By ALLAN PATIENCE in Sydney Morning Herald
February 3, 2012Opinion
Sir Michael Somare. Photo: AFP
The cult of Sir Michael has been disastrous for his people.
THE primary cause of the recent ''mutiny'' by sections of the Papua New Guinea defence force is a mix of soldiers' anger over low pay, their substandard living conditions, associated low morale, and grudges against some of their senior officers.
This has led some of them to back Sir Michael Somare in his quest for his reinstatement as prime minister, naively believing that the dishonoured promises of the past will somehow be honoured this time around.
Sir Michael and his followers are boycotting parliamentary sittings while scheming a take-over of the government before the general election due in a few months. Incumbency is vital to electoral success in PNG, so access to the largesse of the Treasury benches is now everything to the Somare camp.
Sir Michael's followers seem ready to go to desperate extremes to regain power. In a bizarre move last week, they ordered retired Colonel Yaura Sasa to seize control of the defence force and coerce the Parliament into restoring Sir Michael as PM. Sasa's five minutes of infamy were, however, quickly ended.
That the Somare camp would seek to politicise the PNG military shows Sir Michael and those around him are no longer fit for high office. But it also raises the issue of the Somare political legacy in PNG.
Sir Michael, his family and his political cronies have developed an over-weaning sense of entitlement. Over the years they have resolutely resisted legitimate attempts to subject their use of public resources to scrutiny.
For example, in a report by Justice Barnett in 1989, allegations were made that Sir Michael and people close to him profited from links to the Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau. The Barnett report has never been acted on despite its revelations of serious improprieties and its unequivocal recommendations for criminal charges to be laid.
More recently, Sir Michael and his son Arthur purchased expensive properties in Cairns. How they obtained the funds for these purchases remains a mystery, despite several attempts in 2007 to hold them to public account.
Sir Michael's four-month medical sojourn last year in Singapore was subsidised to the tune of millions of kina by the PNG government, though the terms of this latest display of generosity by the PNG state have never been publicly explained.
Sir Michael's self-aggrandisement at public expense was on display in April 2010 at an extravagant reception at Tokyo's five-star New Otani Hotel, for the opening of the chancery building of the PNG embassy in Japan.
Hundreds of guests wined and dined copiously. Sir Michael made a grand entrance flanked by two Papua New Guineans in traditional dress and carrying spears. A traditional entertainment group from East New Britain drummed and danced. The PNG foreign minister and then Sir Michael subjected the guests to rambling speeches extolling the PNG-Japan relationship.
Somare was in his element, exuding what he thought was greatness and receiving what he thought were appropriate salutations. The whole affair must have cost many thousands of kina - money that would have been far better spent on medical and educational facilities back in PNG.
Diplomatically it was a disaster. Many of the Japanese present were bemused by the traditional entertainment. They did not understand the speeches and thought the short fat man overshadowed by his lofty guards-of-honour was part of the act rather than the Pprime Minister of PNG. But Somare was oblivious, effusing, gesturing and wanting to be the centre of attention.
To be fair, Michael Somare has at times reached towards greatness in his political career. But his political record overall is one of disastrous failure. PNG remains deeply corrupt, under-developed and sadly exploited. Its long-suffering citizens deserve far more than the Somare leadership has bequeathed them.
It is time for Papua New Guineans to reassess the role Sir Michael has played in their country's post-colonial development. It may be that in time he will become known as the ''godfather of the nation'' rather than the ''father of the nation''.
Allan Patience, professor of political science at the University of PNG from 2004-06, is a visiting scholar in the Asia Institute at Melbourne University