By KELLY KULOI
ON Nov 16, a leader and elder of the Kuase Tribe from remote Lower Jimi, Jiwaka Thomson Ingok Kuloi received one of PNG’s highest honours, the Logohu Medal, for Services to Local Level Governments (LLG).
It was one of the proudest moments in Kuloi’s life and celebrated not just by his tribe but the whole of Jimi electorate as a remarkable achievement.
Though ranking higher, the National Logohu Medal was not his first award in recognition for services to LLG’s, but his second, the first being a Western Highlands Provincial Government Anniversary Medal, also awarded for services to LLG.
After the fanfare at the Investiture Ceremony at Government House had died down, the Chief turned to me and asked rather innocently: “Son, is this all I get? I thought the Government would also be paying me some sort of retirement pay for all those years I worked for nothing.”
I was heartbroken as a lump formed in my throat. What do I tell a simple villager who had dedicated 42 years of his life as a Village Councillor and who came with high hopes that he was only getting a medal and nothing else?
You see, what the citation for the award inconveniently left out was that Chief Thomson Ingok Kuloi is one of the longest serving public servants in the country, first appointed directly by the then District Commissioner for Jimi, a Mr Brown, in 1966 on behalf of the Australian Colonial Administration as the Village Councillor for the Kuase Tribe.
He held that post from 1966 to 2008, getting re-elected again and again because of his leadership qualities. During his tenure he held a number of high profile positions at both the provincial (pre and post Jiwaka Province) and local level, his last position being the Peace & Good Order Committee Chairman for the Lower Jimi Interim LLG from 2008 to 2013, a post held after he lost his position as Village Councillor.
Kuloi brought many services to his area of Lower Jimi and Council Ward during his 42 years of distinguished service, from establishing the only road and bridge link to Lower Jimi, road link to his village Kompiai, and the establishment of a Church, Aid Post and Primary School also in his village.
The last feather in his remarkable career cap was having a hand in the establishment of Lower Jimi’s own LLG (Koinambe) only a few years ago.
Furthermore, his services as a public servant and Village Councillor serving the people for 42 years was carried out with little or no pay at all.
In light of this, what the Logohu Medal’s citation should have rightly read was: “For Distinguished Services to LLG for 42 years With Very Little or No Pay”.
Kuloi raised the question of a “final pay”, because from 1966 to 1975 during the Australian Colonial Administration he worked for no pay or allowance.
He was then started off with a monthly allowance of K6 in 1977 with no sitting or meeting allowance. This was increased to K10, K20, K50 and then K100 per month in 2002. After being defeated in 2008 and retiring, he never received any retirement benefit for providing 42 years of exemplary LLG service to the State.
As a simple villager, what he wanted more than the medal was a little “oil and salt” money to look after his basic needs in his old age. As far as he’s concerned now, he remains uncompensated for his services to the State. Comparing what the Chief got (or didn’t get) to what our MPs get today, who can blame him for thinking this way?
After all, they both serve the same purpose, being conduits of Government service, democratically elected by their people to represent them and facilitate service delivery; besides, one has to agree that at the end of day, honest work does require honest compensation.
If and when the Government does decide to recognise leaders like Chief Kuloi with monetary compensation while they’re still alive, the sad undisputed fact will remain that so many others like him, who dedicated the better part of their lives with little or no pay to serving the State as public servants and assisting in nation building from the colonial days have passed on quietly and been forgotten in time, neglected by a Nation they loved and served with passion.
I pray Chief Kuloi does not follow the same path, and that someone reading this has authority or is in a position to respond to his query in an official capacity.
- The writer is a nephew of the Logohu Medal recipient.