How Land Alienation Could Be Tackled in PNG

This was a question posed by Martin Maden on the Sharp Talk facebook group. I’ve tried to give my thoughts on it below. You can see the discussion on facebook here:

Alienation of land is something that capitalism succeeded to put in place by the 19th century in Europe. Humans then had to labour for very little reward just to be able to have a meal and board. Then the unions came and started to fight for workers rights and for the establishment of the 8 hour working day that we still have today and they struggled and protested against child labour and other forms of abuse and for what we call and recognise today as “rights”.
In PNG we are lucky to walk into our nationhood with those systems already established through the effort and militant activities of the Unions in the West. So today, even though the West is crumbling economically, we should be able to look at that and steer ourselves from the obvious mistakes they are struggling with and to chart a new path of human comfort and survival.
I have two questions (maybe it is a single question) for the group:
1. First: What is the middle ground of Best Economic Practice for Papua New Guinea? Where being mindful of ensuring better social security – we build a modern economic system maintaining the traditional systems of survival and augmenting them by modern economic investment and the kind of speculation that does not endanger our main fall back position – on our traditional customs and our land?
2. Is there a way or ways in which new and smart PNG economists, thinking outside the great Capitalist Trap could design a new economic system complete with the many social safety and security mechanisms from our traditions and from the modern economic practice that could highlight and guide human survival on the planet for the next centuries?
Great questions Martin. I’ll try and answer both questions with one answer:
PNG’eans wealth has always been derived from our land. The majority of us can all say that we have access to X amount of land back home in our villages. So the key to creating wealth in PNG is connecting this traditional wealth with modern economic institutions such as banks.
So there are two steps to my answer. 1) How we deal with land amongst our family/clan/village members etc and 2) How that land interacts with the wider national & international economy.
Several years ago Uncle Bernard and I were sitting in our village in East Sepik Province and we were discussing amongst ourselves how best to use our family land in light of the growing village population. One option he suggested was that we maintain the usage of land along userfructory rights. Meaning that no one in our family ever owns any particular piece of our land, we simply have the option of using it for whatever project you have in mind and when you pass away then that area goes back to the family for re-use. So each family could have their own land board so to speak where discussions and decisions on use of the land could be determined.
For far too long internal family issues have also contributed to much turmoil and instances of selling traditional land to outsiders. This leads me to my second step on connecting traditional land to the modern economy. Whether we like it or not all our land needs to be surveyed and registered. It is the only way we can clearly know who owns what and we have no excuse with the technologies available today. Registration and having a properly run national registry of land ownership will also safeguard against issues such as all the illegal sales that are occurring at the moment. We need to measure it if we want to manage it.
But to give our land registrations a local flavour, our legislation on land ownership has to be flexible however to recognise exchanges of land between traditional landowners etc which may occur without the use of monetary exchange. It should also recognise the traditional suggested ‘land boards’ I have suggested above and its decisions which have to be documented and recorded. An example could be the land board deciding that a fellow villager with less land could be allowed to grow some banana on my land in exchange for them helping me with building my haus win. Also if there is an individual within a family that clearly does not want to be part of the greater land ownership in their family, then the ‘land board’ can agree on a piece that they can have according to their own agreed arrangements.
The whole idea is to start seeing our Land as Trust Funds. In the West wealthy families with more than 8 generations of wealth have over the years created Trust Funds to look after their families education etc. The Rockeller family for example has a family office in New York which manages the records, history and well being of all the Rockefeller descendants to date. So PNG can jump the monetary wealth queue by instantly turning our land into our family Trust Funds. So in order to do this, once registrations of the land have been done, then we need mechanisms to measure how much economic output can be generated from these blocks of land.
An example of how to measure this output is as follows. A family could be selling pigs and copra, so banks should be able to give financing not in line with specifically how each small project is run, but more widely on how much that Land Block can produce financially. So for example a K500 loan could be obtained in exchange for releasing information about the economic activity on your block and also how many family members you have and what formal jobs perhaps they may have as well. The reason for this is because we already practice the wantok system when it comes to deaths and weddings etc, so collectively it needs to be harnessed in business as well when meeting loans. The local land board then manages it and organizes the payment. In a sense this is nothing new, we all have experiences of contributing money for a relative or cousins school fees, etc. With technologies such as mobile banking and mobile money coming to PNG, this will make this way of conducting business even easier. So in this way we can assure the banks that each Land Block has this sort of cash flow to repay borrowed money.
Now in terms of connecting these Land Blocks to the banks, the first priority should go to micro banks. We don’t want families over extending themselves into thousands and millions. The Land Board from each of these Land Blocks will have to show over time their credit history with micro banks before they can graduate to larger commercial banks. So for example if after a Land Block has successfully been able to take care of K1,000 loans each 6 months for the last 2 years while building up their pig farm, then this credit history should enable them to go to a commercial bank to get a loan of say K10,000 for building a larger pig pen for their business.

The other important area of development for the Land Block is when looking at resource developments like mining and gas, etc. When an exploration licence is applied for within a Land Block, the same approach needs to be taken where the family Land Board needs to deal with the Lease applicants and the Government acting as a referee in the discussions. The State should not be an active party in this equation and this is where allot of our issues have arisen where the State has sought to not only regulate what is happening but also directly work at making money for itself (because we certainly don’t see any money that’s gone to the State). As Peter Donigi put it recently on talk-back radio, the State is playing the game and being a referee at the same time. So everyone can see the results of this conflict of interest.

The only way the State should benefit from say a mining project is by way of Taxes or direct development through a commercial body such as Petromin. But in all instances they should be guiding our landowners and using MRA and other government organisations to provide both parties with the best information for them to develop their projects together on an equal basis. Now because of the family Land Board that is in place, once exploration is allowed and minerals are found, then it should follow that valuations of the Land Blocks will also increase. So since in most cases landowners will not have the money to contribute to something as cash intensive as a mining project, they can then charge lease rates over the usage of the land when exploration moves into a proper mining development or they become partners in the project according to their valuation of their Land Block with its resources.

MRDC, etc can still guide landowners and their investments and benefits down the track, but the core issue of being equal partners with a proper valuation of our peoples wealth needs to start way before any money comes to light.

Taking this approach, I feel, is the way forward for greater economic participation in our country so that we do not continue being labeled as poor, because we all know we are rich in resources. we just have to change the labels to allow it to work for us.


8 thoughts on “How Land Alienation Could Be Tackled in PNG

  1. I just wanted to post a passing comment in relation to the GoPNG National Land Development Program (NLDP), particularly the two amendment bills that in 2009 introduced amendments to the: (i) Incorporated Land Groups Act; and (ii) Land Registration Act. In the former, the Speaker of Parliament has not certified it. Also, it has not been published in the National Gazette. In the latter, the Speaker of Parliament has certified it. And like the former, it is yet to be published in the National Gazette. Apparently, these two Amendment Bills are set to establish a customary land registration regime. Therefore, I conclude both Amendment legislations cannot yet operate as laws as each has not fulfilled the legislative process. Would anyone have a differing opinion? Please let me know!

      1. Not really. I mean these amendments extinguish customary land tenure, except for the customary law of succession applicable in the particular society. I am for the recognition of customary title that existed pre-Annexation by virtue of Commodore Erskine’s declaration at Hanuabada in 1884. But I must say I have found your Land Trust idea very attractive and wish now to see its application to my clan. That’s another story.

    1. John Howard’s Values in Melanesia

      The Australian newspaper on Australia Day weekend (26th January 2007) had an insightful cartoon of the unmistakably short, be speckled and bushy browed John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, head slightly tilted to the left, looking up to a fluttering American flag, counting its many a spangled stars and singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, How I wonder who we are…”. It was a telling caricature of not only the times we lived in from a post-Nine Eleven context, but in just a few wiggly lines, the cartoonist cleverly opened our eyes to take a rare glimpse of the heart and soul of a nation, its people and its destiny as perceived by its leaders.

      It was a weekend that saw flags raised in almost every town in Australia extolling the virtues of Australian society and its values. Equally in just about every pub, many schooners and stubbies of beer were raised. In city halls and malls politicians and local government aldermen handed out Australia Day Awards and Medals in elevation of certain individuals in society as model citizens of that year. Some even became new citizens that day swearing to abide by the Australian values.

      A curious Melanesian visitor passing through Australia that weekend would have been excused for pondering about what exactly were Australian values. What exactly were the national values was Howard talking about; as opposed to private or individual values?

      There is a prevailing view today that a nation has no values of its own; it merely reflects the common values shared and practiced by its citizens; some shaped by history with ancient origins while others by modern contemporary culture or religion.

      Writers like Steven Covey of the school of effective leadership, take a more incremental approach and argue that values are more like mission statements, each deliberately laid out by leaders or chief executives of entities, to guide policy or shape organizational behaviour.

      Be that it may, we cannot deny the critical role values play in defining a nation and its people. It sets a people apart from the rest and gives them meaning, purpose and direction. It is the sacred place of noble design, the deepest well, from which a people’s hopes aspirations and their loftiest dreams are drawn from, and crafted into attainable goals for the kind of future and society they envisage for themselves and their children. It shapes, drives and guides policy and lawmakers alike. As such, those who hold this view argue that the contrary is true of a nation without values; it is bared of substance and soul and not quite unlike a rudder-less ship, cast upon the vagaries of internal politics, social expediency and economic self-interest. That, without values a nation can have neither soul nor the substance of a vision for the future.

      As a body of intelligent humanity we know that vision cannot exist without values, and values cannot exist without a greater moral fecundity to give it its necessary substance and suasion. Almost certainly we can hear the audible echo of that ancient biblical proverb that pronounces the sobering clarion call that, without a vision, the people shall surely perish.

      Equally sobering is the realization that a nation acting purely from imperatives of political or economic expediency, whether in internal policy translation or in reaction to external forces, may sometimes act in isolation of and or in diametrical contrast to the will and the sum of the collective values of its citizens. When governments act against the moral and value choices of the masses, it is invariably characterized as ‘Big Government’. Big Government may yield in more social and economic disharmony, loss of confidence in government and loss of social cohesion in communities. Most importantly it may result in loss of trust and confidence in an institution like democracy in ways more subtle than society can progressively measure. In contrast to the idea of Big Government, democracy as an ideology as initially designed, evolved and handed down from the Greeks and Romans, by essential character and definition, is supposedly for and by the people; reflecting the will, intent and values of the people. Governments who continue to ignore the values of the people tend to lose the heart and mind battle at the polls.

      That January weekend many speeches, both evocative and sentimental were given by civic and political leaders of Australia. John Howard was no exception, when he spoke imploringly of the values of giving someone a “fair go”, and “mate-ship”, as being the two important national values of Australia.

      Now, if you were to stand back and examine Howard’s speech and his two national ‘values’ from a strictly Melanesian perspective, you would have to admit that a leader in Melanesia would be scoffed at for seemingly scrapping the bottom of the barrel of virtue, for daring to exemplify and extol these as national values in such a public gathering. For the observant Huli man from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea or a Matu from Morobe, for instance, Howard was attempting to squeeze the sublime out of the mediocrity of what is common and banal. Such exultation would be highly offensive to Huli and Morobe minds who are used to unraveling rich oratory mysteries that encompass and betray a serious study in literacy, history, life, and relationships that are complex in earthiness and yet critical to the fecundity of life and survival of both man and his spirit. Indeed the Huli and Morobe stride with such richness of elegance and eloquence that would make both Longfellow and his Hiawatha weep with joy unbridled.

      A Huli man who opens his mouth like an owl in vanity is quickly reminded of his place. The elders shake their heads or roll their eyes in distress and look up to the skies as if to blame God for the paucity and triteness of thought in utterances that are devoid of history, idealism and practical pragmatism, either to give or take life. They would gather up slowly, and deliberately, in mid-stream, each clasping their straggling aprons of bilum or vigorously shake the earth off their dried tanget leaves covering their neither worlds in the face of the speaker and slowly retreat. Then someone, invariably, as if to embellish the magnitude of the moment, cries out, and challenges the speaker as to where and how he derived the authority to defile the privilege of the podium of such a place as this with his adolescent mutterings! What shame! If only he could melt into the earth, but the earth refuses to open up and swallow him. He looks up, but the heavens merely rain a thousand beads of sweat upon him. In his heart the silent hand of truth moves, coalescing all manner of form, shape and substance of things to reveal to him a new and painful understanding of his own world. Things are not always what they seem.

      It is likened to a little bird in the cusp of a man’s hand. It may be chirping away, but the Huli know that the little bird is neither dead nor alive. The hand that holds it carries with it both life and death, and so it is the man who stands in the midst of multitudes and opens his mouth. With timeless metaphors and multilayered paradoxical and parabolic discourses of truth, like an onion or a babushka doll with its real core found in the next layer, or a maze in mosaic manner laid, each word he carefully spins by masterful hands into a loom of beauty that tantalizes the ears and intoxicates the mind.

      He takes you on a journey with a lilt in his voice, a little hop and a skip in his stride, eyes darting first to the left then to the right; he lifts his spear, like the mast of a galleon’s flag, and plants it firmly on the ground in front of him. There you are, astride with him, on one leg teetering gingerly on the cusp of one word and the thread of a single thought. Only the learned know where in a few lines and a singular breath he has taken you. Only those who have eyes can now see, even fleetingly, the hand that holds the past and plays the future.

      When you, with thousands alike are held enthralled, transfixed and mesmerized by the agonizing beauty of eloquence, there is neither want for food nor drink, for you know your soul is feasting on the very narrow of life itself and every word uttered is like a solitary rock on the great stream of life. Every man, woman and man-child who live to face another day shall take away their fill to ruminate over on their journey back, across the rivers, ravines and misty ridges that fade to cloudy ranges, to talk about around the fires for days and years to come.

      As Melanesians, and as Pacific people, we almost take all forms of common human interaction (even giving someone a fair go or showing kindness and consideration of thought through difficult times) that Howard talked about for granted, as part of our cultural heritage and tradition. Our very existence as a people depends on hospitality, sharing, caring and dealing with an even hand. These virtues are part of the essential nature and fabric of our societies and there is nothing unusual or extraordinary about them. They are as old as the mountains that grant us perspective by day, and the stars that chart our courses by night. They are like the constant ebb and flow of the waves, and the rise and fall of the tides. They are likened to breathing in and breathing out, and are as common as coconut palms swaying in the evening breeze on some lonely sun-bleached island in our Pacific Paradise.

      In all seriousness, we would not for one moment even consider making them our national values or celebrate them as our very own unique virtues, nor would we even dream of distinguishing ourselves as a people by our hospitality or common gestures of social kindness and fairness that have sustained our societies for centuries, and shall continue to do so for generations to come.

      It is therefore understandably difficult and in a sense offensive to the sensibilities of Melanesians and Pacific minds to comprehend why what we consider common place and universal would be sanctified and extolled as a nation’s core values or some special virtues that deem a people worthy of peculiar distinction.

      In an era of rapid globalization and massive demographic shifts, many may not find the cause to pause, to realize that Melanesians are an ancient and deeply spiritual people, steeped in a higher consciousness of their own history and place. When modern man goes to extrinsic sources to understand his own existence and his own past, we Melanesians reach deep within to find and know ourselves.

      Modern archaeologists and anthropologists are only now beginning to understand and validate extrinsically what each of us from our various Islands, language groups, villages and tribes already know intrinsically of ourselves. We are whole vibrant societies, complete with own culture, identity, government, laws and spirituality. We possess extraordinary prowess to assess and self-assess, to morph into or around calamity and change alike and thrive in modernism without completely losing ourselves.

      We know that we did not just sail in yesterday from somewhere nor is our existence a matter of social or historical aberration. We are not an accident, nor are we a scar or some non-descript pimple upon the face of planet earth. We did not emanate as a synthesis of the big bang theory.

      We are a deliberate people with societies under-pinned by very strong value systems, passed down through generations for thousands of years that make us who we are. We are defined and our every conduct is measured by these timeless values, and how we live with our land and surrounding environment. We derive our validity and life force by our very existence since time immemorial as Melanesians and as Pacific people. We are earth people. We are the keepers of the earth.

      In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, for example, our proud agrarian culture of over 7000 years rivals the agrarian sophistication of Mesopotamia and its Fertile Crescent, popularly deemed by modern scholars as the cradle of modern civilization. Our ancient methods of crop rotation, irrigation, mulching, composting, fallowing, shading, silviculture and other methods of soil enrichment and preservation are world renown. The multi billion dollar Australian sugar and banana industries, for example, owe their prolific varieties and hardly genetics to Melanesian people of Papua New Guinea who cultivated them for several thousand years before European settlement in Australia. The west have adopted some of our agrarian methods and written text books about them, while we still quietly practice and subsist by them to this very day.

      Our Lapita and Obsidian civilizations dating back over 6000 years are in the process of being discovered and talked about by other people. There has not been any sustained or systematic study carried out across Melanesia for the purpose of establishing the Melanesian agrarian civilizations in terms of other comparable civilizations existing at that same period of time and in terms of our own legitimate ancient way of life and civilization that existed like others in the Middle East, Asia and Southern Americas. We intuitively know this of ourselves and yet in true Melanesian nature opt not to parade ourselves as objects of zoology or relics of laboratory anthropology, but rather live our lives, as we did for thousands of years, just chewing our beetle nut humbly and looking on as the world fusses by.

      As science for the time being has it, we have been living in Papua New Guinea for at least 70,000 years, about the same time certain Aborigine people are thought to have migrated to the continent of Australia where these two land masses were still supposedly joined. The Aborigine came through what is now Papua New Guinea to go on to Australia to evolve largely as an inhabitant of a dry and arid contingent. Those who remained or arrived in latter waves, in time became known as fuzzy haired people of darker pigmentation- Melanesia. Thus the connection between the Melanesian and the Aborigine, particularly the northern sub-tropical and savannah dweller is closer and stronger than one probably realizes. Our ancestors probably saved each other from drowning, shared one raft, and possibly fished or even hunted together for survival.

      Our traditional societies have been held together with complex value systems interwoven over time into a culture of sharing and caring, barter, trading and fair exchange of goods, which ensured to this day that our societies stood the test of time and endured the rigors of modernism and its almost sub-human and capriciously utilitarian mode of existence called individualism.

      We are an ancient and yet transient people embodying the past and living the future. We are time travelers who like birds have flown from the past since the beginning of time and space and have never ceased flying. We live the essence of this every day of our lives, a people of history living today in yesterday’s future.

      In the Trobriand Islands of Eastern Papua, better known by some as Malinowsky’s Island of Love, being served a meal of yam and fish cooked in coconut juices in a Lapita pot is a daily ritual for some. Yet this relic of pottery has travelled hundreds of nautical miles, and literally fed toddlers and tribes along the way for thousands of years. The hands that felt the loamy texture of the clay from which it was molded have long gone to join the ancestral spirits in some far away land where the birds sing a different tune. The fires that lit its kiln have long gone cold. Still generations of our people have traded this pot and have eaten from its depths, as we do today. The taste and fragrance of foods cooked in the boughs of mother earth itself is like feasting from the hand of God himself. A cast of thousand iron, copper or aluminum pots cannot match the earth’s own yield, reflecting our own fragrance back to us, feed us while we live and ever so ready to take us and hold us in the depths of its womb, when we die.

      More recently, in the last 500 years, it was our forefathers who found many a European explorer hungry and lost in our waters with their strange looking tall ships. We either sequestrated them, or in most cases happily provisioned them and sent them on their way. The Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish had prolific charts of our waters well before Captain Cook’s great grand mother was conceived. The Chinese trade in our birds of paradise plumes and trepang, caused them to sail our waterways with their Macassan intermediaries in the early 1400s, well before most Europeans had any idea the world was indeed round. In the first century after the death of Christ, the Arabs invaded northern India with Islam and took it across Siam just shy of our door steps. Whilst Indonesia remains the largest Islamic country in the world today, had the constant Hindu and Muslim frictions not occurred within India to distract the Muslims, a greater part of Melanesia may well have been Muslim, at least the Islands and coastal parts of today’s Papua New Guinea.

      We are not less nor are we more. Rather, we are we, an ancient people of families, tribes, villages and islands, who bound together, are nations, and we have taken our rightful place among the great fraternity of nations. We are Papua New Guinea, we are Solomon Islands, we are Vanuatu, we are Fiji, we are Melanesia, and we the Pacific people. At the same time custom dictates that we acknowledge our brothers and sisters living under sufferance in Torres Strait, in West Papua and New Caledonia, and our Polynesian cousins to the East and our Micronesian neighbors to the North. As inclusive people by nature, we are also embracing of others who have come to live and love our islands and have made them their home.

      The Pacific is our home, our heritage, and our inheritance. It is our past, our present and our future.


    Our moments of triumph on the Olympic stage have not been many, so full marks to our Toea Wisil for her recent triumph on track and field. We have had our moments over the last 37 years in the regional sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, the Arafura Games, the South Pacific and the Mini South Pacific Games, but Wisil’s qualifying run was something special. Its significance will be held in our collective memories for a long time, as her personal triumph is part of our history as a nation.

    In an Olympic year, we are once again contemplating playing host to the next South Pacific Games and the government (especially the previous ONeill-Namah political Leadership) has not been serious about what is and what ought to have been a matter of priority and pride to prepare necessary infrastructure for the event. The nation is about to face its moment of truth on the regional and international stage but we are way behind in our preparations, and so far treated this event as a political afterthought. Our lack of preparations must necessarily be viewed as a measure of our own awareness and pride in ourselves. It is a measure of the way we have gone off-course in terms of focussing our people and our leaders on matters other than that of national interest and national importance. It is a measure of the way we have lost our way as a nation, preoccupied with politics, the demands of enclave type developments like the LNG, and forgotten about being a country, about nationhood, and about what the national interest requires of us. It is a measure of the way we have lost our own sovereignty in favour of serving others’ interests, including personal interests.

    We are about to reveal once again for all to see what we have been about for the last 37 years, at least since the last time we hosted the Games here. At least we had a Sir Anthony Siaguru to lead us out with a committee of equally talented people, showcased and acquitted well of the nation they represented. Oh how the red gold and black fluttered in the steady South-Westerly, and our hearts were instantaneously lifted to greater heights of exuberance, as our athletes triumphed. We could believe once again in ourselves, and the social contract we signed in 1975 to be one nation, one people and one country. And oh how we triumphed then, hauling in more gold silver and bronze than ever before, or since! Every Kiwai, Tolai, Highlander, Wopa, Siwai, Orokaiva, Orokolo, Sol and Tasi walked out of that stadium, proud, and rightfully so. We savoured those precious few shared moments of triumph with tears streaming down our faces. We looked at each other wide eyed and teary faced, and we laughed tears of joy and elation, and gently swayed to the fading strands of John Wong’s voice “Papua New Guinea… one people, one country…”as we walked out, confident and sure of ourselves.

    We knew we will always be one people, a people cast together by history, a people held together by our ancient agrarian ways, thrust almost prematurely into the limelight of 21st Century to sink or swim, live or die. Together we chose life. And but whilst the odds were always staked against us, and some called us stone aged primitives, while others whispered,”… they won’t make it…”, it is in rare moments of sporting triumph like this, pitted against their best, on a clear sky blue days and on level playing fields, we have come together and asserted resoundingly that we have arrived on the world’s centre stage!

    We have asserted that we are an ancient people, a strong people, the largest nation in the Pacific Islands and the land link between the tiger economies of Asia and the Pacific. We are the pre-historic home of Melanesia. We are a serious people, and we shall be taken seriously by our other Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian neighbours. Whether they like it or not, whether they like our way of doing things or not, we are here and we will assert ourselves, and assert we did at that and every other SP Game since.

    Who would have predicted how we would turn out as a nation and a people in 1973 when we were granted Self Government so hurriedly by the Gorton/Whitlam Governments of Canberra?

    In the early 70s on the occasion of a South Pacific Commission Meeting held in the capital of one of our Polynesian countries, the Paramount Chief of the Chimbu people, and he may as well have been the Paramount Chief of all the Highlanders, because he was a tall towering and imposing Simbu, who stood as tall as the mountains, and firm as his native rock of Elimbari, stood up and spoke. Whenever he spoke in his native setting, his dozen wives and multitudes upon multitudes of tribes men far and near came and drank of his words in utter silence, words that echoed like a thousand waterfalls and flowed seamlessly like the Waghi, giving life to a deeply farrowed land. But this time, his solemn maiden Chiefly address to the South Pacific Commission in tok pisin was openly mocked. Perhaps it was because of his earnest but equally farrowed facial features. Perhaps it was because he didn’t understand a word of English and could not speak any. Even perhaps it was because they couldn’t understand him at all with his typical highlands big-manly animations. He did look like someone out of the stone-age, but his heart was earnest and his composure sure and demeanour true. Notwithstanding, he felt the mocking laughter deeply, like the bitter stings of a thousand wasps buzzing around his head. He couldn’t speak English. Realizing, from the laughter and the polite nods that he had just become the laughing stock of the Pacific, and realizing he carried with him not only the pride of the Narengu tribe of Chimbu, but also the pride of history of his fathers and that of the then Territories of Papua and New Guinea he represented, Kondom Agaunduo slowly raised his hand as if to brush the wafting wasps away, allowed the laughter to subside, and spoke in slow deliberate pisin and uttered those famous lines… ” yupela harim ah! Nau mi kam long hia na toktok na yupela lap long mi. Em I orait. Tomoro bai mi salim ol pikinini bilong mi i kam. Taim ol I kam, bai yupela ino nap lap long ol! “ With that he sat down, and never spoke again.

    Paramount Chief Kondom Agaunduo now lies in silent repose in his village on the side of the Highway named after an equally imposing political force of the Simbu people. Kondom was a man before his time. He was a Chief and Luluai, a cultural hero who brought progress to Chimbu in the early colonial period. He was the first Simbu coffee grower, father of the Chimbu Coffee Cooperative, Member of the District Advisory Council, Observer to the First Legislative Council in Port Moresby. Before his premature death from a car accident, he was truly a pioneer who craved education and progress for his people so that they could meet or match the whiteman, a man without pigs, on his own terms, and triumph. He was resolute and uncompromising in this cause. His leadership, punctuated by long eloquent speeches, was impeccable. There was no ounce of self interest in his cause. His cause was that of every Chimbu to advance.

    Our few moments of triumph on the sporting fields have been shared together, as highlanders, Momases, NGIs and Papuans- groupings that came as we tried to define ourselves along our natural geographic regions. Yet these groupings sit very un-comfortably with our own assertion and notion as one people and one nation. Today we have indeed become one people and one nation naturally in a way we could never have openly predicted-with complex intermarriages. Even when corporate greed threatened to blow us apart, and it did for many years for thousands on Bougainville, one man, a soldier and a national hero from Karkar Island, stood up and defied all odds to put a stop to the blood bath that was about to unfold, and held us together. He underwent a period of self-examination and self-assessment for some time, and after all that was done, he stood up, and he stood by the oath he took before God and man to protect the Constitution, his nation, his people in Bougainville and on the mainland. He realized in time that if he didn’t stand up, he would by his conduct have revoked the Constitutional framework that held us together as a people, and cut adrift the people of Bougainville. He defied vulgar political direction and greedy corporate puppetry from outside. When Jerry Singirok triumphed personally over the evil that was about to be served, a chalice of blood, a slaughter that appeared inevitable, the whole nation triumphed. We all exhaled in great shared relief! Whew!

    Many a child who was born in the 1980s, educated to feel equally eloquent and masters of their own destiny, deserving of a great future in this country, find themselves having to invariably come to terms with political legacies and historical events like Bougainville, constantly nagging at them with them having to ask themselves this question- what was all that about? The mothers of Bougainville, who survived, who suffered through loss of their own sons, daughters and husbands, are still asking that very question to this day.

    While the fallen soldiers were draped in the red black and gold, the fallen in Bougainville lie scattered all over those islands of sorrow, and their spirits still wander unrequited. Deep down, every mother in Bougainville still ask, why did the nation turn its guns on our sons? Why did Bougainville become the Islands of sorrow? Can we as a nation triumph together in sporting fields like the coming SP Games and in other spheres if we do not deal with Bougainville, look at our brother in the eye and honestly feel the same blood pulsating through our veins?

    How can we explain Bougainville to our children that they, as intelligent human beings with inquisitive minds, can make sense of it? How can the fatherless and the motherless children of Bougainville who also struggle daily with their permanent condition be consoled? And how do they further explain it to their children?

    We cannot explain Bougainville, the shedding of innocent blood, the birthing of an Island of orphans and widows, in any other way than the sense of corporate greed, and blatant disregard for human lives and the rights of human beings by so called civilized nations, acting secretively through off-balance sheet black ops operatives. No one has gone behind the scenes to expose the people behind the people in Sandline. Faceless men in glass steel and concrete towers in faraway lands, powerful governments and their operatives, use money and influence and do deals and sign papers that instantaneously spill the blood innocent people all over the world. It was the South Americas yesterday, and today it is the Middle-East, with Africa the ongoing playground of those who want to pawn off the lives of the starving innocent using contentions of old tribal rifts and religious differences as convenient divisive tools. The death of the cold war has spawned new wars, wars that relate directly to control and exploitation of scarce resources and energy fields that will see the rise and re-ordering of civilisation as we know.

    While those who conceived Sandline have long melted into the shadows, governments involved quickly cut off connections, wiped the paper trail and electronic footprints leading to their doorsteps, shredded the papers and claimed both ignorance and innocence; the Queen sits with a solemn smile on her throne in England, while the Kangaroos still graze peacefully on the brown meadows of Australia. Long gone are the sounds of machine guns and echoes of the cries of children looking for their mothers. Today, they come with bundles of Aid money to “help” the people of Bougainville. It’s the re-building and restoration program that they in their magnanimous generosity bestow on Bougainville that comes, but not necessarily without strings. How wonderfully generous the help is to us with roads that may one day carry our copper and gold out again, and ports that may see ships bearing all manner of colours once more berth, but let us not even contemplate that for now.

    For now, having put up his hand for Sumkar and lost to an Australian Naturalized citizen, Jerry Singirok, sits back on his Island home to contemplate and take stock of his gains and losses, his friends and his foes, especially those who pretended to be friends but were really against him. He savours the sting of deception, like that of a thousand urchins. No war would have prepared him for this public admonition and rejection. In the 2012 elections, more so than ever before, the Australian Defence and intelligence played a very heavy hand, and made no secret about the fact of who Canberra wants installed as the new Prime Minister. Jerry Singirok of all people was in a better position to know and understand what was really at stake. He also knows how during the Commission of Inquiry into Sandline, he, along with several other public servants, were made public scapegoats by powerful people and powerful governments behind Sandline, to wipe their own footprints, as they melted into the dark.

    On the 2nd of August 2011, Australia engineered the disposal of Somare while he was in Hospital. They used ONeill’s ambition, Nape’s greed and Namah’s stupidity to bludgeon Somare. Then when the courts were called upon to intervene by a Supreme Court Reference, Julia Gillard used a political bulldozer to smash down the gates of our Judicial system and our Constitution, by openly recognizing Peter ONeill as Prime Minister! She pre-empted the Supreme Court, the sole arbiter under the Constitution to deal with the then pending question of legitimacy of Peter ONeill as Prime Minister.

    Australia has always advocated the importance of the rule of law, and the importance of having an independent judiciary as the backstop of our democracy in Papua New Guinea. Except on this occasion Australia threw all that out the window. When it suited Australia’s strategic economic and political purposes, even the ideals of rule of law, governance, transparency, accountability and principles of democratic government were readily flushed down the toilet by Australia. Gillard used her High Commissioner, Ian Kemish, tons of money, and the full swag of intelligence tools at her disposal, including the complicity of the Post Courier, to push for Peter ONeill, however constitutionally illegitimate that was.

    Australia was instrumental in the smashing of the Constitution and the judiciary of Papua New Guinea, the two most important institutions that birthed this nation and gave it its soul, its sacred sanctity and sovereignty, and its separate identity as a separate people and a separate nation in the South Pacific. The judiciary is the watchdog that guards the Constitution. The Constitution is like a vial that contains the essential DNA of Papua New Guinea, the largest nation of Melanesian people on God’s earth. If you destroy the Constitution and its watch dog, you destroy a nation, and the rest becomes history.

    Prior to and during the elections, Australia moved its people into key positions within the Electoral Commission, and even brought in its military and SAS veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to run a separate communications and operations capability parallel to the PNG security forces. All this was done to ensure one result- Peter ONeill to form the next government. Immediately after ONeill was declared winner of the Ialibu-Pangia seat by beating his nearest rival by 45,000 votes, Ian Kemish moved a whole company of Australian Army specialists into the Airways Hotel where ONeill team was holed up, as a show of alliance, and as a Personal VIP Protective Unit in full combat gear, against anything that ONeill’s brother Belden Namah would throw. It was an open show of strength. The Australian Army under Gillard moved huge amounts of firearms into PNG and into the Airways Hotel on secret Australian Airforce Fights. They made sure ONeill knew he was under the Australian army protection, and that he owed his rather “unusual landslide election win” to them.

    It was a job well done for Ian Kemish, who unlike any other High Commissioner before him, was prepared to get his hands dirty, and do some of the work himself. As a diplomat, he has trod where even angels wouldn’t dare. What a brave man this Ian Kemish is, for he has successfully and almost singlehandedly displayed the full length and breadth of the power of Australia over Papua New Guinea politics. He has shown other diplomats in almost resounding terms, who owns this country! And for this he would have earned a long and well deserved holiday somewhere in Europe, and for sure almost endless career possibilities with the Commonwealth. It was a job well done in any one’s language.

    Somare and other elder statesmen have played the only card they could play under the circumstances. But their card no longer carries any personal ambitions. They have been there and done that. There is no anger or resentment left in Chan, Somare or even Wingti. They have measured ambitions, which involve issues of what form or shape of legacy will they all and each leave for this nation. How will they be remembered after they pass? Each one of them has had a by-pass operation. Each is living on time that has been graciously extended to them. And each of them has known what it is like to have and hold power, exercise power, and what a heady thing that is!

    The real issue for Somare Chan and Wingti, and others of the elder Statesmen around ONeill , is how much of the love for the RED GOLD & BLACK can they impart to Peter ONeill and get him away from the charms of money, wealth, fame and more fortune promised to him by those who now like cicadas whisper incessantly into his ears. To be sure, Papua New Guineans know the deals O’Neill has done over the years. We also know his various businesses that are run openly and under other people’s names. We also know of his associations with the likes of young George Constantinou, Rod Mitchell and the Cragnolinis. We know the straight and the crooked deals he made over the years, just as we know the deeds of others around him. We also know of the political deals he has done with Australia in return for political recognition after the 2nd of August 2011 bludgeoning of Somare.

    The real question is, does he have what it takes, and can he stand up for the RED GOLD & BLACK? Or will he be just another good native?

    The signs are already fairly ominous of a sell-out job done by Peter ONeill. It already appears he has sold his soul to Julia Gillard. He needs these next 18 months to prove to the rest of us that he is a true nationalist, that the genes of his native mother will always outweigh those of his Irish Father, that he will rise to be a better Prime Minister, and better at negotiating competing interests and triumphing over those who want to turn him and his office into their own Post Office Box. He has 18 months to show us that he is the Prime Minister of PNG and not Julia Gillard’s rubber stamp of Australian cross-interests in this country. He will have to do better than he has done so far to show us that our lives and our resources are safe from the marauding corporate raiders who are crowding his social calendar even now.

    He has to demonstrate that the mothers of Bougainville who lost their sons fighting for their land and resources have not died in vain. He has to show us that the blood of the innocent spilled on Bougainville was for a cause of equal worth, and that indeed he will use this term of Prime Minister-ship to initiate a ministry of healing of the nation., to reconcile us as brother to brother, that our blood can flow through our veins once again from one heartbeat. He has to, like Jerry Singirok did, honour the oath he took before God and man under our Constitution to protect our people and the national interest. Peter ONeill must know what the national interest calls for in every case, and must summon the courage like Singirok did, and honour the national interest in everything confronting the nation today, not just in respect of Bougainville, although Bougainville ought to be high priority on our nation’s list of “unfinished business”.

    ONeill has the challenge to define our separate path as a people and as a nation, not to allow us to disintegrate into a dependant economic basket case. He has to ensure we do not become an enclave of resource extraction, leaving behind polluted oceans and scarred landscapes, of an equally scarred and soul-less people, helpless, confused and poverty stricken, devoid of any real idea of who we are and where we are headed.

    For Somare, who signed the First Project Agreement for Bougainville and for Chan who signed to spill blood, the healing of Bougainville will be a fitting closure, for the past to be properly buried, and for the future to be welcomed together. For without properly dealing with these matters, this matter of “unfinished business”, we can never wipe the sorrow from the Islands of Bougainville; we will not have served the national interest, and we cannot go on the world stage as a complete whole.

    Is Peter ONeill one of the sons that the great Simbu Chief Kondom Agaunduo spoke of in his maiden speech to the SPC, or is he just another ‘yes’ man for the Australians, doing their bidding so that he can increase his own barns, while the rest of the country starve? Does Peter ONeill have the smarts of a modern education and business acumen to really serve the national interest, or will be just another drunken politician, pandering to his mates, and the sharks and vultures already circling around and above the nation looking to extract our resources and leave us bare?

    Toea Wisil’s triumph was really our triumph indeed as a people. The idea that this Highlands lass could dare to burst through all manner of human impediments, the chains of time and history, the insurmountable social religious and cultural prejudices, to stamp her mark on a premier world qualifying event is remarkable when you consider that in the early 1930s as Sydney Harbour Bridge was being opened, the world didn’t even know then that highlanders like the people of Ialibu-Pangia ever existed in the interior of this country. With every TV stations bearing down on her, Wisil gave the world a rare insight into what we as a people, this ancient Melanesian primordial odyssey have birthed, and what is to come! While the nation prepares to host the next South Pacific Games, one wonders whether we will be proud to cheer our red black and gold, or will we die of complacency, indifference, and simply fizzle into nothingness? The real question again is, does Peter ONeill – the man from Ialibu-Pangia, another young highlander like Wisil, possess the skill, courage, mental, intellectual and moral fortitude to rise to the call of the nation, to lift the pride of this nation high and assert our position as a Melanesian people. Does he have what it takes to not only give us cause to celebrate and showcase our nation in the coming games, but show those sharks and vultures that circle him; that he is a nationalist, that this is the land of an ancient and free people, a people of pride, strength and culture and he will serve the national interest above all else? That we will not be bought or sold for political or economic convenience? That the birth place of the Melanesian nations- the heart and soul of Melanesia is not for sale?

    These questions are only for Peter O’Neill to answer, and prove his personal mettle. If he fails and sells us cheap to the Australian and other interests, (as there are many signs already that he will fail us), then that will be his legacy, and his only. If he becomes the convenient conduit to allow Australians to crush our heart and soul as a people, then this nation will never forgive him, future generations will not forgive him, and all the labour of our forefathers and the fathers of our Constitution have laboured in vain.

    This alone remains Peter O’Neill’s greatest challenge as Prime Minister today, as the wolves are no longer at the gates huffing and puffing, they are in his living room, in and under his bed, and at his table.

    It is therefore incumbent on other leaders to also stand up for this nation, just as the former Governor for Morobe did, to rule a line in the sand, and tell the hordes that prey on our people and their Leaders, to stay outside the line, and clarify their wish lists. Australia has proven that it cannot be trusted to secure our Constitution, our Judiciary and our democracy according to principles of rule of law. Australia has proven its ability to openly manipulate our politics and our institutions to serve its own interests. Australia is only here to serve its economic and strategic interests, and we cannot blame it for that, as long as our leaders wake up from their deep slumber and protect our own National Interests.

    Our Laws and our Constitution, and our Parliamentary system was adopted from England. We must not lose sight of our own origins both as a people and as a modern nation State. Peter ONeill has the advantage of the wise Counsel of Somare, Chan and Wingti at his disposal. Somare for issues relating to national identity as a modern Melanesian State, Chan and Wingti to help define and chart the economic course that serves the overall strategic national interest s of this country. Those with wish lists in bed with ONeill must be made to define and measure them against clearly stated interests of the nation. If these interests are not defined, and made subservient to the national interests by our young Leaders like ONeill, then the wolves will definitely eat us. Before we realize what is going on, ONeill will have successfully sold our people and the national interest down the river, and he will have sailed into the sunset with his gains, and we will be left to ponder what really went wrong as we struggle as a soul-less nation to live with the manacles of economic slavery, control and poverty he placed us under. God forbid that this should happen!

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