Thursday, July 31, 2008

Michael Somare sets a date for Papua New Guinea Independence

Chief Minister Michael Somare’s first target date for Papua New Guinea independence had been December 1974.

But half way through 1975 and still no decision had been made.

At one stage Somare had hoped to fix independence for April 19, 1975, to coincide with the anniversary of the formation of the first elected coalition government in 1972, but for some reason many members argued that no date could be set until the organic law and related legislation had been passed.

Nevertheless, the government still managed to commemorate the anniversary, for April 19 became Kina Day, the day when Papua New Guinea’s own currency was first introduced to the people.

Writing in his autobiography Sana: “Frustration at the delay in settling the independence date grew, and many people were beginning to say that independence wouldn’t happen in 1975!

“Even the press began to play with it that way.

“One headline read:’ ‘Somare angry – I Day in danger…An independence date in September may have to be ruled out.”

April and May 1975 were difficult months for Somare with demonstrations by university students against his decision to have the queen as titular head of state, as well as the National Pressure Group accusing him of trying to push the constitution through with undue haste.

On top of this, Somare had the Bouganville issue on his hands.

“Leo Hannett, whom I once appointed as my personal advisor on Bouganville affairs had started abusing me publicly on the radio and in the press for not listening to the wishes of the Bouganvilleans and their provincial government,” he wrote in Sana.

“He forgot that I had been personally responsible for introducing the legislation that brought Bouganville’s provincial government into being.

“Father John Momis, the regional member for Bouganville and deputy chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee, had always preached national unity, but now he began to join with Hannett.

“John Kaputin, the member for Rabaul, had also started attacking the government.

“The people encouraging secession were the very people who, in the past, had claimed to be champions of nationalism.

“With all the problems I was facing, I found it difficult to obtain support in the House.

“It was time to work out my tactical moves.

“I asked two of my senior ministers from the Highlands, Thomas Kavali, the member for Jimi Open and minister for lands, and Iambakey Okuk, the member for Chimbu regional and minister for transport and civil aviation, to lobby for Highlands support.”

On May 25, 1975, Somare organised a barbeque picnic at 17-Mile outside Port Moresby to gauge feelings of Members of the House of Assembly (MHAs) about independence.

Somare found that the majority of MHAs agreed to rescind the resolution that he moved on July 9, 1974 “that this house resolves that Papua New Guinea do move to independent nation status as soon as practicable after a constitution has been enacted by this house and that any proposed date for independence is to be endorsed by this House”.

On Wednesday, June 18, 1975, Somare decided at his breakfast table to test his strength – to determine whether he still had the kind of support he had had in the past.

He recalls that if he were to move the date he would be given a good indication of support.

So he told his cabinet that he was going to prepare the date that day.

The threat of Bouganville secession gave him the ideal opportunity to make a quick move.

The clock was ticking away towards that momentous occasion in Papua New Guinea history.

The House resumed at 2pm on that day, Wednesday, June 18, 1975.

It dealt with government business until 3.30pm.

At that time, the Speaker called on him and Somare asked leave to make an important statement.

Leave was not granted so he immediately moved to suspend standing orders.

He received the support of 52 members.

Opposition leader Tei Abal tried to amend the motion but was unsuccessful, losing 52-13 when a division was called.

Somare moved that “the House do rescind the motion of 9 July 1974”.

He then introduced that most-important and historic motion setting the date for independence.

Somare told the House of Assembly: “Mr Speaker, the time has come to make a firm decision on the date for independence.

“Our people everywhere are waiting for us to make up our minds, to take the initiative, to show we are not weak and indecisive.

“We are the nation’s leaders.

“The time has come to lead.

“We have put this off for too long.

“Let us act now.

“I have said this many times and I say it again: ‘Independence will bring strength and stability and unity’.

“Some could not believe me and said ‘giaman’.

“Now we all see the truth because of these events.

“When things happen that threaten our stability, when emergencies affect the well-being of our people, we must act and act quickly.

“That strength and authority will come when we are a truly independent nation.

“There are many things to be done and preparations made.

“Many nations or their representatives will be coming to join us at Independence Day celebrations.

“These important visitors must make their plans and preparations months in advance.

“It is very important we let them know as soon as possible.

“I am asking every member of the house to support me so that we can join together to decide on this date and make this day of independence a time that will bring us all great rejoicing – a day that our children and their children will always remember.”

Somare’s motion calling for independence on September 16, 1975, was debated and adopted by the House on the voices.

It took exactly 45 minutes!
John Kaputin and Josephine Abaijah, who had screamed about independence, walked out of the chamber before it was put to the vote.

Father Momis was not there to vote.

Somare reflects: “It took me months to get the self-government date of December 1, 1973, passed by the House of Assembly but only 45 minutes to set the date for Papua New Guinea’s independence.

“It was one of the happiest days of my life.

“With some of my colleagues, I had labored for three years to effect the constitutional changes necessary to bring Papua New Guinea to nationhood.

“When I decided to go into politics in early 1967, the one purpose I had in mind was to be instrumental in bringing the country to self-government and eventual independence.

“An Australian minister for external territories, CE Barnes, said in 1968 that it would be 50 years before Papua New Guinea became independent.

“At a Pangu Pati convention rally in 1971, I said it was my aim to bring Papua New Guinea to independence during my term in parliament.

“I am happy that in the face of Barnes’ gloomy prediction, it took me just seven years to achieve my aim.”

1 comment:

  1. Seline2:45 PM

    Excellent article, which made me appreciate Papua New Guinea's political leaders and the rich political history of my beloved country. Thanks so much, Mr Nalu.