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Narokobi On Tainted Leadership

By Emmanuel Narokobi, at Masalai Blog

I found this interview of my Uncle on the net when I was searching for some of his papers. So I thought I’d post it on my blog as part of my personal records but then since the subject is about something as public as political leadership maybe others may find it interesting as a point of reflection from the late 90’s and whether today our leaders have changed, and if so in what ways.

Interview with Bernard Narokobi by Pat Matbob 
Published in the Post-Courier Weekend Magazine
May1999

Never before in Papua New Guinea’s history has there been so much controversy and concern over the behaviour and conduct of our leaders as in recent times. While attempts are made to dismiss much of this as just ‘dirty politics’ the situation cannot be taken lightly – indeed there’s no smoke without fire! Opposition Leader, Hon. Bernard Narokobi who has been focal on leadeership issues shares his fiews with Pat Matbob.

PAT MATBOB: Why do you think politicians in PNG generally have a bad name?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: I believe there are three main reasons. (i) Many of the men who now hold political office do not come from leadership backgrounds. They are not sons of chiefs, or respectable leaders who have over the generations been seasoned and conditioned to public and private behaviour. The process of election does not always produce the type of people who have emerged over time with those characteristics of quality leadership. First-past-the-post system does not necessarily produce leaders who are acceptable to the community. (ii) The behaviour of the leaders themselves. By our own conduct, by what we do and what we say, we generate certain amount of feeling for or against ourselves. Drinking, womanising, loose talk, way we live, we tend to live above our means, we pretend to be a big man, own big cars, big houses, most of the time under very heavy mortgages, very heavy loans. (iii) People’s expectations and the demands they tend to place on their elected leaders through what has become known as the handout mentality, through what has become known as discretionary funds. Many people see Members of Parliament not as legitimate leaders, as people they can relate to, and have decent human relationships with, but as some object through which they can acquire property. They tend to see MPs as some objects from whom they can get money, favours and support. Level of expectations are very high and the pressure placed on MPs are so enormous some of them succumb to the pressure. People’s expectations and demands on leaders do not create a healthy, friendly relationship of mutual love, but an unhealthy relationship of superior/inferior, master/servant, dominant/dominated relationship. Roles we ascribe to one another, creates this environment and conditions which are counterproductive to reputation and relationship that is one of respect, reverence, trust and confidence.

If, for instance, someone asked me for a chainsaw costing K3000 to K5000 and I say, sorry, there are no funds available. If he was my supporter, he will say next time I won’t support you. If he was not my supporter he will say because I did not support him, he is not helping me. Either way you’re in trouble.

PAT MATBOB: Over the years you would have faced many such situations as you have just mentioned. How do you handle such requests?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: The way I handle it is this. If the request is genuine and I have the money, I help. I don’t ask questions. I don’t complain. If there is no money or if there is money but the request comes outside my perception of what is right, what is good, then I simply say sorry. For instance, if someone asks for a coffin. If he is not a public figure, then I will simply say no. If I had K50 or K20 out of my own pocket, I would give and explain that, I’m sorry the government does not fund items like this but this is a personal contribution. It is good to be honest and straight with them.

PAT MATBOB: Should there be a stricter way, apart from the Leadership Code, to ensure our leaders behave in a way that’s fitting ot the high office and responsibilities entrusted to them?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: I think so. I think we have allowed far too much mischief which does not amount to criminal behaviour, but what we might call mischief to go on unchecked. For instance, a leader who gets drunk every weekend, or gets drunk and beats up his wife, or who gets drunk and urinates in public places, or uses every four letter words you can imagine. This type of people might be excused criminally, but they really don’t deserve to be leaders. A system must exist to eliminate people like this. And the Ombudsman and the leadership code about misconduct in office or demeaning public office, those concepts were designed to catch people like this. But over the years, the Ombudsman has become more legalistic, more technical, and is looking more to criminal offences, actually proving criminal offences, like fraud, bribery, corruption before they can take any actions. But that was not what the constitutional planning committee and the founding fathers of the constitution envisaged. They envisaged that if a leader was fooling around with so many women and not contributing effectively to his office, on the account of his personal behaviour, that ought to be sufficient f or him to be terminated from his office as a leader. I think the organisations themselves, the political parties must have discipline over the member. It is not simply a matter of I am not guilty, and you prove that I’m guilty. It is not a matter of criminal behaviour, it is a matter of public perception of what a good leader is or ought to be. He should be decent, clean living, living within our means, not borrowing money from people everywhere, begging people everywhere, marrying women all over the place, dropping children here, there and everywhere. And I think the organisations that MPs belong to – the political parties – ought to be empowered to discipline their members.

PAT MATBOB: What sort of effect does the poor behaviour of our leaders have on the people?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: The people, in many instances are disappointed. They become very cynical, sceptical; they wonder what the difference is between the leader and the led? They believe if this kind of person can live and get away with this type of conduct, then I can do the same. The impact and the implications on the people is that it weakens their moral standard and eventually permeates through the whole system.

PAT MATBOB: Do you believe that the poor role model as displayed by many of our leaders really contributing to the breakdown in moral behaviour in the community?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: It is one of the factors without doubt. The adoption of western system of control and discipline, the centralised method in which law and order is controlled by the police and the courts to the exclusion of the people, alienates and disempowers the people themselves, and leaves them quite impoverished. People who can regulate law in the villages will wait for the police to come. The chiefs and traditional leadership which continues in many places in PNG today has no official role, no function in the broader criminal justice system. Respect can not be bought. It’s got to be earned. It does not come overnight, but is built over a period of 30 to 40 years.

PAT MATBOB: How can the leaders contribute to improving the moral behaviour of our people?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: We have to behave, live and conduct our lives like leaders. We have to walk, sleep and eat and work with pride and dignity and self-respect and respect for one another.

Secondly, our behaviour itself must be an example, must be a reflection of Christian living.
Thirdly, we have to promote a new generation of leaders. Seek out and search for a leader with good values.

PAT MATBOB: Do you see these things happening now?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: No, not so much.

PAT MATBOB: Should leaders practice polygamy?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: This is a matter that I have been campaigning against for sometime now. There are people who argue that this is a customary practice which should continue. I acknowledge that it was a customary law but I must say at the same time that it has been widely abused now to a point where I maintain, if you want ot be a leader, you must have one wife.

PAT MATBOB: Over the years we have been alarmed to see a number of leaders being reckless in their behaviour and also displaying very little leadership qualities. Should there be laws to ensure that only people with proven leadership qualities be elected to Parliament?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: This is a hard one. The qualities of leadership are intangible, they are fundamentally of the spirit, they are not material or physical, although their manifestations acan be physical. But their guiding principles are in the realm of the spirit. So it’s hard to identify, pinpoint, but I think they are obvious. You can’t really say no to people because you form a view that they are not the right leaders. In terms of elected leadership, a lot depends on the people’s perception and their understanding of candidates. I have been a strong candidate on behalf of good things. Good principles, good values, loyalty. If you are in the party, you stay there, you don’t shift, even though you don’t produce goods. The fact that I am loyal and committed gives people confidence, faith and trust that I am not going to compromise their rights for my personal gain.

PAT MATBOB: Is age an issue in leadership?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: I think there are some very good young men and women. But obviously I have noticed some young leaders do not have experience, they really don’t have the wisdom. They don’t have the compensatory elements, the vigour to get up and go, get things done, they have to balance that against looking back, reflecting on the past to try and steer a course away from the decisions that would be bad for the community. Young politicians have the enthusiasm, drive and the determination, they lack maturity, they lack experience. That’s the problem.

PAT MATBOB: What is the future of this country. Where are we headed?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: Like I always say. For Papua New Guineans there is no other answer except an answer that would suggest hope and bright, successful and prosperous future. That’s what we all expect. The catch comes when we look at the reality.

As far as the future is concerned we have no problems. We’ve got a good, guaranteed future ahead. But in the process of working towards that bright future we have stumbled and fallen on many weaknesses. The time and effort dedicated to getting things right far exceeds time and effort to get good programs going. I have always spoken about transparency in government and good governance. It is important and a good government unfortunately doesn’t mean a govern en6t that provides goods and services. A good government is a government that makes the environment conducive and friendly.

PAT MATBOB: Over the years since becoming a leader, I’ve noticed that you’ve always kept a low profile – despite being a prominent outspoken leader. You mix with the ordinary people, attend church gatherings, come and go like an ordinary person. Why do you do that?

BERNARD NAROKOBI: It’s in my nature to do so. I was born in a missionary home and family – my father was the first Cathechist in my village and district, I have humble beginnings. Although I have high ideals, I have no high expectations of life. I accept what comes, I strive for the best. I do not see myself as any different and I genuinely believe that I am no different from anybody else. Anybody could be in my shoes any time and at any time I could be out of here. I always maintained a house in my village, lived with the people. I’ve lived in Gerehu for almost 20 years in a house that I am still paying off the mortgage. I hear and experience gunshots almost every night out at Gerehu, we have been robbed, friends and relatives who come to visit us have been robbed, we just live on and hope of the best. It’s our country and we have nowhere else to go.

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