Carol Kidu: How did I win, win and win again?

Dame Carol Kidu. PC: Sydney Morning Herald

By Danny Eric Agon

This is a complete transcript of Dame Carol Kidu’s Talk to the students of the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG). On 23 April 2021, the UPNG Political Science Students Association invited Dame Carol Kidu to give a talk on her time in Parliament, as part of their Political Science Seminar Series. This is a transcript of her talk, including her responses to the questions from the audience. Insights from this talk that are very useful for women [and men] contemplating contesting for elections. It covers strategies on how to win, consolidate political power, win again, and again. Tips on how to deal with male counterparts, when to take on ministerial portfolios, and when not to and be strategic. She also talks about the efforts in previous years to increase women representation in parliament, which is useful for understanding the recent announcement on the proposal for five regional reserve seats for women in PNG before the 2022 national elections.

Kidu was in Australia at the time, so she spoke to the students via zoom. Kidu represented Port Moresby South electorate in the National Capital District from 1997 to 2012. She resigned at the end of 2012. Below is a transcript of her talk.

Transcript of Kidu’s talk

 I saw the questions you wanted to ask about my experience in politics. I think perhaps I’ll start taking about the situations for women in politics according to our [PNG] Constitution. Constitution is our Mama Law [Mother Law]. Not our Papa Law [Father Law]! It’s our Mama law. The most powerful law in the country. And the Constitution is very clear, we have the National Goals and Directive Principles, National Goal 2 is on Equality and Participation. National Goal 2, Directive Principle 5 is very clear about the fact that women should have equal opportunities to be involved in all parts of the life, political, social, economic and religious areas of the life.

Our Constitution is very clear, about equality for women to have participation. If you go to section 50 of our Constitution, it actually talks about equal opportunity. For women to take part in all forms of political life in Papua New Guinea, section 50 of the Constitution.  AndI always say to my colleagues in Parliament

“ Its ok to say that women have an equal opportunity to stand but do women have equal opportunity to win?”

 And we all know the answer to that. Women do not have equal opportunity to win in politics in Papua New Guinea. And it’s not because men are better than women or women are better than men. It’s just that so many factors going against women trying to go into politics in Papua New Guinea.

We call ourselves a representative democracy but we are not a representative democracy in Papua New Guinea if half of the population has no representative in the parliament.  If we have 10% of the population are not represented in parliament, if disabled people, people with various forms of disability have no voice on the floor, I don’t think we are a representative Democracy when we wanted to be a representative democracy. 

So there is a big task ahead of us, and you [students] are extremely important. As young people, young men especially and young women to understand that it is extremely important to have women in decision making. You might know that the Chancellor of Germany, who would be our equivalent of our Prime Minister, just retired from her political career. She was really a leader. We have many Papua New Guinean women who can be real leaders, same as brilliant male leaders. And it’s just ridiculous to waste all that capabilities.  So that’s the first thing.

Second, our Constitution is very clear, and our Constitution allows for nominated seats. But we have never been able to get enough women on the floor of the parliament to be a critical mess. I was there most of my time, for the first 5 years [1997 – 2002] Josephine Abaijah and I were together in Parliament. For the last 10 years [2002 – 2012] I was there by myself. One person, one women on the floor of the Parliament is not enough. And after 2007 campaign, when I won, I truly thought there would be women on the floor with me, because we changed from First Past the Post to Limited Preferential Limited and I thought that would help women come onto the Floor but it didn’t because I was there by myself. And that’s why I decided to do very huge amount of lobbying to try to get women on the floor.

I always said when I won in 1997, I would do three (3) terms if the people of Moresby South would need me and I would retire. I didn’t want to stay in more than 15 years, I think we do what we can and should move on. When I found out that I am the only woman again in 2002. Being a naturalized citizen, I was not an indigenous woman of Papua New Guinea. We need indigenous women on the floor of the parliament. And so we lobbied, Not me, I didn’t do it, it was a coalition of women, the National Council for Women, Women in Politics, business and professional women, and many, many groups worked on the efforts we put in those 5 years. We tried to get women on the floor. 

The first thing we worked on, as you probably know, was the Reserved Seats. And there’s good things about Reserve Seats and there are also bad things about reserved seats. But as you know in Bougainville we do have reserve seats for three (3) women. And in the last election, we have three women elected for the reserve seats, plus Honorable Theolina [Theolina Roka Matbob] who won one of the Open Seats. She stood against man and she won so we have four (4) women in Bougainville [Bougainville House of Representatives]. We know that in our Motu Koita Assembly, I participated and passed legislation for the Motu Koita Assembly [when in parliament]. We have two women in our Motu Koitan assembly, elected through the two researve seats. 

In our Constitution, section 102 allows for elected people and nominated people. There is a provision for three nominated persons. It’s never been used yet in Papua New Guinea. Twice before me, two male MPs have tried to use that provision to nominate women to parliament but they did not succeed. 

We put a big process in place to try to put three women in parliament through section 102. We put expression of interest, like applying for a job, and we got in 78 applications to become nominated women of Parliament. A human resource company sorted them all. And then we had a penal of women from all sorts of organizations in Papua New Guinea who shortlisted 12 women [out of the 78 women applicants]. 

The panel was not just political organisations, we had Professor Betty Lovai from UPNG, she was on this penal and if you want, you could ask her about it. She was part of this panel. And this penal looked into the 78 applications, I never saw them because I never wanted any political interferences. And from there, 78 applications they trimmed it down to 12 for interview. One of the women was overseas so it ended with 11 women, who were interviewed. And they took that down to six (6) and out of the six, the Prime Minister and the leader for the opposition were meant to choose three (3) that they were both comfortable with to bring onto the floor of Parliament under of section 102 of the Constitution. 

Politics is a very funny game. I had actually heard from the Opposition leader at that time stating that they would support this. And just the night before the vote, they pulled plug on us. 

And so when we went to Parliament the next day and heard the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader went to look at the six (6) name, he informed us that they had decided that they would not support it. So that was very disappointing because we could have three (3) women there on the floor. It wasn’t that they were going there easily, they were qualified women but when it came tovote, the opposition didn’t put their numbers out. We didn’t have enough numbers because we need absolute majority to get it through. So that failed. 

And it’s [section 102] still there. Any Prime Minister could use that provision to bring some women on the floor of the parliament if they are really committed to have women on the floor of the Parliament. It’s there. The provision exists. 

At the same time, we were working on the reserved seats one; it was always going to be difficult. It had to be a by-election so we had to have an electoral boundary. We chose a provincial seat so there would be a governor, and a woman MP. It was the difficult one because to have an election, you have to have a boundary. It was very difficult and there are things against it but we did work really hard on it. Women did roadshows all across the country. There were lots and lots of awareness. Huge amount of awareness were done. 

We prepared folders for all members of the parliament and every member of the Parliament got a folder about what we were doing. We had supports from all sorts of women organizations from the churches, from overseas etc., so we had lots and lots of supports letters in the folders for the men. 

When it came to vote, the first section was to change the Constitution, to make a special provision in the Constitution for reserved seats to be added to section 101 of the Constitution. It had the provision number ‘d’  [section 101(d) of the Constitution] for special reserved seats.

 Now that got passed on the floor of the only required a simple majority. Women were rejoicing, they though it was finished. And that provision still exists in our Constitution since it was passed. Section 101 (d) of the Constitution says that there should be special reserved seats for women as define by an organic law. The organic law that was supposed to be passed would follow the provincial boundaries, creating 22 reserve seats. 

Then in 2011, as you know there was an overthrown of the government. The Late Sir Michael was in Singapore in hospital and Honorable Peter O’Neill took over the leadership of the government. And so Sir Michael started boycotting Parliament. I didn’t boycott because I was still running this legislation and I just sat in the middle benches till I became leader of the opposition of two people, which was a crazy situation. When it came to try to pass the organic we didn’t get the numbers. So again, that provision still exist in our constitution. Any committed prime minister could use that provision, section 101 (d), which allows for special seats for women as defined by an organic law. 

And that’s what they are working for, at present I believe, they are going to make 5 seats at regional level. Whether it get passed or not for 2022 I don’t know. But we don’t want another term of parliament which is zero number of women on the floor. So any of you who wants to do some lobbying, please do some lobbying for parliament to complete that work. I know they are working on it and to get it passed to allow for 5 women from regional level. And they would have a lot of help from parties because it’s very impossible for women to campaign over all regions. And so the partied would push forward the women.

So how did I end up in politics?

To be honest, I never voted [for any candidate] until I voted for myself. As you all would know, my late husband was a former Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea, and as a Chief Justice he made a conscious decision not to vote in election because he didn’t want to be all political so we never voted. Because he just never wanted to be political at all. Because he was very strong on the independence of the judiciary.  I actually never voted. I knew nothing about politics. Before my husband died in early 1994, after he had not being reappointed as Chief Justice, a lot of people were coming to him saying they wanted him to stand for politics . And he used to say to them “wait six months, come back to me and I’ll give you the answer.”

 He never answered people whether he would stand or not. After the day he died of a sudden heart attack, I guess I was extremely angry. I was angry because I felt it was very unfair because he would have been an exceptional politician. I stood because of that. I knew nothing about politics: I was a teacher by profession. 

I stood and if you think about it, I had a big advantage. I was a widow, a fairly recent widow of the late Chief Justice who had been very highly respected for his work. And so I had what you would call the ‘sympathy vote’. It was a sympathy vote that came in that helped me to win the first election in 1997. I worked very hard, I campaigned very hard, I had a superb campaign team but the sympathy vote was a big push for me to get into politics. And so there’s no doubt about that. 

Being Buri’s widow helped me stepped into politics, but then is it up to me to prove myself. My biggest interest in politics was to be parliamentarian and I tried to do as much as I could for the electorate in terms of social development like preschool works, Guinea Gada, upskills training for young people. 

I wasn’t a project type lady, and I never ever – and I’m very proud of this – had my name put on anything. Because it was not my money, it was the people’s money and each second year Moresby South would give vehicles to the police and they wanted to put my name on it – “donated by Dame carol Kidu, Member for Moresby South” –  and I would say:

 “No, if you do that I will not release the funds. It is not my money, if you put something on, ‘put donated by the people of Moresby South’”.

 Because I felt it is a very important thing that members should separate themselves from the money because it is not their money. So I focused more on policies, and parliamentary things. I focused not on projects so much but on programs like early childhood, skills training for youths, and women, HIV work and things on that.  I think it was the work with people at grass-root level like preschool that help me to win again and to win again two times. Perhaps the people heard about the policies work I was doing. I think some of them, particularly the urban people were aware that the real job of a politician is policies and legislations. And I did a lot of legislative reform, to do with violence against women, to do with rape, all of those areas of legislation were amended during my time. The Lukautim Pikinini Act was done during my time, the disabilities policies, the early childhood policy, and I focused a lot on policies. Some of them have never been implemented but at least they are there and some day they’ll get implemented. There’s nothing important about me going into parliament. I went it through ‘sympathetic votes.’ And I worked really hard to stay in. And I wanted all of you to be champions for women in politics. We need women in Parliament.

I will stop here and take questions.”

Questions from Students

 The first question from a student in the audience (Henry Murau):

As the female member of the parliament, what was the main challenge for you?”

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

As a female, the only female there, you’re kind of isolated.  When you are in the NEC, in the cabinet and have a ministry, you are part of that, but if you are not, you are kind of isolated from some of the things that are going on. I preferred to be isolated but sometimes it means you not really clear of the “games behind the games.” Politics is played on many levels. And I was never involved in the inner circles, even though all the people thought I was. I kept myself out of the inner circles and focus on my work. I didn’t particularly want to be inside the inner circles because you will hear things you don’t want to hear: some of the thing that goes wrong in politics in every country of the world, not just Papua New Guinea. So I just focused on things on my ministry and work on that. 

I would say here that I am very grateful for late Sir Michael Somare. Because he gave me the opportunity to serve as a minister and in politics, especially to become a minister, your party should have like three members on the floor, to be given one ministry. Six members, you are given give two ministries. Nine members, your party gets three ministries.  That’s how it is done. It is not about who is the best person to do the job. It’s about the numbers game of politics. And what numbers the coalition would be. And in 2007, I was part of the Melanesian Alliance Party. I was not part of Sir Michael’s party. We had only 3 members, and so we should only get one ministry. Sir Moi Avei [member of Melanesian Allliance Party] was a senior politician than me, and he became deputy prime minister. He also had a senior ministry, but Michael also gave me a ministry. I can tell you there were many men objecting because they said: 

“They [Melanesian Alliance] don’t have enough numbers, she should not be given a ministry.” 

But Sir Michael stood completely firm, saying, “sorry gentlemen this is non-negotiable, she will be in my cabinet.”

 And if you think about it, Sir Michael appointed the first female minister of Papua New Guinea, the late Nahau Rooney. He was very quietly, supportive of women. And in 2002 and in 2007 it was the same, I was the only person in the Melanesian Alliance who won. I was a 1-person party but he still gave me a ministry even though we didn’t have the numbers. I was very grateful because sir Michael was very proactive and gave me the opportunity to do the work I did in the ministry that I had. And I always acknowledge him for that because if you are not in a ministry, there are not many opportunities to change policies and legislations.

Second question from a student in the audience: 

“From your experience as a long term female parliamentarian in Papua New Guinea, what would you say is the main blockage for the indigenous female Papua New Guinean women to become a parliamentarian?”

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

It’s a huge question and there’s a lot of writing done about it. Number one, it has nothing to do with the capabilities of women, the indigenous women. They are capable of being very good politicians. But is more to do with the mindset of the communities, and things like that. The communities in general don’t see politics as something for women. They don’t see it as suitable place for women. They see politics as something for men. Because traditionally, it was mainly men who went out and did the speeches, did the public distribution as in a feast, and bride prices and things like that. But we all know that behind the scenes, women had a lot of influences. And we still haven’t got those communities mindset change. But its ok for women to be in the public spheres as leader as well. And it’s the community that votes and I believe our push forward to have women into politics… yeah we can try the reserved seats as well, but its really important that people like yourself go back to your communities and try to influence some mindsets of the community. You know very well that in your communities, many women are great leaders. It has to begin with change in the mindset of the people because it’s the people who vote. I really think the mindset is a really big problem. 

The other big problem is that politics has sadly got into money politics in Papua New Guinea. When I stood for politics in 1997, money politics wasn’t very strong. But by the time I did my last campaign in 2007, I had to fundraise a lot of money, but then it wasn’t enough to try to run the campaign.  That’s not money for bribery, or giving out money. And we all know there’s a lot of money politics being played in the political game in Papua New Guinea, It’s illegal but It happens and so that is a very hard thing for women too. Most women don’t have that type of financial backup to fund their campaign. Papua New Guinea is a very hard country to campaign in to try to get all around your electorate. 

Again I was very lucky, I was in Moresby South. I could drive around my all electorate in one day whereas women who are standing in rural remote areas, it’s very hard for them to get around to the communities.  And she needs to partner with the males, get other people on how she would get around to actually campaign. So the money factor is a very hard factor for women in politics, there’s big money played. 

Another factor is that parties don’t like to endorse women. Parties want to endorse winners because that’ll get them into chance of being Prime Minister. If they get enough people, they can become the Prime Minister as the party leader. So they often don’t want to endorse women because they feel the women are not winners. And so there’s legislative reform happening at present, you might know about it, again you can lobby for this. Dr. Alphonse Gelu [Registrar for Office of Integrity of Political Parties & Candidates Commission] who is very strong in his work with the political party integrity commission and they put through a legislation that all partied must at least endorse 20% females. It hasn’t been passed yet, hope it will be passed. So the political parties should also take responsibilities for trying to get women into politics. Because women can do a very good job, once they are there, they need the backup as well. It’s not an easy job. Actually it’s very hard. And you need to make sure that there are enough people there to help them and backed them up. 

When I was in politics, I wish I had a very big research team around me but I didn’t have that. I had to rely on doing a lot of research myself. So as woman going in, please other women and men help them with the knowledge and research that they need. Because in national politics, they need to understand policies, they need to understand laws and understand what they are going there for. And I’m sure most of them do know what they going in for. As for me, I knew what I wanted to influence before I went in and the other things which I focused on.  I didn’t do them all but I got some of them done. 

So number 1: please go out to your communities and convince your communities its ok to vote for women. Convince your women not to vote for money. It doesn’t give you the best person necessarily. Convince your people to look at the qualities of the person that is going in and look at whether they will really care about the people. And don’t become part of the money politics.

Third questions from a student: 

‘You said you were not able to win/lobby about equality of representation for women in the parliament – the reserved seats for women. Is it because the members did not understand the Constitution – about equality – is it because you were a dual national in the parliament, and that it was some kind of a racism in the parliament that you could not be able to convince the members. 

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

I am a naturalised citizen; dual citizen cannot stand for parliament. And that was to my advantage in many ways. It wasn’t racism. In fact, some males used to say to me and I found this disgraceful. They said to me “we don’t mind you being here but we don’t want our own women in here.” And now you think about that, that’s a terrible statement. They didn’t mind me in there, but they wouldn’t want their own women in parliament. I will leave you to think about that. That statement said to me by several members. 

The actual vote fell in the end because the parliament had fallen apart because of the VONC against the late Sir Michael Somare by Peter O’Neill and there weren’t enough members on the floor of the parliament to pass the organic law. But even if there had been more members on the floor, it would have been a hard vote to get through because a lot of men were not comfortable with that. Particularly because it was 22 seats. The present work being done is 5 seats – 5 regional seats. 

I don’t see not passing that has as a failure. There was a huge amount of advocacy done, a huge amount of lobbying. And if you think about it, in 2012, three women actually won because of it. After all that efforts and the tidal waves, and there were videos on television saying, “tell your member to vote for the legislation.” And as a result of that, three women did win, because it was enormous; lobbying, advocacy, raising about awareness. And since then, the lobbying and awareness die away. In 2017 those three women lost their seats so we ended up with no women in the parliament now.  That’s a sad outcome and we got to make sure the same doesn’t happen in 2022. I believe they will be some women win in 2022 by the normal process. But I hope there would be some reserved seats to at least increase the number of women. Covid-19 has made it very difficult to make a lot of awareness, and lobbying but I do feel some of the women who stand in 2022 are going to make it. They’ll be excellent politicians. 

A fourth question sent to Dame Kidu through chat box in zoom: 

“The number of women who contested in 2017 was only 6% of the total candidates. Is it possible that the low or no demale MPs wining in elections has to do with very low number of female contestants?

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

Actually the number of women contesting has increased. Every election it has increased but is far fewer than men which is true. And I’ve been saying to women:

 “if you’re interested, just go for it. Put your name on it. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, just make a very clear statement that women want to be in there. Get people to help you pay the nomination fee, campaign the best as you can. Don’t worry about money just make that statement we want to be in there.” 

And I think I would like to see as many as possible contesting so that the numbers go up a lot more. It would probably increase the chances of winning.

Another question sent to Dame Kidu through chat box in zoom: 

“What would be your adivse to young women who may be interested in contesting in an election in the future?”

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

You have to have determination. Enormous determination. You have to be willing to diplomatically argue your points, not confrontationally. In Papua New Guinea I wouldn’t do confrontational arguments with men because it’s uncomfortable for men and we know that. But you have to learn how you could diplomatically developing your arguments on why you are going there and it’s really important to know what you want to do. Why you going into politics? What are the things that you wanted to influence? If you are women, do you want to improve the maternal mortality rate? Five women would have died in Papua New Guinea today giving birth. And maternal Mortality rate is really high. Do you want to work on that issue and try to improve reproductive health system of women or do you want to work on economic empowerment of women? Or do you just want to work on women and man issues? And I would say we got to work on people issues, not just women issues. Because women issues are men issues and I think it’s important we don’t isolate the men, and make it a women issue. We got to work with men.

Sixth question from a student (Kuson Madelyn):

 “What would be your personal views on why the three female parliamentarians elected in 2012 did not come back in the next term of the parliament (2017)?

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

I really can’t comment on that; I did not study the politics of their electorates. I think HON. Delilah Gore came very close to coming back and she only missed out on a very small number of votes. I think HON. Louzaya and HON. Julie were further down in the actual placings but HON. Delilah Gore was very close but it was very sad that she did not get back in. I can’t comment on why   people decided not to vote for them again. It’s very hard to maintain your support base and you got to focus on that as well. 

Seventh question (Russel Yangin):

 “What do you think how the women should behave inside parliament: should they be leaning towards the more masculine and the big men side of politics or should they be reserved to the roles of the Melanesian women, as a motherly figure? 

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

I will say I think what help me to win and win and win in election again is that I was seen by the people as ‘moms’ [mum] to all. The young fellows and everyone they call me mums. “ Mama Bilong Moresby South [Mother of Moresby South].” It’s part of my personality but I deliberately cultivated that image.

 I think it’s very important that women portray an image that people expect of them as women. But that can be very demanding on the women because like they see you as a mother, they expect from you what they shouldn’t be expecting from you, like providing rice, providing daily needs and all of those things. 

One thing I was disappointed about when the three (3) women won of the 2012 is that they very quickly went into ministries.  When I won in 1997, even if I would have been offered a ministry, I would have said NO! My first aim was to consolidate my electorate and I think it is a very important thing for both men and women, but particularly women. First aim is consolidate in your electorate and worry about ministries when you get back in again because once you are a minister, you have to be in Moresby almost every week. You are never back in your electorate, hardly. Because as cabinet member, there’s always meetings and things. 

Now there again, if you look at me, it was a big advantage for me. My electorate was in the capital city and so I could be attending to my ministerial duties after 2002, as well as getting out into my electorate. I made deliberate decision in 1997, when a woman, who is a political activist who was running around trying to lobby for ministry [for me]. And I kept saying to her, “stop it, you wasting your time, I’m not interested.”

 I just wanted to get my electorate sorted first. And I think we got to be careful about that because I was actually worried when they become ministers and things like that because it takes you away from your electorates and it’s your electorate who’s going to vote you back or not vote you back. So what I’m saying here is that you have to be very strategic, you got to think about it all the time. It might sound brave to be a minister but it takes your away from your electorate.  Leave it until you consolidate it and you really establish yourself in your electorate. And I think that’s one of the problem they faced is that perhaps they did not consolidate in their electorates enough.

Eighth question (from Peggy] 

“How did you stay in parliament for three terms?”

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

You have to keep very close to your electorate, and people.  In Papua New Guinea, that special relationship with your electorate is extremely important and that’s very demanding that I wouldn’t want to stand again. I always said three terms and that’s it. I was exhausted at the end of it because I think people expect more from women than from men in some ways, so my advice is, one:

 You have to get yourself establish. Spending your first term in your electorate getting yourself establish and then to get into ministry. There are other ways you can influence policies. Like in my first term, when there was a vote of no confidence and the late Sir Mekere Moratau became the Prime Minister, and I said there was this lady running around trying to lobby for me to be a minister, and I said I’m not interested. I have to get my electorate sorted out first. 

But I did go and asked,  “Could chair a parliamentary committee?” 

And I established a parliamentary committee; it was a special Parliamentary Committee on Urbanization and Social Development. It meant that under that parliamentary committee, and chairing that, I set the terms of reference, and Sir Mekere was very happy for me to just go off with doing things like that but it meant that I was doing a lot of consultations about urbanizations, and the issues of urbanizations, and then I actually put my documents to the floor and so I was being seen and heard in the newspapers without being a minister. 

You don’t always have to be a minister. You got to work out how you could use the processes of the parliament to be seen and heard and I think people don’t do that enough, they just get up in question time. Even men, men do that too. You don’t hear many people putting forward matters of public importance.   Which I tried to do in my first term and trying to really use the committee system. The committee system in Papua New Guinea in not really used enough and so I was getting noticed because I was doing committee work, and at the same time I was also in my electorate doing lots of work in my electorate. I wasn’t going to cabinet meetings. So it’s all about being strategic and working out how you could be noticed, how you could be noticed but in the right way. 

I started to do sometimes which I was not popular for and I left them all to my final term in politics because I knew they would be very contentious. Things like looking at old 1600s legislations from England that I think needs to go and it wasn’t popular but I left it to my final term because I knew it wouldn’t be popular. In other words, you got to use the processes of the parliament for your advantages. Being the widow of a highly respected man gave me the advantage.

Ninth Question

A lot of women have contested but not elected into parliament, only three (3) successful women in 2012. How do they manage to get elected three times?”

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

A lot of really hard work. I want to point out there were three women straight after independence: the late Nahau Rooney, Dame Josephine Abaijah, and Waliyato Clowes. I think many of you wouldn’t know Waliyato Clowes. She was a very young woman, and she was the Member of the Parliament straight after parliament after independence. These were 3 women. Then it went back to one woman. And then it went to zero, zero, and then two and then one, one, three and now zero. And so there were three women at the beginning of our nationhood. The late Nahau Rooney who became the first female minister of Papua New Guinea which lot of people forget that. She was Minister for Justice, she was Minister for Civil Aviation, and Minister for Forestry at one stage.

Tenth question 

“Did you have a hand or play a part in the recent amendments to the Divorced Act, the 2020 amendments making women liable to pay 50% of all savings and assets after it divorced if the women involved in extra marital affairs?”

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

No I’m not even aware of this legislation. And this is discriminatory. 

I don’t see any point to make polygamy illegal. To make a custom illegal, it wouldn’t work. But what we should do is to have legislation that will protect polygamy from the abuse. Because in a traditional polygamy, a man had to look after everyone and the children and I have no problems with that. But when a man dumps his first wife and gets another that is wrong, and we have to look at the abuse of polygamy. 

Eleventh question 

What was the feeling when you first entered the parliament that was dominated by men?

Dame Carol Kidu’s Response

When I first entered the Parliament in 1997, it was myself and Dame Josephine Abaijah. we were together in 1997 to 2002.  When Dame Josephine Abaijah and I won in 1997, there had been 10 years, two terms of Parliament with zero women, and so I think the men are little bit uncomfortable but very respectful for both of us because Dame Josephine was one of our icons in the early days. Long term politician. And the feeling I think once you win by elective process, is accepted by the men but the disadvantage that women have is because of only one or two women there they can’t form or force a strong lobby together on issues that are important to women, to families, to people of things of common interests. I would say that my colleague men have been very supportive for the work that I’ve been doing.


Danny Eric Agon is a final year Political Science Student at the University of Papua New Guinea. We thank Dan for his effort in transcribing and editing Dame Carol Kidu’s talk.


PNG Book Review Series Part 2: Political Biographies

This is Part 2 of PNG Book Review Series. Part one covered three books on racism in PNG during the colonial era. Part 2 reviews “Sana” by Michael Somare, “Playing the Game” by Sir JULIAS Chan, and “Farewell Whiteman” by Ken Fairweather. Obvious omissions are Dame Carol Kidu and Dame Josephine Abijah’s biographies. These two books will form Part 3 of the review series which covers women in politics.

These three autobiographies provide a great combination: a native Papua New Guinean; a mixed raced Papua New Guinea of Chinese and PNG heritage; and a fully blooded Australian who became a Papua New Guinean citizen. And these heritages comes clear in these books: Sana is written cautiously as a Chief wanting to maintain respect; Playing the Game is critical of others whilst almost providing self-justification for the author; whilst Fairwell Whiteman is raw, unapologetic, and frank. All three have this in common: they provide accounts of PNG’s political history, written from lived experiences and conversation. All three men were there at independence in 1975, and served PNG as political leaders.

“Sana” was reviewed by Diane Hirima and Minetta Kakarere. “Fairwell Whiteman” was reviewed by Russel Kitau. Diane, Minetta and Russel have just finished their honors programs with the Political Science Department of University of Papua New Guinea. The reviews were done as part of their assessments. “Playing the Game” was reviewed by Michael Kabuni.

Sana, An autobiography of Michael Somare: review by Diane Hirima and Minetta Kakarere

Sana is an autobiography of Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare, first published in 975, the year Papua New Guinea gained independence. It gives succinct details of Somare as a kid, up to the time he entered politics and led PNG to independence. The Title, Sana is a metaphor for a Life lived in upholding and fulfilling the traditional obligations of initiation and manhood and a transformation into modernity (peacemaker). Sana starts with a vivid description of the author’s early childhood, the cultural and traditional practises that are custom in the Muriklake District of East Sepik specifically karau village where he grew up as a child. The author’s life was lived in two societies, one that is of a traditional lifestyle and the other that is of a foreign lifestyle, a lifestyle that introduces learning of new foreign language.

Childhood, and learning about Sana:

Somare was born in Rabaul on the 09th April 1936 where his father served as police man in the Gazelle Peninsula. At the age of six Sir Michael and his father went back to Wewak as his father was preparing to take up his chieftaincy role. During that time Sir Michael was also chosen to be the next Sana after his father hence, he was given to one of his uncles to learn the chief’s role – that is how it’s done.

Sir Michael started his education during World War Two (WW2) when the Japanese were in Darapa (Sepik) for only nine months because the Japanese lost in WW2.

When Somare, Sir Michael’s father became Sana, he taught Somare the real meaning oF Sana: The most important one was what he called ‘Sana’s peace making magic’. That is when the opposing clan or tribe come to fight them, they would first call them (the warring party) to come and sit down and eat with them, later they will ask them (the warring party) “if you want to fight take your spear and go stand there” (Somare 1975:23). With this strategy, their enemies would have a change of heart and would not want to fight anymore. “Because Sana invites people, and by doing so you (Sir Michael) would win them over to your side” (Somare 1975:23).

The village people believed in reconciliation rather than retribution” (Somare, 1975:10).

Education and being a teacher:

Somare went through the three initiation processes. He went through the third initiation after he became the Chief Minister because he thought that it was important for him not to separate himself from his people. It was essential that he established his identity at home.

Sir Michael was sent to Boram Primary School in 1946, then in 1951 he moved to Dregerhafer Education Centre to do his post-primary course. In 1954 he won the South Pacific Commission’s Literature Bureau Competition and in 1956, he was sent to Sogeri to attend a teacher’s training course for ayear. After completing the training, he was sent to New Ireland to teach “general subjects” as his first job. In 1959 he was transferred to Brandi High School just outside Wewak. He was then transferred to Tusbab High School in Madang.

Somare explains in chapter four that he was fortunate to be sent to a government school, he also explains that he doesn’t regard himself as a teacher whenever he goes to the village; he regards himself as a village man. This shows a strong connection to traditional ties the author was exposed to in his early childhood and exposure to traditions. The author was closely drawn to his people when he realized how the missionaries were attacking the culture. He developed stronger connection with his people and a responsibility to protect his culture. The author developed a sense of nationalism over the course of his life working as a broadcaster in Moresby. The injustice that was caused by the colonial administration was what got him so interested in politics.

Political interest:

In 1961 he joined a group that received special political education for six weeks in Konedobu where they were askedto conduct elections for the new Legislative Council. In 1963 Sir Michael was sent to Madang to teach at Talidig Primary School. While teaching he had an interest in radio work, hence he was sent to Port Moresby to join the publication section. He later applied for the job of a radio announcer in Wewak and was successful.

Sir Michael’s interest in politics grew during his recent stay in Port Moresby. When he was a radio announcer in Wewak he became the vice-president of the Public Service Association and the Secretary of the Worker’s Association. In 1965, Sir Michael applied for a scholarship in administrative college, where he met like-minded men such as:

Albert Maori Kiki,

Joseph Nombri,

Sinaka Goava,

Gavera Rea,

Jack Karakuru,

Cromwell Burau,

Bill Warren,

Lucas Waka, and

Ebia Olewale.

Later they all formed the Bully Beef Club and the club became a political forum where they began to have meetings with politicians. This was the beginning of Sir Michael’s involvement in politics.

Some key events in Sir Michael’s life include the time when the minister for territories C.E Barnes announced the freezing of all local salaries. This act made the Public Service Association and Workers Association very active because the people became more aware of the injustice by colonialism. It was during that time Sir Michael began to speak out on behalf of the people affected. Sir Michael’s activities conflicted with traditional government policy, which stipulated that civil servants should not engage in politics and should not make public statements. This was probably the key event because this was the start of Sir Michael speaking on behalf of his people regarding issues that mattered to the people.

Pangu Pati

Another key event was the formation of Pangu Pati. Once the party was formed Sir Michael gave up his career as a civil servant as he become more devoted to politics and the struggle for independence. It was a key event because this was the start of his political career as well as he was planning to take part in the upcoming elections. He encountered many challenges. There was not enough or no support at all from his director and department (Department of Information and Extension Services) because they were so annoyed with all his activities that were anti-colonialism.

Sir Michael then became the leader for Pangu Pati as well as the leader for opposition. This was also another significant event because it allowed Sir Michael to be very vocal about the injustice the colonial government was doing, the racial discrimination to be exact. Being in the opposition Sir Michael and his team were able to pass some laws they thought were good for the people for instance; requesting a commission of enquiry into the electoral system, which was passed without debate the second time (Somare 1975:60). Being the leader of the opposition Sir Michael was able to clearly see how the government was running the country. Later when he formed the coalition government he was able to make necessary changes for the betterment of the people. As stated in Somare (1975:95) “I also indicated the general direction of our investment policy by saying that whilst we recognised the importance of foreign investment we needed to take measures to prevent foreign control of our economy”.

Another key event was when Sir Michael was given the title ‘Sana’. He was already the Chief Minister at that time and chose to complete his initiation process to be traditionally recognised as a bigman, a leader for his people. Sir Michael was now expected to lead his people in the way of Sana. 

Sir Michael achieved a lot during his political career. One of his first achievement was when he earned the trust of the Sepik people and won the 1968 elections defeating the other two candidates though it was his first time to contest. Another achievement was the formation of Pangu Pati and it being the only major party during the first three years of the House. Though there were a lot of criticisms thrown at him regarding party politics that did not stop him. Pangu Pati was able to win some minor cases in the House for instance; Pita Lus introduced the Motor Traffic (Signs) Bill, which was subsequently passed (Somare 1975:61).

He travelled to Africa, Japan and the United States. He saw foreign travel as an important part of the process of growing into nationhood. His trip to Africa was an eye opener for him. He was inspired to see how the black people managed their own affairs and was convinced that Papua New Guineans would run their own affairs equally well. Sir Michael also travelled to Japan on the request of some modest Japanese businessman and retired old people who wanted to form a Japanese-Papua New Guinea friendship society. They were interested in PNG because some of their people had died in PNG during the war as well as they wanted to promote Japanese interest in PNG. Sir Michael then went to United States where he was taken around to see various places and people’s way of life for instance; he went and visited many black homes, were they talked about their living conditions and the difficulties they faced. When Sir Michael saw this, he thought of his people back home and hoped to get rid of the slums and help his people live better.

When Somare and his team led the nation into self-government on 01 December1973. There were a lot of challenges and criticisms on the notion of self-government and actual independence. Some members were telling him that, majority of the people do not want to be independent. As a result, the House of Assembly took a really long time to pass the date of self-government, however the Pangu Pati never gave up. Additionally, another key achievement was the Kina Day when PNG’s own currency was introduced to the people on 19 April 1975. The greatest achievement was when Sir Michael and his team led the country into full independence on 16 September 1975. These were few of Sir Michael’s political achievements.

Dealing with Separatism & Succession threats

Sir Michael faced regional pressure. First was the Gezelle issue where most villages and families were bitterly divided and each faction wanted to rule their own area causing problems for the Local Government Council. After that there was the issue with the people of Bougainville regarding royalty payments. They wanted a fair share of the revenue from the copper that was extracted as well as called for renegotiation of the Bougainville Copper Agreement. The issue with the people of Bougainville intensified when two highly educated Bougainville men were killed in Goroko. This made some Bougainville people to push for secession. As they kept saying that there was a general neglect of Bougainville by the central government.Then there was a movement in the Trobriand Island called the Kabisawali Movement led by John Kasaipwalova. John Kasaipwalova and his supporters refused to pay tax and acknowledge the authority of the Kiriwina Local Government Council which had been operating many years in the Trobiands. This almost led to a civil war. Following that another regional movement exerting pressure on the central government was the Papua Besena. The movement was led by Dame Josephine Abaijah and came about because the people in the Papuan District felt that the central government overlooked them and concentrated only on the New Guinea Islands side in terms of development hence Papua wanted to be a separate from New Guinea. With this movement riots occurred and things literally got out of hand as punches were exchanged between the Papuans and the New Guineans, cars smashed and so on. However, Sir Michael never used force to disperse the crowd. In fact he never used force as a means to solve all these regional conflicts. All these regional issueswere solved through peaceful means.


Somare’s life was shaped entirely by his cultural and traditional principles, his early childhood in the village, and his exposure to the traditional and cultural lifestyles. It’s more like the three initiations he went through was preparing him for a bigger task and responsibility, one that involved bringing independence to nineteen provinces including the two newly declared provinces at present. His successful win in the second House of Assembly election was because of the strategies he used, he followed the advice that was passed down by his grandfather Sana.

Somare emphasizes on the “Sana peacemaking magic” as a basis of how he lived his life in his career in politics. The advice he got from his grandfather Sana and his father Somare are advices that he lived with and followed. There is a connection between his up-bringing and his political life. As a matter of fact, the foreign policy, Universalism ‘friends to all and enemies to none’ that was adopted by Sir Michael Somare in 1975, was partly guided by his traditional up-bringing because in his father Somare’s words; “as a Sana you do not fight people, first you invite them, eat with them, you make friend first then you can challenge them”. Throughout the book he acknowledges Sana’s peacemaking magic and his father’s advice. He acknowledges the wisdom and strength that Sana has passed down to him that had strengthened him to bring Papua New Guinea to independence. Even to the end of the book he acknowledges and gives credit for Sana’s wisdom that he relied on for nation building.

The strengths of the book is that the author was able to outlined important events, such as early childhood, his career that continues into politics and the objectives that the author had achieved, however, the books weakness is that, the important organic laws that were supposed to be mentioned after the 1973 self-government was not mentioned. 

This book is a box-office and I would recommend this book for every young generation to read it because it provides good basis on what traditional and cultural system of values has contributed, shaped and mould Sir Michael Somare’s life. Sana provides a guideline of how traditional principles can shape moral characteristic of someone who once was a great leader and the founder of a nation.

Full Reference

Somare. M. (1975). Sana: an autobiography of Michael Somare. Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi.

Sana is sold for K50 at UPNG Book Shop

Fairwell Whiteman, An Autobiography of Ken Fairweather: Review by Russel Kitau

“Farewell White Man” is an autobiography of the life of Ken Fairweather in Papua New Guinea since he arrived in the country in the late 1960’s. Mr. Fairweather writes about his life since he moved here at the age of twenty-three from Australia but at the same time; tells his story about the history of PNG from the end of the colonial period to self-government andIndependence, and the period after that. The author was involved in different activities such as business, agriculture and politics so his experiences in those activities are reflected to tell his story. The book was written by the author toward the end of his political career and published in 2019.

Mr. Fairweather was probably more widely known for being politician in the PNG Government for two five year terms which spread from 2007 to 2017. Before this, he had been a businessman taking part in many different business ventures and projects. He had been involved in trucking and freight businessthat operated up in the highlands region and during this time, he met and associated with many ‘big men’, both national and expatriate who were involved in politics and business. He then later changed the focus to agriculture where he had been cultivating a hydoponic farm and later, working in cocoa plantation business on Kar kar Island in Madang province; which by author did not turn out very well. Through all these business ventures and activities, it shows how instrumental the author was to the economy of PNG at that time. All this happened at the post-colonial period and PNG was a new country that did not have many Papua New Guineans educated enough to take part in such economic activities at management levels. Even though the new indigenous leaders were emerging, these white men in PNG contributed to the development of the country significantly in their individual ways and business activities.

As the book is titled “Farewell White Man”, from my opinion, this entails a symbolic meaning to the experiences of the author in the transition of the country through colonial administration and then Independence. After Independence, many white people left with the colonial administration and others stayed back. Mr. Fairweather was one of those and among many others, though ‘half colonials’ as the author describes, genuinely cared about the development of Papua New Guinea and were willing to work in their capacities to contribute to it. Also, his perspective of things is influenced by his integration into PNG cultural society, particularly his strong connections with the Chimbu people and this allows him to be part of both cultures. Farewell white man could also be the author bidding farewell to the part of him that identified as ‘full white’ and now being part of PNG’s growth and society for so long, he is also just as Papua New Guinean as a lot of indigenous PNG citizens.

In the writing style, the author is very fun and conversational yet real and straight-to-the-point. He is rooted in the art of storytelling and for a reader; it can seem as if he were telling you the story for the first time in person. He also writes as he speaks and the ‘aussie way’ of speaking spears through his choice of words and the unapologetic use of inappropriate cuss words. His style of writing also attributes to his characters as a person and can allow the reader to know what kind of a person he is, or at least he was at the time. He uses images in the book which also contributes to the view of the kind of person he was and what kind of life he lived. The imagery was also used to support the stories he told in his book – of business, agriculture, politics and all the people that he met as a result of those engagements. 

Rowan Callick, an award winning journalist, captures the essence of this book through his praise as shown in the book’s first page. He states that “Papua New Guinea’s intriguing story has been inadequately told. But that is beginning to be remedied by a small but steadily growing corpus of memoirs – from Papua New Guinean politicians and others, and from expatriates who have given most of their lives to the country. Ken Fairweather’s new, bright, breezy and characteristically no-bullshit book is a most welcome addition to these instructive and entertaining stories from folk who made their mark on this wonderful nation”(Fairweather, 2019).

There are several points that stands out in the book. Firstly, Mr. Fairweather lived through a new and growing economy and put forward many insights, experiences and lessons. He and many others contributed to the development of the country after Independence. His association with so many other people, many of whom I have never heard of however, showed that his social life benefited him in his business life. He was part of several business ventures and even though he did things differently, sometimes ‘winged it’ and few times failed, he proved to be very successful. He adds how events such as the stock market crash and devaluation affected his business. He also points out few times how the Chinese were instrumental in this period as they were in PNG longer and were involved in trade and sale which also contributed to PNG’s economy and development. The author’s experiences can help aspiring business people in PNG understand some of the dynamics of making business in the country and how they can deal with it even though times have changed.

Secondly, the author eventually gets into politics and this experience presents many interesting and great accounts and lessons in PNG politics. The author talks of his accounts with some of the earliest PNG politicians and their personal lives through his experience. He accounts of some of the reasons why certain decisions were made under their leadership and what events influenced politics. The author highlights in many areas his relationships with these people and their families, inside and outside of politics. His success in politics with these individuals attests to the importance of ‘alliances’ in politics and how it strengthens the argument that it does matter who you know to get to some places you want to be. The author does point out that his entry to politics may not have been intentional but the people he knew and associated with had a driving effect on his entry and life in politics.

Furthermore, the author confirms the politics culture and norms in PNG and provides his take on several issues. He talks about the ‘money play’ in PNG politics and the weight it has on “moving things” and influencing people and their decisions. The stories he told mentions some of the highlanders such as Peter O’Neill and this shows it is beneficial to be a businessman and step into politics. He also gave a brief insight into the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project in PNG and why it was not as successful as planned. He attributes the ‘possible successes’ of the LNG project to other politicians and their leadership as he sees it and has his own opinions on what should have been done. He also mentions an achievement of his in being instrumental in raising politician’s pay in PNG. Even though the story of how he got there is an amusing one, many ask today whether the current extremely high salary packages for politicians is necessary and this is now a debated issue. The author also talks about his experience working in Bougainville during the time of Bougainville Copper Limited’s (BCL) entry and their work at the Panguna Mine. He does not fail to highlight why he thought it was a failure and what could be done to improve it. The author also mentions the ethnic differences between bougainvilleansand the rest of PNG, a testament to why we have the whole Bougainville issue today.    

In addition, Fairweather (2019) stated briefly on his involvement in the ‘woman’s vote’ and starting women meetings and women rallies where no men were allowed (pg. 191). The important aspect is that this was the first in PNG according to the author and may have been one of the instrumental initiatives of Mr. Fairweather to increase the involvement of women in business and their acknowledgment of the percentage of the vote they make up. It is heartwarming to know that he did care about people that worked under him or people in a defined area that he was a leader of. He also shows this quality as he talks about his experience working in cargo-carrying and trucking business up in the Highlands region. This is one of his greatest qualities as a leader and I believe all leaders should work to achieve objectives that will ultimately address the needs of the people. 

In looking at modern day politics, the author mentions several barriers to the country’s progression and highlights good things as well. He talks about the relationship between Australia, his home country and Papua New Guinea, his adopted country. It is evident PNG still looks up to Australia which has recently been more publicly rolling out its ‘Pacific Step Up’ Program in the Pacific and most definitely PNG, and the author puts forward strategies he thinks will benefit Australia in that concern. He also states that the increasing presence and dominance of China in the Pacific region is challenging Australia but “China is likely to win the economic game in the medium term” (Fairweather, 2019, pg. 294). To combat this threat, it is also interesting that the author puts forward the strategy that Australia should give half of its aid to PNG as direct budgetary support and let them deal with it. This was stopped many years ago and it is questionable whether the Australian Federal Government would ever do that again. Mr. Fairweather has served fruitful terms in the PNG Government and many can learn a lot from him and his experiences. 

Thirdly, the final point of interest is the author’s experiences in the transition period. This was a transition period for both the country from colonial administration to being independent, and the author’s personal transition from a ‘white man’ to a ‘PNG white man’. It also showed to be a difficult and challenging time in different ways. The author talks about the challenges of trying to build up the indigenous public service and the barrier of a white man teaching a Papua New Guinean how to be ‘white’. This was difficult both for the Australians who were not happy about that and also for Papua New Guineans, who found it difficult to learn quickly and efficiently. As the author put it, many of the whites who stayed back were ‘half-colonials’ but genuinely wanted PNG to develop in all aspects. 

Also, the author describes his ‘adoption’ by the Chimbu’s into PNG and his experiences being part of that group. This tie has benefited him in many ways, socially, business wise and politically and not many white men and women may have the privilege of being accepted into PNG society that way. Even though, through his stories, he describes himself as a man that loves beer, gambling and horse racing, he adheres to PNG customs and culture very well and found his gap to fit in. In a sense, the habits he brought from Australia are still with him yet he found his place in PNG society – he can say he is part of two worlds, two cultures and two societies. The transition of the country and the author’s personal transition offer very delicate pieces of PNG’s history and the infusion of an expatriate into PNG society respectively – such accounts make one appreciate the value of how far we have come as a country. 

In a nutshell, the main point of the author was to tell his story of his life in PNG, the history he has seen and the people he has crossed paths with. In a way, he aimed to give an account of PNG’s history through his experiences, some challenges the country faced and how different people and events contributed to bringing PNG to where it is now. The author has reached the main point of this book as an objective but I doubt he has talked about every piece of PNG’s history because one can only talk about so many things in a book.  

This book is a great read for many audiences; political science students, history students because it is beneficial to what they have studied but I recommend it for any student because social related issues affect everyone and the author’s experiences are mind opening. But ultimately, I recommend the book for every Papua New Guinean, and expatriates who have been in PNG or are interested in PNG’s history and its politics.


Fairweather, K., 2019, Farewell White Man, FC Productions, Australia

The book is sold for K45 at UPNG Bookshop..

Playing the Game, an Autobiography of Sir JULIAS Chan: book review by Michael Kabuni

Playing the Game is an autobiography of Sir JULIAS Chan. Chan is one of the founding fathers of Papua New Guinea, and twice served as prime minster (1980 – 1982, 1994 – 1997). He was the MP for Namatani, and since 2007, has been the Governor for New Ireland Province.

Unlike ‘Sana’, ‘Playing the Game’ tells you from the outset that this is a book about politics. True to it’s title, the book tells of the rise and fall of JULIAS Chan as prime minister and controversial political figure; it tells of the alliances and betrayal of PNG politics; and and attempt at explaining decisions that the author made.

The only non-political aspects of the book are the initial chapters on Chan’s early upbringing. Chan was born as the fifth child out of seven children on the Tanga Islands in what is now New Ireland Province. He is the the son of Chin Pak, a trader from Taisan Province, China, and Miriam Tinkoris, a native New Irelander. He was educated at Marist College in Ashgrive, in Brisbane, Australia.

Chan started his career in the family business in New Ireland. His interest in politics began around the 1960s. He was elected to represent the Namatanai district of New Ireland province in the pre-independence House of Assembly in 1968 and was re-elected in 1972, 1977, 1982, 1987 and 1992. He was Deputy Prime Minister four times (1976, 1985, 1986, 1992-1994), and Minister of Finance three times (1972–1977, 1985-1986 and 1992–1994). He also held the portfolios of Primary Industry (1977–78) and External Affairs and Trade (1994). Chan became leader of the People’s Progress Party 1970.

As is common in autobiographies, and more so for political ones, the book is critical of others except Chan himself. This is not uncommon for political biographies, so Chan should be forgiven for that. Autobiographies are personal accounts, and here, we finally get some answers on why he (Chan) made some of the decisions he made.

In this book, Sir J provides explanations and context to almost all decisions he made. Sir J’s name is synonymous with Sandline Crisis, and devaluation of PNG currency – Kina. And whilst there were some economists and businessmen who defended Chan’s decision to devalue the Kina, almost no one defended, or defends his decision in bringing Sandline mercenaries to PNG. So when I got the book, my main interest was to understand his explanation for bringing in Sandline mercenaries.

It’s best at this juncture to state the assumptions that I had before reading the book.

First, the view that ‘Sandline was brought in to kill Bougainvilleans’. This is the prevailing narrative and one I took subscribed to before reading the book. However, according to Sir J, Sandline was brought in to be dropped into rebel ring leader Francis Ona’s hideout to take him, either dead or alive. He argues in the book that the Bougainville crisis had gone on for so long, and there seemed to be no end to it. He thought that eliminating the ring leader would be the beginning of reasonable negotiations.

Even if you’re critical of this logic, it does make sense to some degree. Sandline was a very small group of mercenaries. Which means they wouldn’t have taken on Bougainville on their own. Sandline didn’t have the manpower and resources to fight an entire Bougainville Revolutionary Army. It would make sense if Sandline was brought in for a very specific and limited purpose: in Sir J’s own words, they were brought in to take out Francis Ona.

Second, because of Sandline Crisis, I had the view that Sir J was responsible for Bougainville Crisis. Whilst Sir J served in several cabinets, disagreements between Francis Ona, and Rio Tinto and the PNG government, started during the time Rabbie Namilu’s prime ministership. The demand for fair compensation and environmental concerns were raised before to Namilu Government. Instead of renegotiating the Panguna deal, Namilu sent the Riot Squad and then PNGDF. Pias Wingti, who replaced Namilu, sustained the intensity, and eventually escalated it into a fully blooded war. Sir J then inherited a conflict that predated him. And conflict where several peace talks collapsed, and people continued to die.

Sir J reveals the negotiations and deals that went on, sometimes behind his back to bring in the Sandline mercenaries. This includes Jerry Singirok. A quick google search would show international media reports that Singirok was bribed earlier, by a group competing with Sandline to do the job. But since Sir J opted for Sandline, Singirok stood up against Sir J, and is now know for leading the fight to deport Sandline. The books account is consistent with these reports. I hope Jerry Singirok writes a book one day, so we get his side of the story.

One thing that I still don’t get about Sir J, and hope to ask Sir J one day if I have the chance is why he has been, and still is, against the set up of the Ombudsman Commission. When the idea was first discussed by the Constitutional Planning Committee, Sir J was against it. He has been consistently critical of the Ombudsman Commission till now. In the book, he says the idea of Ombudsman Commission shows that we do not trust our leaders. And that we have a watch dog to keep the leadership accountable. He argues that OC hinders leaders from freely performing their roles as mandated leaders of the people.

After massive scale of corruption experiences in this country, I would have thought that Sir J would eventually come around, and instead argued for increased funding and staffing for the OC to hold corrupt leaders accountable. He has, however, never wavered in his criticism of the OC despite the systemic corruption experienced in PNG.

I’m glad Sir J wrote this book. It gives answers to some of decisions he made, though one might not be convinced of his explanations, at least we get to hear from him. I would have loved to read about Sir Mekere Morauta, in his own words. I hope Pias Wingti, Namilu, and others write about their time. When I met Nahu Rooney for the first time in early 2020, a family member of hers said they were hoping to write a book about her life. I would have loved to read her book. Autobiographies give first hand insight into the authors’ journeys, and Playing the Game does that for Sir J.

Playing the Game is a book any student of Politics, or anyone interested in PNG, should read.


Chan, J. (2016). Playing the Game: Life and Politics on Papua New Guinea. University of Queensland Press, Queensland. Australia.

Playing the Game is sold for K45 at the UPNG Bookshop.

PNG Book Review Series: Part 1 – Racism and Colonialism

After Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare passed away on 26 February 2021, many Papua New Guineans called for PNG History to be taught in primary, secondary, and tertiary level-education. We invited readers to submit reviews of books about PNG. In this series, we will be publishing reviews of books about Papua New Guinea, written by both Papua New Guineans and non-Papua New Guineans. The reviews will be presented in broad categories, starting with ‘Racism and Colonialism.’ The reviews below are not an exhaustive list, but its a start for those interested in race relations, and colonialism in PNG. A separate review will be on ‘history’ of PNG. The four books are: Miklouch-Maclay: New Guinea Diaries 1871 – 1883. This is the account of a Russian Scientist’s effort to prove that our ancestors were not a mere link between the animal kingdom and the Europeans as argued by others at the time. The second is a review of one of the earliest books on race relations and colonialism, titled ‘Race Relations and Colonial Rule in PNG’. The third is a book published in 2016 titled ‘The Embarrased Colonialist’ refereeing to Australia-PNG relations. The fourth is an account of a magistrate during the colonial times titled ‘Some Experiences of a Resident Magistrate.’

Mikloucho-Maclay: New Guinea Diaries 1871-1883book review by Bradley Gewa

Perhaps it is little known nowadays but in the 19thcentury, scientists in the Western world believed that Papuans were the lowest form of human species.

This idea about racial hierarchy in humans was passionately propelled into the mainstream by a prominent German scientist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). Using Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Haeckel proposed that there were 12 living human species categorized into 36 races, and that these species were at different stages of evolutionary progress. Haeckel based his ideas on criteria such as hair structure, skull shape and distance of the big toe from the others. Papuans, which Haeckel described as “bushy-haired” and with underdeveloped intellects, closely resembled the ape-like common ancestor of all humans, and thus were the most primitive human species.

Now considered racist and unscientific, Haeckel’s views at that time had a fundamental flaw: they lacked supporting empirical evidence.

These burning scientific issues in Europe would bring Haeckel’s own student to New Guinea in 1871, a time when the vast island was mostly alien to outside contact and influence.

Spanning a period of three years from three separate visits, Nikolai Nikolaevich Mildoucho-Maclay (1846-1888), a young Russian zoologist, anthropologist and ethnographer, would become the first European to live with and study the people of the Astrolabe Bay in Northern New Guinea.

His personal diaries, translated from Russian by C. L. Sentinella and including biographical and historical notes, was published in 1975 under the title “Mikloucho-Maclay: New Guinea Diaries 1871-1883”.

From the very start, Maclay employed a personal policy of respectfulness, friendship, honesty and trust-building in his dealings with the Papuans. With this he was able to gradually immerse into and almost become a part of the people of his study, giving him a rare insight into a human race that was poorly understood and regarded as “savages” in the Western world.

Maclay, perhaps through the noble nature of his interactions with the Papuans, witnessed a people who were self-sufficient, ingenious, imaginative and moral. This was far from the widely-held views promoted by his mentor and former teacher Ernst Haeckel.

Ultimately, his research findings would scientifically disprove many of Haeckel’s racial theories about Papuans, making Maclay one of the first scientific anti-racists and an eminent authority on New Guinea and its people. Maclay and Haeckel’s personal and professional ties would also deteriorate, as a consequence.

With the rise of black-birding, colonization and exploitation in the Pacific, Maclay would relentlessly plead for the rights and protection of native people. But this would all go unheeded by the superpowers.

Plagued by a debilitating illness, and with many of his works unpublished, Maclay died in his homeland, aged only 42.

C. L. Sentinella, in the book’s prologue, describes Maclay as “an objective scientific observer with an innate respect for the natives as human beings, and with no desire to exploit them in any way or to impose his ideas upon them.”

While intriguing in themselves, Maclay’s diaries also serve as a historical documentation of early contact of Papuans with outsiders and share a personal insight into an extraordinary man who deserves greater appreciation among modern Papua New Guineans.

Full reference: Sentinella, C. L. (1975). Mikloucho-Maclay: New Guinea Diaries 1871-1883. Published by Kristen Pres, Madang.

You can download a PDF copy of Mikloucho-Maclay: New Guinea Diaries 1871-1883by clicking here.

The life of Nikolai Nikolaevich Mildoucho-Maclay was made into a movie, but unfortunately, its in Russian language. Two documentaries can also be accessed online: Man from the Moonand PNGeans visit Russia

Bradley Gewa is a Research Technician with the New Guinea Binateng Research Centre based in Madang. His research/publications can be accessed here.Binateng Research also has a website, and Bradley’s blogs can be accessed here.  

Race Relations and Colonial Rule in Papua New Guinea – book review by Michael Kabuni

Ted Wolfers’ groundbreaking book, Race Relations and Colonial Rule in Papua New Guinea, has just been republished in 2016, forty years after the first edition appeared in 1975.  It is 181 pages long, and can be bought on amazon. 

Ted Wolfers wrote this book whilst he was in PNG between 1961 and 1971. He was sent as a young researcher for the USA foundation called ‘Institute for Current World Affairs’ (ICWA). This work is the collection of articles written for the ICWA as Newsletters. The research, lived experiences, and conversations inform the book. There are many aspects of the book that stands out, but for me, his defense of the Papua and New Guinea natives’ way of life, intelligence, and organized traditional way of life stands out. 

He understood what others at the time didn’t: that Papua and New Guinea societies were very efficient in their own traditional ways. For instance, PNG tribes had differing but quite developed arithmetic systems. The society was complex and organized. He critiqued the colonial administration and the racism that prevailed at the time. 

Wolfers was awarded the first PhD in Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Papua New Guinea based on this book.  The book has been widely used for scholarly research and tertiary-level courses on race, culture, and colonialism in general, and studies on racism and colonialism in the history, politics and governance of Papua New Guinea specifically. 

PNG and Australian relations have moved past some aspects that were clearly racist, but maintain other aspects that are quite paternalistic. It is surprising how similar some of the experiences documented in this book are still seen today. But also, it provides accounts that you cannot recognize today, as both countries have moved beyond such relations. It was a book that captured moment in time. Its worth reading.

Ted Wolfers’ later became the Permanent Consultant to Papua New Guinea’s pre-independence Constitutional Planning Committee in the run-up to sovereign independence in 1975.  He is now an Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Wollongong. 

Full reference: Wolfers, T. (1975). Race Relations and Colonial Rule in Papua New Guinea. Australia and New Zealand Book Co.

The book is sold on Amazon

$39.95 for hardcover

$29.95 Paperback

Free shipping.

Michael Kabuni is a lecturer with the Politics Department at the University of Papua New Guinea. 

The Embarassed Colonist – book review by Tanya Zeriga-ALONE.


The 140 paged book, titled, The Embarrassed Colonialist was published in 2016 for the Lowy Institute of Australia by the Penguin Press.  The book is small and easy reading but the 8 chapters are packed with so much insight about the Australia-PNG relationship.

I was curious about the title.  Who was embarrassed for what? In PNG, there is already a feeling of shame and anger at being labelled a lot of names including a failed state, a violent nation and even a hellhole.   Since the author is married into a PNG tribe, was he embarrassed at the way PNG has turned out – a 40-year-old wayward man-child? Or was the author just being a mouthpiece for the collective view held by Australia – PNG’s former colonial master. Or was he expressing his own embarrassment about the deteriorating state of the PNG-Australia relationship forged at colonial days.

It was an interesting read for me. I was born after PNG independence and therefore had no memory of time and events before independence and the two decades thereafter. Therefore, this book put into perspective the Australia-PNG history.

The main emotion that ran through my veins was pride but when I eventually closed the  book, I was angry…. then sad …and then resolute that change for the better must take place in my lifetime.

Change has been very rapid for PNG since independence. The vortex of change has sucked PNG from isolated primitive tribes into the global village already made small by virtual reality.

The physical change has been enormous in the last 80 years but sadly the psyche of the Papua New Guinean individual is yet to assimilate the changes.

The continuous transition from a thousand cultures to the western culture is indeed a growing pain for PNG. As rightly stated by the author, the symptoms of this transition are everywhere – corruption, poor development policies, law and order challenges and attitude problem. But PNG has made commendable progress in other fronts: economic development, the justice system, the free media, and women empowerment, to name a few.

Indeed, the PNG challenges started at independence. At independence it was a big ask for thousand tribes to exist as one. In retrospect, the author observes that the Australians including the Kiaps packed up and left too soon. But they left a legacy behind.

The kiaps left behind their colonial policies – policies that are outdated for the 21st century, policies that favor colonial power. Translated to this day: policies that favor those in power (i.e. modern day kiaps) and outsiders.  This is most obvious in the natural resource extraction policies.

Given this insight, it is indeed not ignorance, but self-serving and blatant indifference to PNG, when Australian projects and even in some case AID money is given to implement projects based on such old policies.

Australia also left behind a leadership vacuum.  The kiaps were a government unto themselves in the villages . But when they left, they transferred everything to a committee  of parliamentarians in Port Moresby. Without direction, people came up with their own definition of leadership – mixing the new and the old. This may have also contributed in the self-serving, indefinable concept of the “Melanesian Way”.

I disagree that PNG is Australia’s illegitimate child as asserted by the author. The inhabitants of the island of New Guinea were nations running their own affairs until colonialism unceremoniously dumped this land of a thousand nations onto Australia.

At the time, the island of New Guinea was made a territory of Australia, the white Australia had declared Independence less than 5 years prior. Australia was a very young nation of united colonies when it was given the task of rearing an unruly and primitive nation of a thousand tribes.

Unlovely it may have been, the island had natural resources for exploitation. Australia had forsaken the caste system of their motherland and was embracing capitalism – they needed a chicken that could lay golden eggs. Even before the World War II, Australians were prospecting for gold, timber, and oil in New Guinea. These prospectors were the ones that opened the New Guinea interior to the world.

Then World War II broke out.  The Japanese threatened the newly independent country, and Australia needed to win that battle away from their home front in New Guinea.

As valuable as it were, PNG was reared at arms length. The evidence is in the many policies from the colonial days. Then again, in defense of Australia, PNG was their first-born, and like new parents they were unsure how to bring it up.

What I still don’t understand is why in this day and time, Australia is still keeping PNG at arms length when compared to how they treat other Pacific Islanders? How else can we explain the unjustified challenges faced by Papua New Guineans in issues such as visa and the fruit picking scheme and the latest project – the Colombo Plan?

It is true that so many Australians love and have adopted PNG as their second country and like the author, may have married into the Melanesian culture. But the collective machinery in Australia used in dealing with PNG still seems so-old fashioned and racist and patronizing.

Evidence? How else would one describe the 5-word admonishment by a representative of Australian High Commission to the author … “Stop thinking like a PNGean” (pg 76). I have read and reread but the author does not elaborate anywhere in the book, what it means to “think like a local”.

Unfortunately for white people who have been in the PNG sun too long, they start thinking different-like Papua New Guineans.

So at the end, who was the embarrassed one? Sean Dorney is an Australian, with over 40 years of family ties to PNG. He may be regarded as a renegade to his birth country because he has started to think like a local. This inside knowledge however, makes his voice one of the most authentic voices to discuss PNG issues. With his leg in both societies, he has judged for himself and has spoken.

The rules for re-engagement as recommended by the author are spot on.  Seeing eye-to-eye is very important for the way going forward. PNG has been forced to grow up fast in the last 40 years. At 40, PNG is old enough to navigate its own waters, but put into nation building perspective – 40 years is still infancy. Indeed, PNG needs a guide, if not Australia then who else will do it?

As a re-engagement recommendation, PNG also needs to take responsibility for its own growth and start behaving like an independent nation.

This book even though written by an Australian, is the PNG voice speaking to Australia.  It will serve Australia well to take this work seriously. I also highly recommend this book to Papua New Guinean readers. Young people, you need to learn your history and only then can you chart a better way forward for your nation.

Full reference: Dorney, S. (2016). The Embarassed Colonist. Penguin Group (Australia), 2016

The Embarrassed Colonialist is available to purchase from all good bookstores ($9.99). An e-book version ($3.99) is also available

Tanya Zeriga-Alone is the Lead Researcher at Menggeyao Morobe Consultancy. She also blogs frequently. You can read her work here.

Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate – book review by Bradley Gewa

New Zealander Charles Arthur Whitmore Monckton (1873-1936) first arrived in British New Guinea in 1895 to find work as a Magistrate. However, the Protectorate’s Lieutenant-Governor Sir William MacGregor was unable to recruit Monckton due to budget constraints and the latter’s inexperience and lack of knowledge about New Guinea and its people. Macgregor directed Monckton’s attention to the newly-discovered goldfields on Woodlark Island, and this Monckton gladly took on, later engaging in pearling and trading in the Louisades.

Monckton returned to New Zealand for a period to study navigation, and in 1897, bought a small boat in Sydney and sailed to Port Moresby. Macgregor was then able to offer him relief posts as Resident Magistrate in the Eastern Division, the Mekeo district and the South-Eastern Division from 1897-99. He would later take up permanent appointments in the North-Eastern and Northern Divisions after 1899.

Monckton’s book “Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate” published in 1920 is the first of several books about his time in British New Guinea.

In this gripping, adventure-packed narrative, Monckton recounts his exploits as a miner and trader in Woodlark and Louisades, and his later experiences as a Resident Magistrate in a land largely unpenetrated by colonial impact.

Taking up his job as Resident Magistrate at Samarai for the South-Eastern Division, Monckton enquires with his departing predecessor about his required duties and discovers that beside his magisterial responsibilities, he had to train his own police, sail boats, marry people; and act as gaoler, undertaker, surveyor and doctor in the absence of these and any other specialists. Sir William Macgregor, Monckton learnt, expected his Resident Magistrates to “know everything and do everything”.

The Samarai gaol at that time held the troublesome Binandere prisoners charged with the recent murder of the Northern Division’s Resident Magistrate John Green at Tamata Station. In the book Monckton gives his description on the events that unfolded which led to punitive expeditions into the Mambare River by the colonial government.

In the Mekeo District, Monckton tells of his exasperating efforts in attempting to aid the Mission’s work and exert government order in an area where cunning sorcerers had perpetually held the locals in a fearful grip. It was in the newly created North-Eastern Division that Monckton takes up a permanent appointment as Resident Magistrate. Arriving at Cape Nelson (now Tufi Station) in April 1900, Monckton is charged with establishing a government station to control the numerous war-like tribes and exercise law and order for the miners at the Yodda goldfields.

Based at Cape Nelson, Monckton trains his local constabulary, led largely by his trusty Binandere men, into one of the most effective fighting forces in British New Guinea and embarks on exploratory and, at times, punitive expeditions throughout the Division.

He wisely forges close alliances with the chiefs of some of his Divison’s fearless tribes, notably Chief Giwi of the Kaili Kaili Tribe and Bousimai of the Binandere, and enlists their help in his missions. He also wins over to his side captured war leaders like the powerful Oiogoba Sara of the Baruga Tribe to aid in the government’s cause.

With his highly disciplined police and warrior tribe allies, Monckton effectively subdues cannibalistic pillages by combative groups like the Doriri, Dobuduru and Paiwa on their weaker neighbours and brings the Division into relative order.

In the Musa swamps, Monckton describes his amiable encounter with a peculiar people known as the Agaiambu, who over generations had adapted to living entirely on stilt house villages over the water, and thus rendering their feet impractical for walking on land.

Monckton’s descriptions in “Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate” have been confirmed to be factually accurate where concerning events in Divisions where he was directly involved in. His narrative also contains perceptive observations on the local people and their customs, accompanied by various sketches and historical images. Intermittently in his writing, Monckton both extols and criticizes the conducts of his colleagues, missionaries and other expatriates in the British Protectorate.

 An efficient, tough and quick-witted officer who also showed great loyalty and respect for his faithful Papuan allies and subordinates, Monckton was admired as a “fearless fighting man” by some of his colleagues. On the other hand, his trigger-happy methods in some of his dealings with aggressive tribes made him unpopular with some officials.

Monckton’s book, nonetheless, provides a first-hand historical glimpse into the workings of the early colonial government, as well as the raw, pre-modern way of life of Papuan tribes as they began to come into increasing contact with a foreign, overpowering influence.

Monckton, C. A. W. (2016). Some Experiences of a New Guinea Resident Magistrate Wentworth Press 

The book can be accessed in various ways, and the costs vary. On Kindle its $3.99. Hard Cover and Paper Back copies can be bought on Amazon, costing $37. 12 and $28.1 respectively.

Bradley Gewa is a Research Technician with the New Guinea Binateng Research Centre based in Madang. His research/publications can be accessed here.Binateng Research also has a website, and Bradley’s blogs can be accessed here.  

We invite reviews from readers.

Senegal-look-a-likes with Malayan hairdos: meaning of PNG

Papua New Guinea Map, draped in its flag

We all have names, not of our choice, but at least every name has significance. You were named after a hero, a dear friend of your mum, or native language that has deeper meaning. It’s different if something or someone is given a name by a stranger, depicting some meaning that only the stranger knows, and that name stuck for more than 100 years. Especially if the name had no significance or didn’t depict the object named. Such was the case with Papua and New Guinea, which became Papua New Guinea at independence in 1975.

In 2015, Professor John Waiko suggested that Papua New Guinea be renamed “Paradise Country” during the Waigani Seminar at the University of Papua New Guinea. He was ridiculed. I thought it was funny too. But when you look at the alternative, that is, what Papua New Guinea means, it can be best summarized as:

“Black look-a-likes of those occupying south of the Senegal River, the second lot to be discovered, with Malayan hairdos.”

In this blog I explore how the name “Papua New Guinea” came about, and ask whether we should be content with it.

What does “Papua” mean?

Why do we have “New” in between?

What does “Guinea” mean?

To make sense of things, we have to separate Papua from New Guinea, as it was before 1975. Papua was colonized by the British in 1884 at the request of British colony in what is now Australia, as they feared German presence to the north of Papua. The Germans had colonized the north, using New Guinea Company earlier in the year.

But neither Britain nor Germany gave Papua New Guinea it’s name. Don Jorge de Meneses, a Portuguese explorer, is credited with the European discovery of the principal island of Papua New Guinea in around 1526-27. He is also credited with giving the name “Papua.”

Papua derives from the Malayan word pepuah meaning curly or curly hair. The people along the southern coast of the island had hairs that looked like those in the Malayan Peninsula. The word Papua was use to describe our people who had curly hairs similar to the Malays. They had a Malayan-like hairdo.

It sounds like a harmless descriptive word. But if you asked the locals at the time what they called themselves as a people, I’m sure you’d have a much better description of who they are as a people than a word merely describing Malayan-like hairdo. The people that Don Jorge de Meneses observed probably had a name for themselves. Something that signified their history, legend, culture etc. What did they collectively call themselves? One thing is certain: they never called themselves “curly haired Malayan look-a-likes.”

And then you have “New Guinea”. This is a bit more problematic.

‘New’ here means those found on this (new) island were not the first to have such black features. They looked like people found elsewhere in Western Africa. At the time, Spain, France, and Portuguese divided up Western African, including a landmass that they called Guinea.

We were called ‘New Guinea’ because we looked like those in Guinea in West Africa. At independence, French Guinea became Guinea as it is known today. Spanish Guinea became Equatorial Guinea, and Portuguese Guinea became Guinea-Bissau.

So what’s a Guinea?

I know what you’re thinking: Guinea Pig 🐷. No it’s not. A curly haired guinea pig would have sounded very derogatory, thank goodness it’s not.

There’s no agreement on why portions of West Africa were called Guinea. Guinea is a Spanish word, which derived from a Portuguese word ‘Guine.’ Guinea was used by the Portuguese to refer to ‘land occupied by black Guineus’ or black Africans living south of the Senegal River.

New Guinea therefore, essentially meant ‘look-a-likes’ of people who occupy the south of Senegal River in Western Africa.

So there you go. Papua New Guinea as we know now has nothing original about it. It’s a construct of terms describing ‘look-a-likes’ of those in Western Africa and those in the Malays. The former has to do with skin pigmentation and the latter has to do with hairdo.

Papua New Guinea, in summary, would essentially mean:

“Black look-a-likes of those occupying south of the Senegal River, the second lot to be discovered, with Malayan hairdos.”

Senegal-look-a-like with a Malayan hairdo is hardly a description of what we are, don’t you think?

My preference: Kumul Nation.

What other names do you think best fits us?

SANA – Tribute Poem by Yanamlyn Yana

Sir Michael Somare. PC: Kalakai Photography

the sun did not rise as it used to
it knew it won’t shine on you
the heavens above mourned heavily
its tears rushing down streams
sweeping away all in its way
the clouds are low today
as if they want to get a glimpse of you
laying in your bed
to make sure it truly is true
that you are no more

you fought for your people
the Melanesian people of PNG
it did not take years
for you to be granted self governance status
they may say it was given on a golden plate
but I say not one will ever comprehend sleepless nights
you endured to make sure we were free people

free people do not ask for freedom
they claim it
and you did
bringing together thousand tribes
to co-exist with each other

we are free people
do not worry
rest well Melanesia Warrior
know that we are free
as our ancestors were
as our forefathers were

this is our land
of high mountains
of swaying palms
and coral seas
in its fullest splendor
people are in awe
as to ask ‘where did this paradise emerge from’

the spirits of the land, the sea and the mountains
of our great great ancestors
as they watched you when your Mama gave birth to you
as they watched you when you grew up
as they watched you when you fought for us
as they watched you when you stood on the Independence Hill
and as now they watch you
when you are taken to the sky above
by the Great Mighty Spirit of God

as a Kwila you stood
strong and firm, immovable
Now as a Kumul you fly
Fly so high proudly
Into your heavenly home

be rest assurred
that your legacy lives on


The poem, originally written by Yanamlyn Yana on 26 February 2021, the day Sir Michael Somare passed on. Republished with permission.

Lazarus Towa: Managing 500 emails/messages per day

Lazarus Towa (left) and I
PC: Lyn Yana

Before yesterday, I spoke to Lazarus just once. Sometime this year we met briefly, say hello and passed. That’s what you do when you meet your Facebook friend, right?

But I’ve been hoping to speak to this guy. To ask him questions. We all know Lazarus is the guy who runs the popular “Current Job Vacancy Repost with LT”, a Facebook group that has 202, 000 followers. The guy who was awarded the Young Man of Honor by Digicel Foundation in 2018, and won the 2018 Commonwealth Youths Award from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and had a chat with Prince Harry, and the United Nations Youth Champions for Sustainable Development and some that we probably don’t know about.

But when I come across people like Lazarus, I ask them “how do you do it?” or “how did you do it?”

Cameras love the grand stage. Newspapers sell papers covering award nights and TVs have high viewers during grand finals. But there are no cameras, no journalists, and no coverage of the toils that leads to these grand moments.

So when I walked past him for the second time, and realized he was alone, I acted as though I just stumbled across a long lost friend. High-fived and invited myself to the empty seat opposite him. We had more than one hour chat. And I began with the question: “how do you do it?” Every time I go online, I see a post on “Current Vacancy Repost with LT”: either a vacancy, a story of how someone got a job using tips from Lazarus, scholarship information, and Lazarus replying to these people. How does he do that? I teach approximately 400 students at UPNG every year, and it kills me! 202, 000? How?

This guy replies to about 500 messages per day, using his own resources. Messages from people from all walks of life. Messages from PNG and the Pacific region. Questions range from seeking assistance from Lazarus on how to develop their CVs. Questions about how to prepare for an interview. Questions about a job application he shares on his Facebook group, scholarship, etc.

I asked him questions like: how do you manage your time; has it ever crossed your mind to monetize a large following of 202 thousand; where does your motivation comes from; how do you manage criticisms; why did you start such a time consuming voluntary job; how many people have gotten jobs because of your help; how long are you planning to keep this thing running?

Below is a summary of our chat.

Why and how did you start?

Lazarus was one of the first among his friends to get a job right after the end of his final year of studies in 2014. Thanks to an internship the previous year with Australian Awards office in PNG. After securing a job with Awards PNG (he’s now with US Embassy – PNG), he started helping his friends to find jobs. He would do their photocopies, scans, fix their CVs etc using his own resources. He then realized that not everyone can develop a good CV, or better sell their skills, or even prepare for an interview. He thought “if this is a problem faced by people I know, then there must be many more who face such challenges.” This gave birth to the now popular “Current Job Report with LT.” He also runs trainings o weekends and holidays on these same topics.

How many people have you helped secure jobs so far?

Lazarus says that in his honest estimation, he has directly helped more than 700 people get jobs. However, I think this is a conservative estimate. His estimate is based on how many people send him a message to thank him, or post on Facebook and tag him after getting a job with his help. We know the story about the 10 people that Jesus Christ healed, right? Only one came back to thank Jesus. Lazarus (coincidently Jesus’ friend’s namesake), may be dealing with the same. I think few come back to say thank you – after all, if they did it to Jesus, they could do it to anyone 😂.

Has it ever crossed your mind that you could monetize (make money out of) your large followers?

I know he wouldn’t, but asked because this seems to be a trend with the so-called “influencers”. Have you ever come across a video on how to invest in stocks, and the guy tells you the benefits of stock market and then tells you to sign up for a two weeks course to the secrets of becoming a millionaire through stocks? Or a pretty lady tells you how to loose weight but you need to sign up for personal, customized, coaching? So I put it straight to Lazarus. I figured the question made him uncomfortable. He has never monetized his followers, and will never do.

So why do it?

He said he does it because it gives him joy helping another individual get an opportunity in life. His reward for using his own resources, time, and peace of mind? When someone gets an opportunity in life because of his interventions.

He told me: “we could walk out right now (from Cuppa Coffee at Vision City) and walk to the front gate. And before we reach the front gate, we will be stopped couple of times along the way, and people will thank me for helping them get a job, or scholarship etc.”

We didn’t do that because I had someone to meet at the same place. And he left because he had someone to meet. It was Valentines you know.

How do you respond to 500 messages? How do you manage your time?

This invoked a long discussion, but it’s a combination of effective strategy, and efficient use of time. He has developed sample answers for the most popular questions he receives. So if you asked for tips for job interviews, he would copy and paste a detailed response and email it to you. Or send you a pdf. file he designed before. For details about a job vacancy he posts, he’d send you details and contacts he prepared before posting.

But even with a pre-planned responses, you still have to manage 500 of those.

Lazarus uses a strategy I also use in my personal life. Something called ‘incremental gains’ or incremental use of time. You do not have to wait until the last minute and do everything at once. Do it in five minutes sequences if you can. Commit five minutes for every half an hour. So in 30 minutes, you have 25 minutes to do other things. Spend 5 minutes to replying to emails and get back to your work. You can do the same for reading. Try spending 10 minutes out out 60 instead every hour, instead of whole weekend. If you’re consistent, by the end of the day you have done more than if you spent 5 hours straight at night.

However Lazarus does spends his lunch hours and after work hours replying to messages sometimes. He ensures that he doesn’t do his voluntary work helping Pacific Islanders to new opportunities during his work hours at the US Embassy in Port Moresby.

Do you plan on stopping, or what is the future of “Current Job Vacancy Repost with LT”?

Lazarus said he will do it for free, for as long as Lazarus Towa is alive.

Finally, how do you manage criticisms on Facebook that you do this for your own gain?

This was a silly question but I had to ask it anyways. Because I do read such negative comments and accusations. Lazarus’ responded: if you have a clear conscience, and you know what you’re doing, that is all you need. Criticisms have been, and will always will be, a cousin of any good intentions.


Lazarus is one normal Kerowagi kid, who uses his time, energy, and passion to help another human. If we set aside 5 minutes to help another countrymen, a stranger, we will have helped PNG in a great great way.

If you see Lazarus, give him a high-five. The guy has a huge smile.

About “My Sons Are Coming“ series

In 1961, Kondom Agaundo, member of the first legislative council, was invited to give a speech in Canberra. With very limited English, he stumbled before an all-white, English speaking audience. He then went off script, and said the following:

“I am a chief among my people, but now I stand here before you like a child. And when I try to speak in your language, you laugh at my words. But tomorrow my son will come, and he will speak to you in your own language. This time, you will not laugh at him…”

Lazarus is one of many sons. Sons of Kondom Agaundo.

Lazarus’ story is the first of a series of blogs Academia Nomad will run. Celebrating the coming of Kondom Agaundo’s sons and daughters. The young elites of PNG doing great things.

If you know of someone we could interview, comment below.

Bougainville Regional Election: Going backwards from the gains of referendum?

Llane Munau, sole female candidate for Bougainville Regional Seat, 2021. PC: Llane Munau

Let’s begin with a have a quick summary of what this blog is about. This is part two of the regional candidate Llane Munau, the lone female candidate’s experience contesting the recent Bougainville regional election. Earlier we published part one where the Bougainville people, particularly the womenfolk, asked Llane “where is our vote”? (vote blo mipla go we) when the counting tally didn’t reflect how they voted. See link to part one of the article at the end.

Part will make one uneasy. When PNG Electoral Commission set the dates for the Bougainville regional election in January 2021, the Office of Bougainville Electoral Commission was not notified. At least that’s what they said. And then the polling day was initially set to run for two days, but reduced to one day for some polling stations (locations). This information didn’t get to the people on time. The polling day for some stations (Central Bougainville for instance) were changed just before the polling day. Again, many voters didn’t know about it. In PNG, any last minute change is a very bad idea, given how slow communications flow. It’s even worse in Bougainville considering the bad communication infrastructure following detestations from the 10 year conflict.

The number of polling stations, more than 400, exceeded the number of police personnel in Bougainville by the hundreds, so naturally integrity of the voting process is now being questioned. Scrutineers who observed very low turnout for the actual voting day in some stations due to change of dates and reduced number of days were surprised that ballot boxes that were supposed to have just 6-12 ballot papers exceeded this numbers during counting…. any many more suspicious and questionable practices and outcomes are being reported.

This claims contrasts with the excellent Bougainville referendum conducted in 2019.

The referendum in 2019 was regarded as great success, not only because it was fulfilling the third and last pillar of the Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001 (three pillars of BPA were: Autonomy, Weapons Disposal and Referendum), but because it was regarded as transparent, credible, inclusive and innovative by local and international observers. It applied several aspects of election management that were never tried in PNG elections. For instance, ballots were taken to the old people and the disabled who couldn’t come to the polling station; those residing outside of Bougainville – PNG, Solomon Islands, and even Australia were able to vote; and those who didn’t have their names on the common roll still voted under the ‘provisional’ voting. The provisional votes were taken to the counting station and cross-checked with the updated common rolls and counted if the names were on the updated common roll.

So how did a region that did so well for the referendum in 2019 do so poorly for the regional elections just a year later?

Below is Llane’s experience. It’s taken from her Facebook post. It constitutes Part 2 of Llane’s story republished by Academia Nomad on 3 February 2021.


“The first dates of the bi-election were circulated and I sent the circular around. However, I felt I had to reconfirm the dates with OBEC (Office of Bougainville Electrol Commission). The OBEC didn’t know anything about the first dates. So I looked again at the circular and it was from the PNG Electrol Commission. Well understandably; it was an election for the PNG National Government, not Bougainville. Anyway the first dates were postponed and then the second dates came out and I went and nominated.

During my 6 weeks of campaigning, I heard that there will be only one day polling; eventhough the dates given said there would be 2 weeks of polling. When enquiring, the reply was, “…the PNG Electrol Commission would be trialing a new system of running the whole elections so they could use it in the upcoming 2022 PNG National elections.”
When polling day drew nigh, I got the list of places where polling would be held. There were 442 polling sites all through out Bougainville. My first thoughts were, ‘we don’t even have 442 police personels on Bougainville. Who will guard each polling venue?’

Then I looked at the places were the people were expected to go and vote and honestly, some of the villages were miles away from the allocated polling sites. Bougainville has rugged terrain and people have to walk hours, even days to get to a voting venue in some areas. Bougainville might be an island, but the geography and terrain make getting around very difficult. I wondered how 1 day polling could be achieveable, but thought with proper planning and preparation, maybe this could be achieved.

When we got the polling date (Wednesday 20th, 2020), we started letting our supporters know to prepare them to turn up at the polling sites. For us in Central Bougainville, there were 130 polling sites. However in the afternoon of the 19th we got word on the street that polling for Central would be postponed to Thursday 21st because the electrol team in Arawa (Central) were slow to collect their polling items from Buka. The funny thing is, South Bougainville already got their items (eventhough they’re further away from Buka than Central) and they polled on the 20th and 21st 2 days in some areas.

Because it was already late, we couldn’t pass on the message to voters in the rural areas, and many voters in the rural areas turned up to the polling venues on the given date, only to be told to come back the next day. This was utter ignorance on the side of the electrol commission as they didn’t take into consideration that most voters, especially women and the elderly couldn’t make the same journey again to the polling sites the next day. So for Central Bougainville the incompetency of a few electrol officers had great repercussions to the outcome of the elections. Something I hope OBEC and PNGEC must look into. Many voters rights to vote, were deprieved. That is why high number of ballot papers coming in from very remote polling venues raise great suspicion, and especially when the ballots look like they’ve been written by only one person and there are no informal ballots. Because comparing it to the urban sites, there were quite a number of informal ballots from the urban boxes.

Reports and surveys coming in from around the island say that not many people voted. The total number of people who voted against the total number of eligible voters is very low. I guess lower than the cut off percentage required in an election.

This is already a failed election. From the current counting centre it seems like 79 thousand Bougainvillians voted. However, reports from many presiding officers say that not many people voted; some boxes having as low as 6 – 12 people who voted so how did we come up with 79 thousand ballot papers?

It seems that the whole election process was from the start corrupted by the one day polling. Plus voters rolls didn’t have names and voters were required to go back to their constituencies to vote and no postal voting. Bougainville like most rural areas can not have ‘one day voting.’ We are not urbanized like a western country. We have rugged terrain and people have to walk hours, even days to get to a polling venue. I understand this bi-election was a trial by the PNG electrol commission. Therefore, I believe the PNG Government’s motive of conducting this bi-election in Bougainville was not transparent right from the start in the Board Rooms of Port Moresby. I began writing my journey when my female (mamas) supporters asked where their votes had gone. I’m seeing that this question is just the tip of the ice berg, there is so so so much to be addressed or exposed in this whole electrol process or system in PNG and Bougainville.

More to come. For a better upcoming 2022 PNG National Election and 2025 AROB elections. This 1 day polling system is ‘useless’ and must not be used in the 2022 National Elections (Especially for a whole province, as I believe it was already trialled in other parts of PNG). Because if it is used, I already see major problems arising in this beautiful Nation. And lastly, please don’t keep using Bougainville as a testing groud for new formulars and systems.”

The END!

Note: this is Llane Munau’s personal account, and it’s subjective. That should be kept in mind when reading.

For part one of Llane’s story, click this link below:

Where is our vote? Bougainville women ask…

This is an edited version of LIane Munau’s experience as the lone female candidate contesting the Bougainville Regional vacant seat in 2021. This is part one of two parts series where Llane talks about Bougainville women asking why their votes for Llane did not show on the tally when counting started.

Llane Manu. PC: Llane

The Bougainville Regional seat, which represents the people of Bougainville in the PNG parliament was left vacant when the incumbent resigned to contest the Bougainville presidential election in 2019. For those not familiar with the current Bougainville political arrangement, Bougainville has been an autonomous region since 2001. It is referred to as the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, with an House of Representatives led by a president. But it also has representatives in the PNG parliament who represent Bougainville just like any other province in PNG. The representatives in the PNG parliament include Open MPs representing the Open Electorates or districts in Bougainville whilst the Regional MP or Governor represents Bougainville as a whole. Llane contested the governor’s seat in January 2021.

By way of context, since 1975, no women in Bougainville has been elected to PNG parliament. Llane was seeking to become the first woman from Bougainville to win a seat in the PNG parliament. A seat in PNG parliament at this point in time is very crucial, not least being that the PNG Parliament has the final say in whether or not Bougainville becomes independent. In 2019, Bougainvilleans voted 98% in favour of independence from PNG. But the final decision on their political status resides with the 111 MPs in PNG parliament. One of Llane’s five policy platforms was to seek PNG government for a fixed date for independence for Bougainville.

Llane’s policies. PC: Llane

Below are Llane’s experience in her own words…

“The couple of weeks have been a very interesting journey for me as a sole female candidate in the Bougainville Regional Seat By-Election. As I haven’t posted on FB about my journey, but now I feel I owe it to my voters, friends, supporters and family, plus anyone else who wants to know how the elections from campaigning, to polling, and counting went for me.

In one word AWESOME!; until Monday when I started getting calls from women groups around the island asking me; ‘ol vote blong mipla go we?’ (Where are our votes?). And there was also the question, ‘Why na ol meri Bougainville no voteim displa wanpla meri candidate tasol? (Why didn’t the women of Bougainville vote for this sole female candidate?)

The answer is: the majority of females who voted did vote for me. Not because I was the only female candidate, but because they agreed with my five policy platforms.”

Llane’s nomination got media coverage as a sole female contestant.

“Now, the big question is, where are the votes and why aren’t they showing on the tally board? In Siwai a group of more than 60 women hired a truck by themselves and went to a particular polling venue and cast their votes for me (Box 14); as they said, ‘it’s time they all vote for a female.’ But when the tally came out I only got 14 votes from the whole constituency. Where are these womens votes? Women do not lie about their votes, especially mothers from women fellowship groups.

In Taonita Teop and Taonita Tinputz it was the same. I didn’t mind until women called me up, or stopped our vehicle on the road to ask me, ‘ol vote blong mipla go we?’ ‘Mipla lotu group mama wantaim ol pikinini na man blong mipla go voteim yu.’ Then came the church youth groups, asking the same question, and the ex-combatants. I didn’t know how I could answer them because their votes never showed on the tally. I knew I had done a very good campaign in the Tinputz areas, and the places I couldn’t reach, the women, church groups and ex-combatants in the areas did very good campaigns there. However their votes never showed; plus the votes of my 300+ family in Tinputz. The tally showed that I got little to no votes from there as it seemed the two constituencies block voted for only one candidate.

Then I started to look at how the votes were tallied in each Region. In Central, when it came to boxes 75 – 130, where South and North Nasioi areas are in (where I come from), the PNGEC & OBEC (Office of Bougainville Electrol Commission) staff coordinating the counting stopped doing a call out for our scrutineers to know how much votes each candidate got in an area. Then the PNGEC & OBEC staff just closed the counting, packed all the ballot boxes without letting our scrutineers know the final results, and when the scrutineers enquired they gave excuses like: “there’s no pen marker to write the tally on the yellow canvas or, there’s no printer and ink etc…”

So we followed them to the OBEC office only to be met with more excuses. So from 2:30pm to 9:00pm we stood (in very heavy rain) there at the OBEC office waiting for some answers. They put out the yellow canvas in front of the OBEC office and started jotting numbers down, then in the night they gave us a print out, which to our surprise, one of our candidates numbers exceeded all to 13 thousand plus votes from just 55 ballot boxes, whilst the rest were two thousand less. I collected 1000+ votes from box 1 – 74, which are boxes not from my areas, but when it came to my home turf, I don’t know how the votes went because we candidates just got a print out telling us how many votes we got from Central votes. And now my family, friends and supporters are asking ‘Ol vote blong mipla go we?’

From South, my village in Nagovis there are less than 700 people. Voters would be 250 or less, but to my surprise, 1000+ votes came out from our box, and I got votes, but one particular candidate got 500+ votes from that box. I know it was one day polling and half the people didn’t vote; So What’s happening???? Where are these votes coming from?

Now it has dawned on me. These are the same questions supporters of candidates in the last Autonomous Bougainville Government election were asking; ‘OL VOTE BLONG MIPLA GO WE?’ Candidates they voted for especially in the Presidential and some special seats did not collect a single vote in their supporters areas. Many people in some of these areas have shared their sentiments and I begin to wonder, ‘Is our electrol process transparent? Have peoples votes been tampered with? Are our elected leaders voted into power in a clean way? Well I’m not a judge, but I am a journalist and an excellent researcher. I work with evidence and data, and from what I’ve collected, there is something very fishy going on.

Remember, Bougainville is a small island and we have family and friends everywhere, and for them to come show me their painted fingers and tell me straight to my face that they voted for me but I got no votes from their particular boxes, especially in the West Coast areas, I ask again, ‘What is happening. Where are these peoples votes??????’
Well all in all, people must know that majority of women in Bougainville did vote for me but where are their votes? Though it was one day polling and not many people voted, reports from presiding officers said, nearly all polling booths from North to South, more women went to vote than man. Now my question lies, ‘where are our votes?’ Women fellowship groups, of all denominations will not lie.

I’m writing this piece plus more to come because I know next year we will have another PNG National Election and I don’t ever want to hear voters asking the question ‘OL VOTE BLONG MIPLA GO WE?’ and to prepare those who will be stand to be cautious and protect your votes. I over trusted the system and the system has failed my mothers, sisters and supporters. But I have also trusted God wholly and His Word says, ‘…Whatever is hidden will be shouted on the roof tops.’ And the shouting has just began.


More to come, data to be published. ‘OUR TIME IS NOW!’ Esther 4:14.”

Note: this article represents the view of Llane Munau. It’s not objective. That should be kept in perspective. Nevertheless, if these claims are true it is a serious cause for concern. If almost 100% of the votes for the referendum was counted, why is it that elections should have missing votes?

Academia Nomad is republished Llane’s story with her permission. Part 2 will be published later.

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Solving PNG’s 27, 000 Student Problem: Online Learning & Open Campuses


“The greater evil is not that we are losing the best population of this generation: 27, 000 or so each year. But maintaining the status quo when we can do something about it now so the next 27, 000 don’t miss out…” Academia Nomad

There has been so much said about the 27, 000 students missing out of selection to PNG tertiary institutions. Views vary: some blame students for not investing time in their studies (so called boom-box generation), others blame COVID-19 and related disruptions, whilst others make the case for students who meet the GPA (grade point average) or entry requirements but still miss out on selection. Views of the last group, who argue for students missing out despite meeting the GPA should trouble the nation. As argued earlier in Academia Nomad’s article “Exclusive Club with low quality: trends in PNG tertiary institutions”, the first two arguments don’t hold water. You can only blame the boom-box generation after all the students have been selected and there’s still spaces available but no one is qualified to be selected. At the moment, masses of students miss out even when they qualify. Second, the problem of qualified students missing out on selection predates COVID-19, so you cannot blame COVID-19. Students have been missing out before COVID-19, and they will continue to miss out after COVID-19 is gone, unless the capacity of universities and colleges are increased. 

To solve the 27, 000 problem is not easy and can’t be done overnight. It will need massive investment in infrastructure, ICT, improvements in staffing conditions etc. Basically, the PNG tertiary sector’s capacity needs to be increased three times. Currently it takes in 9, 000. To take in the 27, 000 (27, 000/9 = 3), it needs three times more than the current capacity. 

Alternatively, PNG institutions can take the courses online, and increase satellite institutions or Open Campuses. PNG is entering a stage where these two initiatives are not only preferable, but imminent. It has to begin now, so the next 27, 000 students don’t miss out next year. And these two proposals  are relatively cheaper than building another university.

Open Campuses 

Open Campuses are small branches of universities established in the provinces with limited capacities.  They provide preliminary courses/subjects, and act as a pathway into universities. The conditions and efficiencies of these campuses are not known, but the general perception is that they are redundant, or ineffective, understaffed, under resourced, and don’t always deliver their promise as pathways to universities. 

This doesn’t mean the Open Campuses are therefore a failed concept. Those in cities, such as UPNG’s NCD Open Campus opposite the main UPNG Campus operates relatively well, giving many students access to UPNG main campus. Students can even attain a Diploma in Accounting just by attending Open Campus which is the equivalent to two years studies at the main campus. They have the choice to either continue studies as third year students at the main campus or graduate and go out and work. Divine Word has similar campuses, with the one in Port Moresby offering advanced subjects as well. Unitech offers DODL, but it’s more like code/FODE.

PNG tertiary institutions can assess what is working for their Open Campuses in the main Centre’s and duplicate them in the provinces. Offer good salaries, employment conditions, and improve the infrastructure for Open Campuses at the provincial level. The National Government should make this it’s priority. Students can complete Diplomas in their provinces. A lot more students would opt for this arrangement as boarding and lodging fees at the universities and colleges are very expensive. Also, this will open the door for public servants in the provinces to upgrade their skills. They don’t have to resign from their jobs to pursue studies in Port Moresby, Lae, Madang or Goroka. More importantly, it will account for the majority of the 27, 000 students missing out on selection.

I’m not a fan of the government loan: HELP. But to make any meaning out of HELP, education must be made available to the masses – the ‘extra’ 27, 000 students. Otherwise, the government is spending massive taxpayers money on very few privileged groups.

Online Learning 

The Open Campus concept can be complemented by either blended learning or full online learning. Online learning is basically education that takes place over the Internet. It is often referred to as “e- learning” among other terms. However, online learning is just one type of “distance learning” – the umbrella term for any learning that takes place across distance and not in a traditional classroom.

The so-called “boom-box generation” is also the most internet savvy generation this country has ever had. Great nations don’t always have the most resources, or the best circumstances, or luck. They look at their limitations and make very strategic choices. Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan etc., don’t have gold and copper and silver. They’re not islands of gold floating on sea of oil, the overused term that is associated with PNG. These are countries full of limitations. You can go back to 1945 – 1953 and South Korea was probably in a more dire situation than PNG. The WWII and the Korean War devastated almost every infrastructure, nascent industries, demoralized the population, and left massive dead bodies. And they built it up from scratch. PNG has to look at its circumstances, and use it to its advantage. If the kids are hooked to their phones, bring education to their phones.

The Coral Sea Cable, a 4700 km  underwater internet cable linking Sydney to Port Moresby will drastically increase the internet connectivity and speed in PNG. Now is the time to take education online. 

This is where we are: 27, 000 students missing out on selection; very expensive boarding and lodging fees; an internet savvy population who are stuck to their phones. Let’s change the way we do education. We can do that by going online, improving access by establishing more and better open campuses, and offering Certificates and Diplomas online or at the open campuses.

Not everyone wants a degree. Some just need an introduction into the main theories and current practices in the fields they are interested in. Some just want to learn the basics. For these people, offer diplomas and certificates online as well as at the open campuses. With the internet age, they’ll take it from there and become self-taught experts. Keep the degrees and MAs and PhDs at the universities for those who want to pursue them, and those who could afford them or have the temperament to get HELP loans and repay them forever.

My appeal to the Prime Minister, Minister for Education and Ministry for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology:

Sirs, we are losing the best population of this generation: 27, 000 each year. The greater evil is not that they are missing out, but the fact that they don’t have to miss out if we act now. Decentralize education. Take it online, and take it to the people in the provinces. For a time such as this were you put in such high places, make it count.

Academia Nomad has published several articles related to this topic. To read previous article check the links below:

  1. Exclusive Club but low quality: trends in PNG tertiary education sector 
  2. Not selected? Four ways to pursue studies in PNG 

God bless you all and take care…

PNG’s Student Loans: Recurring Problems Since 2001

Student loans are not new to PNG, it was implemented as the Tertiary Education Student Assistance Scheme (TESAS) between 2001 and 2007. About 7, 000 students borrowed money from the state, but only ONE woman repaid her loan! The government went to the extent of listing more than 3, 000 names in the newspapers and appealed to the public to assist in identifying those who got loans, and their guarantors but none responded. In total, the government spent K6. 6 million ($2.5 million). Last year, the government budget was K230 million ($49.3 million). About 10, 000 students are said to have borrowed varying amounts, but it is not clear how much of the K230 million has been borrowed.

The big question is: has the government learnt the lessons of 2001 – 2007? Moses Sakai has written two excellent articles on the history of student loans in PNG, and the recurring defects in this new Higher Education Loan Program (see article 1 here and article 2 here). 

The recurring problems are as follows:

  1. In the TESAS era, there was no clear timeframe for loan repayment. Under HELP, there’s no clear timeframe on when the students repay their loans. It states that a graduate that starts working and earns K462 will have 10% of his/her salary automatically deducted (if less than K462 they don’t pay). This scenario assumes that the student has formal employment upon graduation. But how about those who are not employed? What happens if the graduate’s salary remains under the minimum threshold for years?
  1. If the graduate fails to repay the loans, the guarantors would repay the loan. Guarantors are either parents, siblings, wantoks etc., who agree to repay the loan if the student fails to repay in the future. There are countless uncertainties: what happens if the guarantors retires, resigns, is bankrupt, etc., and the graduate fails to repay? When guarantors were contacted after the cohorts of 2001 – 2007 failed to repay the TESAS loans, the guarantors refused to pay. What happens if that happens again?
  1. The graduate is required to notify DHERST and their employer that they have a student loan. Can self-accountability work?

There are other related issues that make the HELP contentious:

1. DHERST initially (2019/2020) stated that GPA is the primary requirement for those applying for loan. This is because graduates with high GPA have better employment opportunities, thus improves the chances of loan repayment. However, the government pushed an alternative narrative and succeeded: that students should not be discriminated against based on their GPA. Assuming DHERST was right, and weak students don’t get jobs after graduation, loan repayment will become an issue.

2. The logic that guarantors should repay the loan is interesting: The reason why students are going for HELP in the first place is because their wantoks cannot help them now. Requiring the same wantoks to repay if the graduates fail to repay is a silly logic.

3. There is a possibility that this may all be political and no loans will be repaid: Let’s look at government decisions on education since 2019. First Marape declared that he would eliminate free education from prep to secondary school level, and focus on providing assistance via HELP for higher education only. Outcry, especially on social media led to a change in position. Now it’s subsidized education. Second, he announced that HECAS & AES programs would be eliminated and replaced by HELP (students with high GPA quality for the AES whilst students below AES quality for HECAS – both are government scholarships). Due to public outcry, the government retained AES/HECAS alongside HELP in 2020. What happens if thousands refuse to repay the student loans? We might see more changing of goalposts.

4. The USA and Australia are some countries that PNG can learn from. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiligtz equates the student loans in the US to the housing bubble that led to the 2008 economic crisis. The access to finance and the promised benefits is enticing. But with a limited market for those graduating, it runs the risk of a bubble.

5. Predatory for-profit institutions. In both Australia and the US, many profit oriented institutions enter the higher education space because they want to make money off from student loans. These institutions provide low quality qualifications for profit, and students and the state struggle later: students struggle to find jobs with poor qualifications, and the state struggles to get back its money.

With about 20, 000 students excluded from the formal system in PNG every year, private institutions will pop-up everywhere to serve this segment. Students who cannot pay for their fees will go for the HELP funds,  but will the pop-up private institutions provide credible qualifications? 

Now that’s a critic of the government’s HELP program. For parents and students, HELP is something you should give some thought to. 


Student loan is a burden, and if not careful, it will be like a rock chained to your leg, that you have to drag up the ladder in the most productive stage of your life. Below are scenarios you ought to know before you and your parents decide whether to get these loans, and how much to get.

The student completes a four years bachelor degree and gets a job. The repayment is tied to your income (income based repayment): your first pay will have at least two deductions – normal taxes paid by anyone with a job,  as well as the automatic 10% deduction to repay your student loans if you earn K462 per fortnight. Below are how the US and Australian Governments structured student loan repayments:

A. A minimum income threshold is set so that graduates earning low incomes delay their repayments (below for PNG K462). However, because graduates with a university degree are most likely to start earning higher wages (than K462 for PNG) they will not be exempted from either taxes or repayments, from the very first pay.

B. Beyond the threshold, the graduate pays progressively higher rates. The higher your income, the higher the taxes and deductions for student loan repayments. This becomes a real impediment to the desire to work hard and climb up the ladder.

C. Future commercial loans for business etc.: One of the non-compromising conditions of the commercial banks is to ask whether the individual has outstanding loans. Any graduate with student loans will have to deal with this challenge (perhaps except for SME funds).

D. For the state: What if the graduates do not repay and debts start to accumulate? Student loans in the US alone is a staggering $1.7 trillion (K6 trillion plus in PNG currency).

Proposed solution for Government to consider

Instead of providing loans, improve the existing scholarships. The current scholarship has AES, which is for the very high achieving students, and HECAS for those below that. Introduce a third category to make it three:

  1. Full scholarship for students with very high GPA (the students within the current AES category should make up this category, but this time they pay nothing). It’s a reward system. The harder your work, the better the reward.
  1. AES – the AES category should be filled with students currently under HECAS.
  1. HECAS – the minimum GPA for HECAS should be reduced to accommodate more students. 

This system should not be limited to the National Government. Provincial and District MPs who use portions of  their DSIP & PSIP funds for school fees should also structure it this way. Reward is the key. It makes people work. You get to allocate resources to those that deserve it. 

Message to Parents and Wantoks

If you can pay, pay for your child. You have done it before. Or at least let your child get half loan, you pay half. Crowdfunding that works in the Highlands is a great system. Someone from your tribe goes to university, takes pride, contribute and pay his/her school fees. If there’s money for bride price and contribution for the dead, there should be money for the living child.

If you cannot afford higher education fees, get the loan and study very hard. Get a good job and repay the loans.

Two related articles on higher education published by Academia Nomad that you may want to look up are:

  1. Student Loans, Chained Careers: The Other Perspective (2020)
  1. Exclusive Club but low quality? Trends in PNG Higher Education (2021)

You can follow Academia Nomad on the Academia Nomad Facebook page, as well as subscribing to this site (blog). 

May 2021 be the great year for you.

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