Weekly Commentaries

This is Sunday Chronicle's weekly commentaries on various issues of interest affecting the country. All individual commentators are done by elite Papua New Guineans from diverse educational backgrounds.

Monday, February 22, 2010

John Momis: A role model leader


THIS article is the account of my personal experiences of knowing John Momis for the past two and half years in Beijing as a PNG student in China and as an intern at the Embassy of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea in Beijing.

I am aware that the timing of this publication may seem controversial given the looming election of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. It may seem obvious for one to view this article as a political tool to advance John Momis' election campaign for the presidential election in Bougainville.

As such, many will be judgmental and skeptical about the sincerity and authenticity of this article. Therefore at the outset let me say that the views in this article are purely my own, about someone whom I felt strongly that many young Papua New Guineans should know and learn from.

I have learnt a lot by just observing and listening to him. I therefore wish to genuinely share my experience with the millions out there. 

The contemporary PNG societies today are at the crossroad of leadership crisis, starting from the village meeting hall to the National Parliament in Waigani. This is evident in the recent lawlessness in both the rural villages and urban centers including the disgraceful selfish acts of individuals occupying some of the highest public offices in Waigani.

Many of these social-illnesses are due to absence of transparent and good leadership, which either directly or indirectly fueled insubordinations within and without an institution or community.

Village chiefs and elders whom few years ago normally enjoyed a commanding authority in fostering social peace and harmonies are no longer enjoying it. Members of Parliament are booed at and stoned or even sidelined by their electorate or provincial subordinates.

There is a growing "who cares" and "what's in it for me" culture. "If the big people up there are doing it, then who am I to abstain from it?" Such sentiments transpired from continuous bad leadership and systemic and systematic corruption in PNG.

Many independent observers and studies from Australia, US, EU, ADB and others have consistently trumpeted this problem in their publication; yet, Papua New Guineans seemed complacent of the status quo.

We are living in a period where role model leadership is fast disappearing, and the younger generations today are in desperation of role models to measure up to.

Without hesitation, I am humbled to mention here that H.E. Ambassador John Momis is someone, we the young people can lean upon and learn from.

Firstly allow me to clarify to the readers my relations with H.E. Ambassador Momis. I hail from Gunangi, one of the remote areas of Sinasina District in Simbu Province. Did my primary to secondary education in Simbu Province and completed a four year bachelor program in Divine Word University from 2002 - 2006.

Though I have seen pictures, heard and read a lot about John Momis, I have never met him in person until the evening of 16th September 2007 in Beijing. Even at that evening we never got acquainted to each other, because there were many Papua New Guineans and other nationalities, including members of the diplomatic community in Beijing.

We only had a brief handshake during which I introduced myself as a first year PNG students, at the Beijing Language and Culture University.

I have heard few respected people in PNG, calling John Momis as the Father of PNG Constitution and Father of Decentralization and Provincial Government System in PNG who is responsible for setting up the 19 provincial governments when he was the minister of Decentralization in 1977. 
These views are also widely published by authoritative source on Bougainville and PNG such as Sean Dorney, Douglas Oliver and Edward Ted Wolfers.  I also believe that these are undisputable facts held by many Papua New Guineans who have lived through and witnessed the short political history of PNG.
I am therefore very privileged to have met and known one of PNG's and the Pacific's renowned leader of his time and is still today, John Momis. His leadership legacy speaks for itself and those who have worked with him and have known him personally have fully grasped that.
I can only say that John Momis is a man of principle and a role model leader that the millions of young and aspiring leaders of PNG and the Pacific Island region need to learn from.
I am therefore humbled and at the same time honored to share my take on his leadership legacy for my generation and the generations to come.
I have known John Momis as a PNG student in China and as an intern at the PNG Embassy in Beijing and as a close friend over the past two and a half years. The rest of this article will explain some of the great leadership principle I have learnt from just observing and listening to him in various context over the past more than two years in China.
Despite of being well known and respected figure in national and regional politics, John Momis remains one of the most humble and very considerate people I've ever met. For example he would have time for any individual that comes to his attention despite of their race, gender, social status, religion, qualifications or age. 
I have observed him listening attentively to simple young Papua New Guinean students who wanted to share their take on PNG's political or economical development. The way Momis responds to these students is encouraging in such a way that usually adds insights and value onto the students.

It makes us the simple young students feel important and assured that our views are equally significant to any policy makers or development practitioners in PNG.
From many Pacific Island students who have listened to John Momis and at least engage in dialogue with John Momis, all felt elevated and valuable in their own right and to their nation.
A Fijian civil engineer with whom we studied together here in Beijing was amazed that Ambassador Momis was able to remember his name and call him by name even though they've met briefly only once. He said that his country's own Ambassador in Beijing doesn't know his name even though he has been to their Embassy a hundred times and met him in several occasions.
Such is the value of a person who has the interest of the people at heart. Momis makes it his business to know his people and engage with them appropriately at their level, in order to add value to them and make them see themselves as equally important in the community. This is a great value that every young and aspiring Papua New Guinean leaders should learn from.
Momis is a very considerate person. He knows when to say "yes" and when to say "no" even to his very close friends. Despite of him being in the position of great authority and responsibility which demands high level of subordination, he would at most times consider his subordinates views on critical issues before reaching a consensus.
Even though he may already know the right thing or way regarding the issues at end, he never reached a decision alone. He is a great believer of concessional and consultative approach to decision making.
This is a value which I believe Momis has developed in the early days of his political career when he was the de-facto Chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC) that is responsible in formulating PNG's Constitution.
Momis pushed for a participatory and concessional approach and during those early days, he led the CPC into almost all the different areas of PNG either by land, sea or air, to document PNG's Constitutions.
By doing so they are able to get collective views to come up with a Constitution that is vibrant and strong that defines PNG's identity as an independent and sovereign state that stood proudly among the global community.
Therefore despite of being geographically rugged and ethnically diverse and dispersed PNG still remained intact as one nation amidst the increasing challenges of globalization and other development challenges.
The principle of participatory and concessional decision making is a great value that many young and aspiring PNG leaders need to learn from John Momis. By being considerate and involving everyone in the decision making, we minimize the potential for any future disagreements at the outcome of the decision reached. It also makes everyone take ownership of the outcome of the decisions and deal with it appropriately.
I am also impressed and challenged by his firm believe in God. Being an ex-priest, John Momis faith in Jesus Christ as Savior of the world and believe in upholding Christian principles is outstanding.
That is depicted in almost all the social gatherings such as Christmas dinner or independence anniversary, he hosted as PNG Ambassador to China which we would open the gathering with a word of prayer usually lead by himself.
I strongly believe that it was his firm faith in Christ Jesus that has developed all these unique and valuable leadership qualities that any Papua New Guinean can learn and emulate from.

I am truly humbled to have met John Momis and to learn these leadership qualities from him. I wish I had more time with him; however his people in Bougainville realized his qualities in such a time of leadership crisis as an asset and have called him back to Bougainville to contest the coming ABG election.
I wish John Momis all the success in his presidential election and the people of Bougainville prosperity and success in this new decade.

Note: This article was contributed by Albert Kaupa Tobby in Beijing and Mathew Yakai in Madang. Contact Mathew for comments on email: m_yakai@hotmail.com or SMS 71489901.

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