Sir Michael Somare Interview

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Papua New Guinea‘s founding father and current prime minister talks to The Diplomat about the challenges facing his country

Since my government came to office in 2002, I think that we have stabilised the place – we’ve provided the leadership and created stability. Much greater efforts have been made on investment in our country, and it means that the change of attitude and change of feeling about what Papua New Guinea can offer, particularly with resources, natural resources, and resources that we have.

We have put resources into the hands of the people and [provided] additional funding for education, for health, for infrastructure development, for health including HIV/AIDS. It is like taking power back to the people, and the people are now enjoying the privileges of what we have. What is lacking is the manpower resources [for building] huge bridges or infrastructure development.

On Australia

Australia has been very good for us. They have been helping us right from independence, and we have been very good partners in development through the Australian Aid Program.

The coming of Mr Rudd to office. [helps], because we can sit down and talk about ideas and discuss issues and I think he understands us far, far better and knows our aspiration. I mean we can talk more constantly than I could with our previous friends of the last government.

On HIV/AIDS

We have programmes in the provinces, [information] programmes nationally on the television and on the radio network, we have programmes taking place in villages informing people in the villages how to control the behaviour of young people in particular and we’re doing everything possible. The Christian churches in the country have been very effective organisations and taken the responsibility upon themselves.

Government is funding some of these programmes, putting a lot of technical assistance in the particular area. I think we are doing very well in making sure that the dreadful disease does not spread faster. It was estimated to be about 50 or 60,000 confirmed. And we are doing everything to educate young people; we want to make a stop to it, make sure it doesn’t spread.

On Fiji

I think the Fijian people, the majority, would like to go back to a normal democracy. They want to go back to the elections and I have been trying to get [unelected prime minister 'Frank'] Bainimarama on side. We have had a couple of meetings, good meetings, trying to convince him to. go back to elections.

I think that the big problem is that he is trying to ask people to allow for his actions [to be] legalised, which would be defeated by any democratic situation.

Fiji has been a frontrunner in the Pacific for doing a lot of things. but I think the place is now suffering.

On climate change

The islands are sinking, [and] it is something the international community really needs to seriously look at. I have been very, very vocal in my APEC and Commonwealth meetings – and I think with the new [Australian] government, there is a lot of hope.

We have plenty of land in Papua New Guinea that we are prepared to offer [for resettlement]. But whether they would like to come to Papua New Guinea is another question, knowing the islanders. They always like the waterfront, they like another coconut, and whether they would be prepared to confront change, like some have, including people from my village. it would be very difficult for them.

I have tried for years, but I have only been successful in the last two years to get [people from my village] to agree to move back into foothills, away from the rising seas. I have got a small programme in my own constituency. We put some money in and now we are helping people move back to foothills of the mountain, where they originally came from.

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