(This is an edited extract taken from the Masalai Blog. The full post can be read here. )
“O’Neill 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.”
IN AN Olympic year, we are once again contemplating playing host to the next South Pacific Games and the government (especially the previous O’Neill-Namah government) 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.
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, Chief Kondom Agaunduo stood up and spoke. Whenever he spoke in his native setting, 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 he didn’t understand a word of English and could not speak any. Perhaps it was because they couldn’t understand him at all with his typical highlands big-manly animations. Chief Kondom 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.
Chief 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.
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. On the 2nd of August 2011, Australia engineered the disposal of Somare while he was in Hospital. 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 O’Neill 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. 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. They made sure O’Neill knew he was under the Australian army protection, and that he owed his rather “unusual landslide election win” to them.
The charms of money, wealth, fame and more fortune now whisper incessantly like cicadas in Peter O’Neill’s ears. The real question is, does he have what it takes, and can he stand up for the red gold and black? Or will he be just another good native?
The signs are already fairly ominous of a sell-out job done by Peter O’Neill. He needs these next 18 months to prove to the rest of us that he is a true nationalist, 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 O’Neill 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”). O’Neill 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.
Does Peter O’Neill have the smarts 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? 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?
This is 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.
If he fails and sells us cheap to the Australian and other interests (and there are many signs already that he will), then that will be his legacy. If he becomes the convenient conduit to allow Australians to crush our heart and soul as a people, future generations will not forgive him, and all the labour of our forefathers and the fathers of our Constitution have laboured in vain. Our Laws, our Constitution and our Parliamentary system were adopted from England. We must not lose sight of our own origins both as a people and as a modern nation State.
Those with wish lists in bed with O’Neill 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 elected leaders, 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!