The Morobe experience exposed


AMBASSADOR Utula Samana, now deceased, was born of a Finschhafen father and a Morobe mother. This parentage endeared him to both side of the great Morobe Divide – that is to say on either side of the Markham fault line.
He went to Bugandi High School in Lae and after year 10 went on to study political science at the University of PNG. There he became quickly embroiled in radical student politics, leaning to the left with other notables such as Paias Wingti and Daniel Kapi. The same group would emerge later on the national political scene but with the radical thoughts somewhat tempered. Upon graduation Samana was engaged for a time in the National Planning office.
This first employment was to prepare him for his later work in his home province as the provincial planner.
His radical attitudes towards the administration would make this next employment short lived, not the least because the man in charge was the no-nonsense former District Commissioner, the late Jerry Nalau, himself also a son of Finschaffen. After Independence, Nalau was District Commissioner in Madang and in 1977 he was appointed Secretary to the Department of Morobe. Samana joined his staff as the provincial planner a year later.
During an official visit by the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, Dr Kusumatmajar, a group calling itself black activists led by the late Sir William Skate, then a student at the University of Technology who went on to become Prime Minister, staged a protest march in support of Independence for West Papua. Prominent among their membership was the Provincial Planner Utula Samana.
Police commander at the scene, Leo Dion (now three-time governor of East New Britain) was directed by Nalau to arrest Skate and Samana and other ring leaders and to disperse the unruly protestors. The late Sir William got a literal boot for his pants.
The Indonesian Foreign Minister was a guest of the State and all state agents were to be engaged in making him welcome. As provincial planner, Samana was a senior agent of the State and he was acting intolerably and in utter defiance of authority. Nalau, a loyal civil servant whose loyalty had been molded in the scalding fires of colonialism, would not have it. The resulting action led to the sacking of Samana. That set the two men from beautiful Finschaffen at odds with each other, a rivalry that was to continue for a lifetime.
Samana seethed but bid his time and at the first Morobe Provincial Government elections in 1980 stood for Lae West. Incidentally, Nalau also resigned his position to stand for the same seat and got soundly trounced by Samana, a pay back the latter relished.
The rivalry that began between the two then became a permanent feature of Morobe politics and in many ways, shaped it, for good or for worse.
Samana became the first elected premier of Morobe after that first election.
As a planner, Samana had been privy to the enormous task ahead of any government trying to allocate limited resources to service a vast majority in isolated pockets across a massive landscape. His task was made doubly hard because of the inaccessible terrain, the size of the province and the extensive coast line and outer islands.
The seven good years
Of benefit too was the fact that he had also been privy to the first two bus kivungs at Bosadi and Gurukor and had heard firsthand the very real needs and concerns of the people.
Samana reasoned that of the myriad needs of the people accessibility was paramount. If the Government could provide transport infrastructure, the people’s own resourcefulness would take care of their livelihood.
With a single mindedness bordering on dictatorship Samana began a programme of extensive road construction, rehabilitation and/or building of wharves and jetties in maritime districts and airstrips in far-flung inland locations of the province.
Such was the popularity of his programme that when he effected a change in the provincial constitution to provide for the premier to be elected by the people at the provincial ballot, he was elected for a second term by a landslide win in 1984.
Nalau contested Samana’s old seat in the same elections and won but he could only be relegated to the Opposition benches in a Tutumang whereas his former underling now sat in the chief executive’s chair.
His planning background made Samana a stickler for planning documents. He set in motion a system of five-year development plans modeled upon the National Public Expenditure Plan with one difference: In the Morobe case such plans were the outcome of meticulous annual consultations with the rural population in the bus kivungs. The NPEP, on the other hand, was the work of Port Moresby-based public servants.
In the first five-year development plan, the Tuam Declaration, emphasis was put on rural development.
In all a total K34, 457, 045 was received as revenue by the provincial government between 1981 and 1984. Of this internal provincial revenue sources contributed K14, 562, 027, a substantial amount even by today’s standards.
Total expenditure between 1981 and 1983 equaled K30,785, 365. Of this K20,871,262 or about 68 per cent was spent in the rural areas on works, transport and communication infrastructure. Works took the bulk of this expenditure of K11.8 million while transport and communication cost K7.91 million. The maintenance appropriation, an expenditure item that is mostly neglected at national and provincial levels today also came in very high during this period at K4.41 million.
The provincial government spent only K1,927,559 to promote economic development. This expenditure was directed at programmes and projects that had the capacity to double or triple internal revenue sources.
Notable projects under Samana
Among notable economic projects initiated at the time were the Yalu, Bewampi, Wawin and the Garaina tea estate.
Notable infrastructure projects under the Samana administration included Bulolo-Aseki road, Leron-Wantoat road, Finschhafen-Pindiu road, Wasu-Kabwum road, and Morobe-Gobe-Garaina road. This single minded drive came about as a result of a national transport assessment on accessibility per head of population which put Morobe at 28 per cent, far less than smaller Madang which had 48 per cent of its population with access to vehicular traffic.
Under the Samana regime high schools were built in Menyamya, Markham, Wau and Wasu.
Following a comprehensive review of the Tuam (I) Declaration objectives, the Samana administration in its second term adopted the Tuam 2 Declaration for a five year planning period with a significant shift in emphasis.
It is very well to concentrate on big infrastructure projects but without the inflow of revenue from economic projects such infrastructure projects could not be continued or maintained.
The 1986 to 1990 plan, therefore, called for increased spending and emphasis on socio-economic growth and further decentralisation of powers to the lower level community governments.
A subsistence agriculture training institute was established at Wawin and priority was given to establish small scale industries within the Lae area through Kum-Gie Pty Ltd with support from the German Han Seidel Foundation.
Only 3 per cent of budget expenditure was to go to maintaining education and health infrastructure.
The emphasis on infrastructure and later on economic development with further decentralisation of power to the community levels seemed to energise the people. They moved from a period of lethargic hand-to-mouth existence to a population that was mobilised and goal-driven.
The trick, Utula Samana told me once, was planning and budgeting. “We had a plan and we had a budget to support the plan.
“We took stock of the state of development in Morobe and developed our plans to tackle the biggest needs at that time. Those needs were education, health, agriculture and transport which depended on infrastructure.
“We also planned and budgeted within our means. We had to take responsibility for our development into our own hand. We could not depend on any handouts from the outside. From the very start we mobilizsed our resources from within.”
In planning expenditure on infrastructure the administration allocated 75 per cent on maintenance and 25 per cent on new projects. This was calculated on the basis that as you build more, your maintenance component of cost rises and that it is cheaper in the long run to maintain than to spend on new projects.
Part of the success of this period depended on a number of innovative legislative changes at the provincial level.
Morobe enacted a Community Government Act complete with district planning and budget priorities committees 10 years before the concept was adopted almost wholesale by Parliament for national application in the provincial and local level government reforms of 1995.
The administration also devised and introduced a head tax system which was abolished after the Samana years but about which the debate is on-going today for nationwide application.
Local development was placed in the hands of the community government headed by community government governors. Head tax was collected by councilors on the basis that for every project, 25 per cent of costs must be met by the community it was meant to benefit. Of the money collected 90 per cent was deposited in a village pass book account and 10 per cent went to the council for administrative costs. Community government governors were not paid a salary.
It was the glory years of Morobe. Morobe became a model provincial government. The decentralisation concept and all it boded seemed to work here. Development and delivery of goods and services was conducted at a higher rate of efficiency than elsewhere.
Moreover, it was purpose-driven. Government was enjoyed at the lowest level outside the family unit and that was done without too big an expense or a demand upon the provincial or national purse. The community was paying for its upkeep and most importantly they appreciated the concept.
For a time, however brief, the full dream of the constitutional fathers for a provincial government system came to flower in the biggest province in PNG. The magic seemed to spread to Manus, Bougainville, East New Britain and the Western Highlands where the provincial government system seemed to catch hold for a time.
In Morobe, seven years seemed long enough and the success story was there for all to see. Then national politics took over and the beacon of provincial governments was extinguished. That moment in the sun is cherished still by the man then at the helm.
“It was politically my hey days,” Samana said. “When I became a national politician, I became more frustrated.”
The fire is extinguished
Morobe’s history might have been different had the political stability ushered in by Samana remained and especially had Samana himself remained in that system of government to guide it through.
Alas, it was not to be. The blossoming flower was quashed underfoot by the trampling of so many feet in the rush for political glory.
Glowing from the success of two terms as premier, Samana had bigger plans. If it could be done at the provincial level, it could be done at the national level, he reckoned. He resigned as premier before the 1987 national elections to run for office in the National Parliament.
His success at the provincial level also engineered him to an impressive national election victory.
But with that decision the man who lit the beacon for the success of provincial governments in PNG extinguished the light himself for his province and tragically for himself as well.
As a provincial politician Samana had led the Morobe Independent Group (MIG). When he resigned he chose to change the name to Morobe United Front (MUF). Both names were wrong, he learnt quickly enough. He needed more than just his Morobeans to make impact at the national level and after the elections he abandoned MUF and joined the National Party ranks.
Sadly, Samana’s moment in the sun was gone. Brilliant strategist though he was and a workaholic and a slave master, the magic that worked for him in Morobe seemed gone from his wand.
Although he made valiant efforts in whatever position he was put into, his impact and effectiveness was diluted. He could not and did not get the full backing and support of a willing national public service as he did at the provincial level. The difference is clear. The provincial public service was conversant with the aims and goals of the Morobe political administration because the public service was fully involved in the bus kivungs. The political and administrative machinery moved in tandem with each other because both had agreed to and set common goals and understood a common path to their attainment.
At the national scene, Samana was held by the civil service to be one more politician, albeit a bright and purposeful one, but still another one of many who would come and go. The national public service had its own standing orders under the all-powerful Public Service Management Act and its bible manual, the Public Service General Orders.
Public servants had powerful allies in the Public Services Commission and in the Public Employees Association. By the law the public servant could not be touched by political edict and act. The public service, the implementers of political policies and directives remained outside political influence. The same went for Samana’s Morobe civil servants but where in the provincial instance the political and bureaucratic machinery shared a common goal and purpose, at the national scene common purposes were less clear and the way to them often divergent and confusing.
Most tragic of all, Samana’s seven good years in Morobe were followed by seven horrendously bad years.
Next: The seven bad years

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