The National, Monday November 16th, 2015
CHIEF Electoral Commissioner Sir Andrew Trawen called it a day last Friday after 41 years of distinguished service to Papua New Guinea.
He had been part of every general election since independence and took charge of the last two elections in 2007 and 2012.
Trawen joined the commission as a young trainee electoral officer in 1974 – the year before PNG gained political independence from Australia – and worked his way up the ladder to become one of the country’s most revered public servants.
He was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June this year and was knighted by acting Governor-General Theodore Zurenuoc on November 5 at Government House in Port Moresby.
Sir Andrew departed with reservations about the meager K10 million that was allocated in 2016 National Budget for the commission.
With 16 months left before the writs for the 2017 general elections are issued, he expressed grave concern about the lack of funding for the Electoral Roll improvement and update project, which is an essential activity in the commission’s preparation agenda.
Renowned for his humility and ability to deal with such situations, Sir Andrew urged his election managers last week to work within its means.
“This amount of funding will definitely and seriously affect the implementation of our planned activities for 2017. This is a matter of extreme concern and it seems the National Government is not serious about funding elections,” he told the managers at their final quarter workshop to prepare for the rollout next year.
Part of the workshop covered the 2017 general election plan, tentative election dates, implementation schedule and awareness for voters.
It was also Sir Andrew’s final engagement as Electoral Commissioner and despite his concern about the lack of funds he has left the commission in good stead with senior officers and staff who are capable of implementing the election agenda.
His successor, Patilias Gamato, was immediately appointed on Friday for a six-year term with the Government expressing confidence that he will successfully take charge of the 2017 elections. Gamato is not new to the Electoral Commission, having served under Sir Andrew before being appointed as Morobe provincial administrator for a relatively brief term. But he will have huge shoes to fill.
Indeed, Sir Andrew’s service and achievements are second to none. He has left a legacy that will be long remembered.
One of his latest achievements is the Trawen Information Resource Centre, which provides a wide range of election awareness information, including history of elections in PNG, rolls updates as well as the role and function of the commission. These can be accessed on the website, brochures, newsletters and information resource available at the centre.
Chief Secretary Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc said in his farewell tribute that Sir Andrew’s biggest asset was his humility and ability to communicate with all concerned.
“As the head of the Public Service, I want to thank Sir Andrew for all he has done for the country, as an officer of the commission and later as the Chief Electoral Commissioner. Thank you for the 41 years, especially for the public service, particularly the Provincial and Local Level Government.”
Moreover, Sir Andrew had been through the thick and thin with the only government organization he has worked with.
The 2002 general elections were widely rated the worst in PNG’s relatively brief political history. There were grave concerns throughout the country that foul play had marred the elections.
As the chief secretary said, “Since independence, we were losing the credibility with elections and 2002 was the worst one.”
Sir Manasupe said after Sir Andrew’s appointment as commissioner, he went about with a sense of urgency to improve the Common Roll and the law governing election in a bid to deliver and improve elections.
“Sir Andrew was in charge of the 2007 and 2012 elections and he has done a very good job. I think the election of 2012 was the best run since Independence. As the Chief Secretary during the elections in 2012, I know that it was the best run.”
Sir Andrew is credited with introducing the concept of elections steering committee at the provincial and national levels. The committees comprise of secretaries whose departments are involved with the election process.