagues who will soon retire from long and distinguished careers in the foreign service.
“You are as good as the people you work with, and I’d like to say my colleagues and I have been honored and privileged to have served under his leadership in the department and each have contributed to the many achievements of the great man,” Age said.
Dihm, from Vabukori in the National Capital District, began his career in the public service in 1977 after he was posted as first secretary and also served as charged affairs to the PNG Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, for three years.
He worked as deputy secretary in the department from 1980 to 1985 and then created history as the youngest serving secretary in 1985 at the age of 32. Altogether he served 23 years as department head, 10 of those years as head of foreign affairs.
Dihm served as secretary for five years then served as Personnel Management secretary, adviser to the Department of Prime Minister and the National Executive Council, chief secretary, director of the National Coordination Office of Bougainville Affairs, and high commissioner to New Zealand between 2009 and 2013.
He contributed to shaping the foreign policy, strategic policy development, modernising and strengthening institutional capacity, including foreign service training.
“My life has been bound up with foreign affairs in the last 40 years. In the last three months prior to retirement, I had to cut the link and start thinking about matters other than foreign affairs,” Dihm said.
“I have to take the minister’s words seriously. I will keep thinking globally but act locally or village now.”
He decided a year ago that he would retire so he could spend more time with his family and enjoy village life.
I leave with a lot of mixed feelings I’m really happy to start a new journey with my family and we are happy to be together as a family,” he said.
“I’m sad to leave such a wonderful group of people in the department and memories of some great work we have accomplished together.
“There are a few words that describe my journey and the journey of the Department of Foreign Affairs – Passion and Patriotism.
“Passion to get PNG ahead and at a personal level, we all want to get ahead in life for ourselves and for our families.
“I emphasise this word patriotism because in this day and age, that word has faded away, no longer a popular word. But I’m one of those old time leaders, who believes in patriotism.”
Dihm said the department’s purpose was to give PNG a voice and choice on the international stage.
“I believe the department has strongly embraced this concept. It wants to do the best for our nation, to stand up and speak out on issues that are important for our development and our prosperity,” he said.
“I have many memories of working in foreign affairs over the last 40 years.
“The thing that has given me a great deal of satisfaction is to see young people, foreign service officers, being able to go to the international forum and be able to speak for their country with competence, confidence, and with creativity. I would like to see that kind of practice continue on in the years to come.
“The second thing that I have a lot of passion for is the foreign service training programme.
“In the 1980s, we first started a programme at Wollongong University at the masters level with the support of the Australian government and I remember I had to make a call to former (foreign) minister Gareth Evans out of a departmental Christmas party to request that he make a decision on funding that programme.
“He was willing to do that. We were able to get that programme up and running.
“In 2013, we established a similar thing but for foreign service officers with the New Zealand government.
“I thank Minister Pato for choosing me to serve the government for four and a half years. It’s been an incredible journey serving the department and nation as departmental head.
“I thank him in a special way for giving me time off on Sabbath, so I don’t work on Sabbath. Sabbath is not for Seventh-Day Adventists only, the seventh-day Sabbath was created by God for all humanity.
“I hope one day all of us will be able to take time off on Sabbath to rest, refresh and worship God.
“I also thank the Senior Management Team (SMT). Its been a wonderful experience working with each SMT member. They are very talented people, with a great deal of skill and experience in the department. I believe that we are adequately prepared to make a mark in hosting Apec this year.
“I urge all staff to continue to support the minister, acting secretary Barbara Age and SMT. Working together and supporting each other is the only way to remain a successful department.
“I thank my family. They share my values, pride, passion and patriotism for our country when I served abroad.
“I thank the minister for acknowledging my wife’s contribution to the department. She’s a fast learner and with no previous experience in diplomatic work, but was able to carry out her responsibility well in the diplomatic community.
“Thank everyone for your friendship and support, and for all your efforts for the department and our nation. The values that we share and the ground work that we have put together must continue to grow and excel in future years.”
There were many other achievements for Dihm but after four and half years as acting secretary, he leaves behind a legacy which includes the 100 newly trained cohorts under the foreign service training programme with the New Zealand government, Victoria University in particular, and the completion of the foreign policy review report as well as the review of the Foreign Service Handbook and the development of the Diplomatic Consular Handbook.
In recognition of his services, Dihm was awarded, Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1990, Office of Logohu (OL) in 2006 and Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2016.
By HELEN TARAWA