Narokobi On Tainted Leadership

By Emmanuel Narokobi

I found this interview of my Uncle on the net when I was searching for some of his papers. So I thought I’d post it on my blog as part of my personal records but then since the subject is about something as public as political leadership maybe others may find it interesting as a point of reflection from the late 90’s and whether today our leaders have changed, and if so in what ways.

Interview with Bernard Narokobi by Pat Matbob
Published in the Post-Courier Weekend Magazine

Never before in Papua New Guinea’s history has there been so much controversy and concern over the behaviour and conduct of our leaders as in recent times. While attempts are made to dismiss much of this as just ‘dirty politics’ the situation cannot be taken lightly – indeed there’s no smoke without fire! Opposition Leader, Hon. Bernard Narokobi who has been focal on leadeership issues shares his fiews with Pat Matbob.

PAT MATBOB: Why do you think politicians in PNG generally have a bad name?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: I believe there are three main reasons. (i) Many of the men who now hold political office do not come from leadership backgrounds. They are not sons of chiefs, or respectable leaders who have over the generations been seasoned and conditioned to public and private behaviour. The process of election does not always produce the type of people who have emerged over time with those characteristics of quality leadership. First-past-the-post system does not necessarily produce leaders who are acceptable to the community. (ii) The behaviour of the leaders themselves. By our own conduct, by what we do and what we say, we generate certain amount of feeling for or against ourselves. Drinking, womanising, loose talk, way we live, we tend to live above our means, we pretend to be a big man, own big cars, big houses, most of the time under very heavy mortgages, very heavy loans. (iii) People’s expectations and the demands they tend to place on their elected leaders through what has become known as the handout mentality, through what has become known as discretionary funds. Many people see Members of Parliament not as legitimate leaders, as people they can relate to, and have decent human relationships with, but as some object through which they can acquire property. They tend to see MPs as some objects from whom they can get money, favours and support. Level of expectations are very high and the pressure placed on MPs are so enormous some of them succumb to the pressure. People’s expectations and demands on leaders do not create a healthy, friendly relationship of mutual love, but an unhealthy relationship of superior/inferior, master/servant, dominant/dominated relationship. Roles we ascribe to one another, creates this environment and conditions which are counterproductive to reputation and relationship that is one of respect, reverence, trust and confidence.

If, for instance, someone asked me for a chainsaw costing K3000 to K5000 and I say, sorry, there are no funds available. If he was my supporter, he will say next time I won’t support you. If he was not my supporter he will say because I did not support him, he is not helping me. Either way you’re in trouble.

PAT MATBOB: Over the years you would have faced many such situations as you have just mentioned. How do you handle such requests?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: The way I handle it is this. If the request is genuine and I have the money, I help. I don’t ask questions. I don’t complain. If there is no money or if there is money but the request comes outside my perception of what is right, what is good, then I simply say sorry. For instance, if someone asks for a coffin. If he is not a public figure, then I will simply say no. If I had K50 or K20 out of my own pocket, I would give and explain that, I’m sorry the government does not fund items like this but this is a personal contribution. It is good to be honest and straight with them.

PAT MATBOB: Should there be a stricter way, apart from the Leadership Code, to ensure our leaders behave in a way that’s fitting ot the high office and responsibilities entrusted to them?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: I think so. I think we have allowed far too much mischief which does not amount to criminal behaviour, but what we might call mischief to go on unchecked. For instance, a leader who gets drunk every weekend, or gets drunk and beats up his wife, or who gets drunk and urinates in public places, or uses every four letter words you can imagine. This type of people might be excused criminally, but they really don’t deserve to be leaders. A system must exist to eliminate people like this. And the Ombudsman and the leadership code about misconduct in office or demeaning public office, those concepts were designed to catch people like this. But over the years, the Ombudsman has become more legalistic, more technical, and is looking more to criminal offences, actually proving criminal offences, like fraud, bribery, corruption before they can take any actions. But that was not what the constitutional planning committee and the founding fathers of the constitution envisaged. They envisaged that if a leader was fooling around with so many women and not contributing effectively to his office, on the account of his personal behaviour, that ought to be sufficient f or him to be terminated from his office as a leader. I think the organisations themselves, the political parties must have discipline over the member. It is not simply a matter of I am not guilty, and you prove that I’m guilty. It is not a matter of criminal behaviour, it is a matter of public perception of what a good leader is or ought to be. He should be decent, clean living, living within our means, not borrowing money from people everywhere, begging people everywhere, marrying women all over the place, dropping children here, there and everywhere. And I think the organisations that MPs belong to – the political parties – ought to be empowered to discipline their members.

PAT MATBOB: What sort of effect does the poor behaviour of our leaders have on the people?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: The people, in many instances are disappointed. They become very cynical, sceptical; they wonder what the difference is between the leader and the led? They believe if this kind of person can live and get away with this type of conduct, then I can do the same. The impact and the implications on the people is that it weakens their moral standard and eventually permeates through the whole system.

PAT MATBOB: Do you believe that the poor role model as displayed by many of our leaders really contributing to the breakdown in moral behaviour in the community?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: It is one of the factors without doubt. The adoption of western system of control and discipline, the centralised method in which law and order is controlled by the police and the courts to the exclusion of the people, alienates and disempowers the people themselves, and leaves them quite impoverished. People who can regulate law in the villages will wait for the police to come. The chiefs and traditional leadership which continues in many places in PNG today has no official role, no function in the broader criminal justice system. Respect can not be bought. It’s got to be earned. It does not come overnight, but is built over a period of 30 to 40 years.

PAT MATBOB: How can the leaders contribute to improving the moral behaviour of our people?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: We have to behave, live and conduct our lives like leaders. We have to walk, sleep and eat and work with pride and dignity and self-respect and respect for one another.

Secondly, our behaviour itself must be an example, must be a reflection of Christian living.
Thirdly, we have to promote a new generation of leaders. Seek out and search for a leader with good values.

PAT MATBOB: Do you see these things happening now?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: No, not so much.

PAT MATBOB: Should leaders practice polygamy?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: This is a matter that I have been campaigning against for sometime now. There are people who argue that this is a customary practice which should continue. I acknowledge that it was a customary law but I must say at the same time that it has been widely abused now to a point where I maintain, if you want ot be a leader, you must have one wife.

PAT MATBOB: Over the years we have been alarmed to see a number of leaders being reckless in their behaviour and also displaying very little leadership qualities. Should there be laws to ensure that only people with proven leadership qualities be elected to Parliament?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: This is a hard one. The qualities of leadership are intangible, they are fundamentally of the spirit, they are not material or physical, although their manifestations acan be physical. But their guiding principles are in the realm of the spirit. So it’s hard to identify, pinpoint, but I think they are obvious. You can’t really say no to people because you form a view that they are not the right leaders. In terms of elected leadership, a lot depends on the people’s perception and their understanding of candidates. I have been a strong candidate on behalf of good things. Good principles, good values, loyalty. If you are in the party, you stay there, you don’t shift, even though you don’t produce goods. The fact that I am loyal and committed gives people confidence, faith and trust that I am not going to compromise their rights for my personal gain.

PAT MATBOB: Is age an issue in leadership?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: I think there are some very good young men and women. But obviously I have noticed some young leaders do not have experience, they really don’t have the wisdom. They don’t have the compensatory elements, the vigour to get up and go, get things done, they have to balance that against looking back, reflecting on the past to try and steer a course away from the decisions that would be bad for the community. Young politicians have the enthusiasm, drive and the determination, they lack maturity, they lack experience. That’s the problem.

PAT MATBOB: What is the future of this country. Where are we headed?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: Like I always say. For Papua New Guineans there is no other answer except an answer that would suggest hope and bright, successful and prosperous future. That’s what we all expect. The catch comes when we look at the reality.

As far as the future is concerned we have no problems. We’ve got a good, guaranteed future ahead. But in the process of working towards that bright future we have stumbled and fallen on many weaknesses. The time and effort dedicated to getting things right far exceeds time and effort to get good programs going. I have always spoken about transparency in government and good governance. It is important and a good government unfortunately doesn’t mean a govern en6t that provides goods and services. A good government is a government that makes the environment conducive and friendly.

PAT MATBOB: Over the years since becoming a leader, I’ve noticed that you’ve always kept a low profile – despite being a prominent outspoken leader. You mix with the ordinary people, attend church gatherings, come and go like an ordinary person. Why do you do that?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: It’s in my nature to do so. I was born in a missionary home and family – my father was the first Cathechist in my village and district, I have humble beginnings. Although I have high ideals, I have no high expectations of life. I accept what comes, I strive for the best. I do not see myself as any different and I genuinely believe that I am no different from anybody else. Anybody could be in my shoes any time and at any time I could be out of here. I always maintained a house in my village, lived with the people. I’ve lived in Gerehu for almost 20 years in a house that I am still paying off the mortgage. I hear and experience gunshots almost every night out at Gerehu, we have been robbed, friends and relatives who come to visit us have been robbed, we just live on and hope of the best. It’s our country and we have nowhere else to go.


More on Bernard Narokobi


7 thoughts on “Narokobi On Tainted Leadership

  1. Manu, these are the same questions that the generation of PNGians will ask time and again. What can we do to get it right? Why are our leaders behaving the way they do? I always try not to blame culture as the major determinant of how we do things nowadays.

    If I may recall from history photos and stories from my parents and their colleagues that the 70s and 80s were the best days. No crims, no razor wired fences around houses, shops and even the Parliament house. Our towns were beautiful and clean and people have a very high respect for each other. There is this nostalgia of the pre-independence days and the years soon after where PNG was on the trajectory to prosperity…

    Why is it now that we are faced with all those problems? We are moving one step forward in embracing globalization and 5 steps back in development and attitudinal progress.

    How can we groom better leaders for tomorrow? I have tried to make comparisons with other countries in some of my commentaries. One example was for us to emulate the U.S. election system of selecting capable leaders, bearing in mind of course the huge contrast in terms of the different countries’ political lifespan and experiences.

    I believe election is one political process that needs to drastically transform for us to recruit better political leaders with vision that can practice what they preach. Unless we can find a better system of recruiting capable leaders with merit and leadership qualities such as a better character, judgment and experience we will still ask the same questions about our leaders over again in the years to come.

    Sampla tingting tasol..

  2. My Uncles, Aunties and Parents always went on about the ‘Good Times’ but I guess in that respect its a trade off between less PNG’eans in control back then compared to now and I guess they had a smaller urban population back then.

    So development has brought its tried and tested hurdles such as crime and cultural value melt downs.

    But any society, culture and people can rise above anything if we can all see the big picture or for practical and political purposes, if someone can be clear minded enough and selfless enough to be able to open our eyes to a new and better way of doing things. Unfortunately in PNG it appears that we like to be lead, we do not help ourselves enough.

    So what sort of leaders do we want then? Or how do we get better leaders? I’d dare say it starts at home by teaching our children manners, to respect each other and that anything is possible if you put in the sacrifice to achieve it. In short our whole society needs to improve and every child, teenager and young adult needs to get an education from Prep onwards.

    We can’t expect good leaders if they have no spiritual and intellectual grounding and we cant expect good voters if they all fail to realise the power of their vote and what a collective movement can achieve, if only they are willing to demand from themselves the best.

    In the end I think its a cultural problem more than a legal issue.

  3. I think its more of a cultural breakdown as a result of underlying legal issues. However, at the base of it all is a lack of access to knowlege and information by the general population. Take all of us here for example. Most of us are able to look at the big picture and point out many of the flaws in the system. We have been fortunate enough to receive an education, many with higher education, and have information access at our fingertips.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have vagrants, unemployed, homeless, misguided youth, etc. Some of whom hoped for opportunity, found none, and now turn to crime in order to live. These are the majority. People who live day to day. Their only concern is to live for the next day, week, year. It is impossible for them to be able to see the big picture because they do not have the power to do so. The flaws in the system remain hidden from them. Yet these are the people who will elect the politicians. Swayed by gifts of free water instead of promise of job creation and education reform. Merely because they do not have the capability to see that job creation and education are more valuable to everyone than free water.

    There are many external forces at work in PNG. All of them trying to control education and the flow of information to the people. Some for good, and some for bad. Why? Information is power. If you take a close look at some of the decisions in politics concerning education, you will be surprised. Why in the world would you have politicians opposed to lower cost education for the people? The answer to that lies in the source of the money that politician is receiving. Control the flow of information to the people and you control their power.

    I asked the question “Why did many tribes in PNG never advance past sustenance farming?” The answer was so simple it astounded me. Many of these people were completely content with what they had. They lived in a different world, a world that provided them with all they needed. They had all the information they needed to live in that world and had complete control over it.

    As we all know, things have changed. The world changed, but the people do not know how to cope with it. The people you see on the streets in Moresby descended from that old world, into a new world that they now know nothing about. They don’t understand the politics, the lobbying, and foreign affairs. They do understand free water though. Change in PNG will happen when we open the minds of the people. Let them see the world they live in.

  4. Joseph, thank you so much for your comments I think you really hit the nail on the head there. So if it boils down to access to information than I guess we should be looking at the media to resolve or alleviate some of these issues?

    TV, newspapers, radio..maybe they are the keys to cultural change for the majority in PNG?

  5. Media is a wonderful tool to distribute information. It can help to promote ideas to a larger audience. However, what good are tools unless you know how to use them? Media can help facilitate cultural change and awareness, but you still need to get education to the people so they know how to implement it. It is our responsibility to encourage our friends and family to continually educate themselves and their friends and family. It almost sounds like a wantok concept! 😛

  6. Among my most treasured PNG books, is B.Narakobi’s The Melanesian Way. I have for a very long time admired his ideas concerning the morality of the leadership and the definition of Papua New Guinea and Melanesia…
    but all our hero’s often disappoint us.

    During the Sandline Crisis, B.Narakobi should have become the Prime Minister. We were looking for a moral leader in those trying times and he was the one leader who met with the students and the people of the streets and the rubbed shoulders and got insulted and urged us to respect the Constitution because it was who we were.

    And we wanted him to be the PM, because in those times, he was a rock.

    But he ultimately disappointed us in the end when he chose not to be the Prime Minister.

    Instead he let Bill Skate become the PM and we ultimately paid a price for the excesses of Skate’s Government.
    If he had chosen to be PM imagine the legacy he might have left behind.

    I have a lot of respect for the words of B.Narakobi, but given the opportunity I felt then that he lacked the courage of convictions to put his ideas on morality and leadership and the definition of Melanesia to the ultimate test.

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