Story and pictures by THOMAS HUKAHU
THE idyllic and peaceful town of Kavieng, in New Ireland, witnessed something historic last Friday as thousands of residents, locals from surrounding villages and islands and from the south in Namatanai gathered to witness the opening of the province’s official government residence.
The occasion was made more eventful by the presence of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, some government ministers and MPs, a number of departmental heads as well as Governor Sir Julius Chan, the province’s MPs and other local leaders.
The occasion was an opportunity also for the provincial leaders to once again raise with O’Neill their wish for autonomy.
The day was declared a provincial public holiday and school students, teachers, church congregations and members of the public started proceedings with the national anthem being sung and the national pledge said. The choir that led the singing was in fact composed of more than 100 voices from students and church groups.
The house is historic
As I stood there and gazed at the two-storey building and the crowds I realised that the building was historic.
And some of these questions were passing through my mind:
How many provinces in Papua New Guinea have a provincial official residence where visiting delegates can be accommodated while discussing projects or aspects of interests with provincial leaders?
How many provinces in PNG have facilities like that in repair and in good shape?
Speaking on that opening day, Sir Julius said the house did not belong to him, it belonged to the people of the province and would be used to accommodate
He made it clear that he had his own “small house” to live in.
He said the residence was the haus boi (meeting house) of the provincial government leaders and visiting delegates and the guests accommodated there.
“If the Prime Minister of Australia comes, he can live in this house,” Sir Julius said.
He also extended the invitation to local leaders who may find their place of residence a bit too stressful and want to get out to breathe easy in a much more peaceful place.
“Here in New Ireland, it is a peaceful place – not like other provinces,” Sir Julius said.
The call for autonomy
After the anthem, some songs and performances by local groups, the first speech was made by former New Ireland Premier Pedi Anis who gave a brief rundown on the history of the call for autonomy by the province.
He said the call for autonomy was not something new – former leaders had fought for it and many of them have passed on over the decades. They died while pursuing the realisation of that dream.
Anis said in 1964 the province demanded autonomy from the colonial government of Australia and that call was not heeded.
He said autonomy would be the way forward for any province or state who wished to take care of itself.
“The way to strengthen and stabilise states or provinces is through substantial decentralisation. Let them look after themselves and not live by the dependency syndrome,” Anis said.
He said running to the national government for everything prevented states or provinces from standing on their own feet – and as a result people continue to live as beggars.
Autonomy will unite
Sir Julius pointed out to O’Neill that autonomy would not divide the nation but strengthen and unite it.
He assured O’Neill that the province would continue to support the Government all the way.
On Thursday in Namatanai, O’Neill had assured the people of New Ireland that the Government under his leadership would work towards granting the province its autonomy.
“Prime Minister, you have nothing to fear – we will stand by you,” Sir Julius said to O’Neill.
“I think independence will not do anybody any good.
“The world is getting smaller and all around the world people are coming together to form united nations and groups because they want unity, and we will be doing the wrong thing if we start to go a different way.”
He urged Bougainville and other provinces to get autonomy but to remain part of PNG.
“Get autonomy – get maximum power that you want but please don’t let go of me. Let’s stay together,” Sir Julius said.
Autonomy will be granted
When O’Neill took the podium to speak, he again assured the province and Sir Julius that autonomy would be granted.
“New Ireland continues to lead the country in many initiatives – many policies and many programmes that you are now implementing under the leadership of your governor.”
O’Neill was accompanied by a number of ministers and secretaries as well as two former prime ministers, Sir Rabbie Namaliu and Western Highlands Governor Paias Wingti.
He commended some of the policies that New Ireland had drawn up and implemented.
“We have some of the most progressive policies here in New Ireland – like free education, like looking after the disabled and the elderly in our society. These are very progressive policies – social policies that will continue to benefit our people.
“We are adopting some of them at the national level.”
Towards the end of his speech, O’Neill assured the people of New Ireland and their leaders that the Government would grant the province autonomy before the current term of Parliament ended.
O’Neill said he would do his best to effect that before Sir Julius, the last founding father to remain in politics, retired.
He also promised to work with the departments responsible and have the Boluminski Highway sealed before the end of the year, improve the road on the West Coast, extend the Kavieng Airport as well as build a new airport terminal.
New Ireland set for future
The new house and the assurance of autonomy being granted by the current government were the interesting topics of the day for New Irelanders last week.
A few people have raised the issue on whether the house and the autonomy call were genuine.
Personally, I do not know, but the events are historic nonetheless.
The province is in fact leading in those aspects and other provinces ought to learn and work in improving their provincial utilities and facilities and make services accessible to locals and visitors as well.
Sir Julius also briefly mentioned other projects he had in mind for New Ireland, including setting up a provincial headquarters building, building a transit house for islanders passing through Kavieng to access services, developing the market as well as the West Coast road.
- The author is a freelance writer