By Rev SEIK PITOI
The computer room was manned by just a handful of operators.
There were two shifts that ran in the mornings and evenings. Only on payroll processing nights were the operators required to stay over until morning.
Catering, at that time for around seventy to eighty thousand public servants nationwide, the Finance payroll was the biggest of the payrolls to be processed. There was no cash involved, just the printing of cheques, cash slips, bank analysis and other payroll related stationery.
The operators were responsible for over two million kina worth of computer hardware and they made sure the equipment was working in top shape every day.
These were in the days of huge washing machine-like disc drives that ran 640 megabyte discs on one machine, and read data off massive magnetic tape drives. The hardware was mainly International Computers Limited (ICL) machinery.
The office under discussion was the National Computer Centre (NCC). Formerly under the Public Service Commission, it was relocated to the Department of Finance when the author began working there in the 1980s.
The staff members were from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and PNG. It was a close knit ‘family’ that saw programmers, systems analysts, technicians, data entry operators and computer operators all chip in to see the day to day operations were taken care of.
Most of the training was conducted in-house, but certain programmes saw the staff travel to various overseas countries for training or conferences. The author was fortunate enough to have attended such training in Australia, Samoa, Singapore and Israel.
All the memories of 30-plus years ago came flooding back to me recently when I came across an old photo of the NCC staff from sometime back in the mid-1980s. It was taken at the back of our office, which was on the ground floor of the CGO building, Waigani Government office complex.
I immediately noticed familiar faces. Our general manager was Dick Arrowsmith from the UK and the finance systems analyst was Dane Murdoch, a fiery Scotsman who liked to start off the day with a good argument with someone, but then bring humour with his jokes about Scottish quilts!
His favourite sentence in Motu was “komulao” (go and hide). My immediate boss was Bob Brown, computer operations manager, and I was his deputy/understudy. The ops supervisor was Morea Baru and the shifts were led by HehuniDairi and David Maino, while Silafa Enai led our data entry team. Our admin officer was Raga Ragagalo.
Having mostly Englishmen on staff, it was not a surprise that our social evenings began with a soccer match. Our usual rivals were the Education Department computer team and our games venue was the Admin College oval. As players sweated on the field to score goals, some of our expat friends would kick start at the sideline with beer, cheering noisily even if we lost! The game was usually followed by a few more drinks and those who felt like continuing would end up at someone’s house for more. Expats and nationals alike all treated each other with respect, hence the enjoyable atmosphere of working at NCC.
About a month ago, I met another senior data controller at that time, Koavea Karulaka. KK, as we knew him, was a representative on the PNG volleyball team to the South Pacific Games and is currently the coach of the national team.
KK, like me, has moved on in life to now serve God. He and his wife are deacons in their local Tokarara United Church congregation.
In our recent meeting, we talked about the good old days at NCC. As shift operators working on night shifts, we would drink a lot.
One time, when driving home after a long night of work and drinking, we almost ran off the road at Taurama Barracks roundabout. As the car started tipping, we both called out the name of the Lord Jesus! The car immediately came back down to its four wheels and we proceeded on as normal.
We drove all the way home, completely sober! We realised that God had given us a second chance because He had a call upon our lives!
As we moved on to the “where are they now” part of our conversation, we realised that we have lost some of our NCC family. As far as we know, we have lost Mary Laki, Anna Augerea and recently, Numa Gege.
We thought back to these lovely sisters who we worked with every day, met their husbands and kids, and were like family. Sadly, time moves on and life goes on!
As I reminisced over those past years, I began to ask myself if I had been a blessing to someone in my place of work.
Naturally, as a manager, I assisted my subordinates in relation to work. But after hours, being a heavy drinker, I would take the boys to hotels and pubs and carry on the whole weekend.
For the young trainee operators straight out from high school, this was a ‘baptism of fire’ so to speak.
That was certainly not the type of example a boss should be setting for his officers. I sometimes feel embarrassed when I think of how I behaved.
However, I soon had my conversion experience. I surrendered my life to Christ at a crusade organised by late Rev Sione Kami and the Boroko United Church, and turned over a new leaf.
That change in me influenced many of my friends and work mates. I am pleased to say by the time I resigned and left the public service in 2002, I had led nearly a dozen of my colleagues to faith in Christ. I’m glad I was able to make up for my bad influence before I left!
Truly, time flies and waits for no man. Man is here today, and gone tomorrow.
Life is lived once, hence we have the opportunity to live it and enjoy it to the fullest each day.
Precious time is wasted in our work places by petty jealousies and office politics where people will even plot to destroy each other for the want of that promotion.
All that pales into insignificance when we approach the throne of God. There’s a better way; to treat each other with respect and consider your office workmates as ‘family’.
Then, 30 something years later, you can look back fondly to those great times you had together.
In conclusion, for our sisters and those who have passed on to glory, may their memories be blessed forever. To those still doing the hard yards today, may the Lord’s grace keep each one and their families, in His hands.
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.