By PAUL MINGA
I FORGOT to check the time on my mobile phone after I left the office of the first secretary for the Minister for Housing and Urbanisation, John Kaupa in the National Housing Corporation headquarters (NHC) at Tokarara on Tuesday, Feb 26.
After making my way out the office gate, I knew that I was left with about K15 from the morning figure of K19. I paused at the bus stop thinking, if I decided to travel Hohola way in trying to get to 4-Mile my desired route, then it would cost K2 for the PMV trip. In considering different points I’ll be covering that day, and the thought of refuelling myself with a few 50t flour balls, I wasn’t very happy to spend K2 on bus fare alone which seemed an unwise spending of a portion of my last funds.
After thinking about, the likely consequences that I would encounter if I were not considerate about my spending of limited funds, I decided to take a walk rather than getting on a PMV. I walked down to the Waigani intersection from NHC and turned right for to Vision City Mega Mall.
The sweat and heat from the walk on at midday was unbearable and I was in a rush to get inside the mall wishing to cool off. Enjoying the cool and refreshing atmosphere of the mall, I caught sight of former member for South Fly Gabia Gagarimabu.
I wouldn’t have recalled him but what has always reminded me of him had been a video clip by a Madang singer in which Gagarimabu was also featured. I wondered how I was going to approach him and was only staring at him as he passed by a few metres away.
He didn’t go far and was getting into a nearby shop and that happened to be my golden chance to approach him for his story. As he was going around the shop observing displayed items, I interrupted him and asked him if we could have a chat so I could write a story for Weekender.
If he were another man, someone who was not patient, I would have been scolded and told to get lost for being a nuisance. But since he was of a cool gentlemen, he agreed and we both agreed to find a better place to sit so that I could take notes. We found a decent place and here is the story of the ex-politician.
Gagarimabu, who is now aged 62, was born in a village called Sepe in South Fly, Western. Being specific about his origins origin, he said he hailed from Kiwai Island in the mouth of the Fly River where PNGs biggest river the Fly meets the ocean.
His wife died about two decades ago, leaving him behind with one daughter. From the latter marriages to three different women, he said he had three kids – two girls and one boy. He also said that he had six adopted kids which add to his own four kids to make 10 in total.
He started his primary education in his village and went on to Daru High School to do grades seven to 10. After the successful completion of his high school studies, he was sent to the then Port Moresby Teachers College for a community school teacher training from 1972 to 1973.
After being in the field teaching for some years as a community school teacher, he then decided to do matriculation studies at UPNG and went on to the then Goroka Teachers College for high school teacher training. After his two years of studies, he graduated and became a high school teacher and taught for some years and then resigned in 1986.
During 1987 national election, he contested as an independent candidate for the South Fly Open and was third runner-up. Five years later after his first attempt, he recontested the elections again and was second runner-up. After the two elections of 1987 and 1992 Gabia wanted to impress his South Fly people in taking the lead of the landowners’ outstanding issues and grievances that the Ok Tedi Mine was not addressing.
Since the landowners issue was of paramount importance, he said he acted on behalf of his South Fly people in taking up the role of principal plaintiff with the help of a Melbourne litigation group for a case against the Ok Tedi Mine. He said their first court case between Ok Tedi and his people had gone on for about three years from 1994 to 1996, which he said they (landowners) have at least won.
However, the second court case, he said, they also had won, but, the legal battle had been fought for many years, from 1997 to 2003 and eventually the ruling was made in their favour in 2003. Having stepped in as the mouthpiece of his people for the two major legal battles against the multi-billion kina Ok Tedi Mine made his people coming to their senses that he could do something far better as a politician, and so they got him elected as the Member for South Fly in the 1997 election.
During his term in office as a national politician, he was at one stage appointed Police Minister for a period of six weeks in the then Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta’s cabinet.
However, the former South Fly MP and national politician said, “I thought that I would be very rich and have millions in my account once I’m elected into Parliament but that wasn’t so. What I was given and what I was entitled to were not enough to make rich as I was predicting.”
He further added that if he had diverted the electorate’s funds to his personal use, he would not be roaming the streets as he was doing now.
“But I’m glad; what I had done was morally right in both men’s and God’s eyes as all of us are bound to die, and then will face judgement. If I had used a million or two of the people’s money, then what am I going to say on judgement day?”
“Now as an ex-politician I am receiving more than K1,000 as pension on a fortnightly basis which is more than enough to budget for my daily life.”
The pension for ex-MPs at first was about K250 per fortnight, but over time it gradually increased to the current K1,000.
- Paul Minga is a freelance writer.