Michael Somare

Michael Somare
The Right Honourable Grand Chief
Sir Michael Somare
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
In office
17 January 2011 – 4 April 2011
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Michael Ogio
Preceded by Sam Abal (Acting)
Succeeded by Sam Abal (Acting)
In office
5 August 2002 – 13 December 2010
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Silas Atopare
Bill Skate (Acting)
Jeffrey Nape (Acting)
Paulias Matane
Preceded by Mekere Morauta
Succeeded by Sam Abal (Acting)
In office
2 August 1982 – 21 November 1985
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Tore Lokoloko
Kingsford Dibela
Preceded by Julius Chan
Succeeded by Paias Wingti
In office
16 September 1975 – 11 March 1980
Governor General John Guise
Tore Lokoloko
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Julius Chan
Monarch Elizabeth II
Personal details
Born 9 April 1936 (1936-04-09) (age 75)
Rabaul, Territory of New Guinea
Political party National Alliance Party
Spouse(s) Veronica Somare
Religion Roman Catholicism[1]

Sir Michael Thomas Somare, GCL, GCMG, CH, CF, KStJ, MP (born 9 April 1936) was Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea from 2002 to 2011; he had previously been Prime Minister from independence in 1975 until 1980 and again from 1982 until 1985. Somare's first two terms were as a member of the Pangu Party, but he then became leader of the National Alliance Party. He was re-elected as Prime Minister in the 2007 election, and his family announced his resignation due to ill health in June 2011.


Early life

Somare was the son of Ludwig Somare Sana and Kambe Somare. Ludwig Somare was a policeman from 1922 to 1947, rising to the rank of sergeant. Having taught himself to read and write, he was subsequently active in encouraging formation of small businesses and co-operatives, founding the Angoram Co-operative Society which he chaired from 1961 until 1967, and remaining active in trading until his death in 1972. In all he had four wives and six children, of whom Somare was the eldest.

Born in Rabaul where his father was then stationed, Somare grew up in his family village of Karau in the Murik Lakes district of East Sepik Province. Somare's earliest education was in a Japanese-run primary school at Karau during World War II where he learned to read, write and count in Japanese. Meanwhile Somare's father was in hiding and fear of his life from the Japanese in Rabaul, but he remembers the Japanese with affection. Somare's earliest overseas trips, first as a parliamentarian and then as Prime Minister, were to Japan.

From 1946 Somare attended Boram Primary School, then Dregerhafen Education Centre and Sogeri High School, graduating with a Leaving Certificate issued on behalf of the Australian state of Victoria in 1957. This was a teaching qualification at the time, and he then taught at several primary and secondary schools, returning to Sogeri High School for further training from 1962 to 1963.

Political life and the beginning of the PNG Independence movement

Early life in the independence movement

Transferring within the Public Service, Somare became a radio broadcaster based in Wewak in the East Sepik Province. He received further training at the Administrative College at Waigani in 1965. Following numerous conflicts with his superiors concerning his outspoken political comments, he was transferred from broadcasting to administrative roles, and left the Public Service to contest the elections for the second House of Assembly in 1968 as a member of the Pangu Party which he had founded with other like minds in 1967.

Somare and eight other Pangu Party members were elected. They declined invitations to join the coalition government, and he became the first official opposition leader. Following the third House of Assembly elections in 1972, he was able to form a coalition government which included Julius Chan of the People's Progress Party, himself later a Prime Minister, as Minister for Internal Finance. Somare became Chief Minister when self-government was granted in 1973, and was a key figure in the preparations for subsequent independence in 1975 and the preparation and adoption of the Constitution.

First and further terms as prime minister

With independence, Somare's title changed to Prime Minister.

Ousted by a parliamentary vote of no confidence in 1980, Somare was again Prime Minister from 1982 until 1985, and won the office a third time in the 2002 election. He was re-elected again in 2007, becoming the first and so far only Prime Minister to complete a parliamentary term and win re-election.

Sepik identity

Somare has always had an interest and a pride in his background and culture. Although his initiations were interrupted several times by his career, he returned to his village regularly and completed them, culminating in his appointment as sana or peacemaker, a title inherited from his father and grandfather and conferred on him by his uncle Saub in 1973. Somare often chose to wear quasi-Melanesian rather than western dress—a lap-lap – in parliament and on similar occasions, and in many old photographs is the only political leader attired in a lap-lap rather than trousers. At the time of Papua New Guinea independence in 1975 Somare demanded proper dignity for Papua New Guinean leaders when he considered that Australia's gift of an official house for Papua New Guinea's prime minister was insufficiently grand for the great statesman he considered himself to be: Australia abashedly acceded to Somare's demands and provided a much more palatial official residence; the intended and despised prime ministerial residence was instead designated the residence of the Australian High Commissioner.

Somare's political style was both fiercely nationalistic and purportedly conciliatory, following the tradition of Sana as he professed to see it. One of the roles of Sana is to invite enemies to a feast before any fight. Somare often appointed political enemies to posts in which they could exercise their interests and passions. In the lead-up to independence, Somare argued for and won citizenship and residency requirements which were both more severe than the outgoing Australian administration recommended and more moderate than most of his party wished.

His autobiography Sana (1975), Somare lists many anecdotes. He tells how in 1971, he was concerned that the sacred objects, the ornately carved sacred spears or kakars and the sacred flutes, were being lost, destroyed, sold or stolen. After much negotiation with the gapars or priests he arranged to have the kakars of his village photographed. The kakars were only handled by the senior gapars, and only left or "came down" from the haus tambaran on the occasion of the gapars handing over the priestly function to another orob or generation. Somare himself was too young to be allowed to even see the kakars, but was included into the coming down ceremony as the interpreter for the photographer, who was of a suitable age to be attached to the next orob. Only after the ceremony was complete did he realise the significance of the sacrifice made by the older priests to allow these photographs to be taken. Over the following days they completed the initiation of the new orob, thus denying themselves the privilege of serving as gapars ever again (see also Lipset 1997).[2]

Reflecting these interests, in 1969 Somare was appointed chairman of the board of trustees of the Papua and New Guinea Museum. The Grand Chief has not necessarily taken a notable interest in the Museum, however, which has fallen into serious decrepitude since Independence.

Personal life

Somare and his wife Veronica, Lady Somare.

Somare married his wife Veronica, Lady Somare (generally referred to as "Lady Veronica Somare") in 1965, having courted her in traditional fashion, and then immediately left to take up his scholarship at Administrative College. They have five children, Bertha (usually called "Betha" in the national press), Sana, Arthur, Michael Jnr and Dulciana. Somare is head of both his own family and that of his wife, Veronica Lady Somare, who initiated him into their title mindamot two days after his initiation as sana. Somare, together with the now-Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane, makes a point of wearing a lap-lap rather than trousers.[citation needed]

Somare is an avid supporter of the Kumuls, the Papua New Guinea national football team.[citation needed]

Later political life

Between Prime Ministerships

During the seventeen years between his second and third terms as Prime Minister, Somare was appointed to political posts by other Prime Ministers. Somare served as Foreign Minister from 1988 to 1992 in the government of Rabbie Namaliu, who would later become Foreign Minister in his own subsequent government. Somare later served as Foreign Minister for a few months in 1999 and took this position again in July 2006. Somare is currently the Prime Minister. His probity has frequently[citation needed] been called into question. Professor James Chin of Monash University writes:

On the issue of corruption and tax evasion, clear evidence exists from the 1980s.The infamous Thomas [Barnett] Commission in 1989 laid out in excruciating detail how [Rimbunan Hijau] and its agents systematically paid off PNG politicians who threatened their logging operations. Even current Prime Minister Michael Somare was implicated in the report. He was referred to the Ombudsman Commission for allegedly lying under oath about a logging concession held by the Sepik River Development Corporation (SRDC) in East Sepik Province. The Commission report also gave details of transfer pricing to escape taxes worth millions of Kina.[3]

In June 2007, the Weekend Australian reported that Somare had personal connections to logging of rainforest in his home province, East Sepik, with the forestry industry by leading the Sepik River Development Corporation(SRDC). PNG's Public Enterprise Information Minister and Prime Minister's son Arthur, a leading shareholder, negotiated the logging deal with Hey Bridge Pty Ltd.

Somare's lawyers denied a personal association with the industry and demanded an apology by the Weekend Australian for the article publiished, although no apology was published by the newspaper.

In an interview during that time with PNG radio, Sir Michael acknowledged he was chairman of the SRDC and claimed the corporation was a "pet project" of his son Arthur. Somare also said he had a forestry concession in the Angoram district where eight areas were being logged to generate revenue for communities to allow them to invest in agriculture and health clinics. The Somare family logging area includes the Lower Sepik Concession, which the Mojirau Wildlife Management Area is part of.

"There are processes which we follow and some of us enacted those laws and some of us made those laws," Sir Michael said.

The newspaper asked to explain the inconsistency with the letter and his radio comments, Sir Michael's daughter and the Prime Ministers office press secretary, Betha Somare, said in an email to The Australian: "Go to hell!"

Till now the recommendation by retired Australian judge Thomas Barnett has not been acted upon.

A report by the International Tropical Timber Council, commissioned by Sir Michael's Government, shows that laws to prevent illegal logging in PNG were not policed. The Australian Government targeted the PNG forestry industry under a AUD$200million initiative in an attempt to fight illegal logging.

Axel Wilhelm, environment manager of Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau, the biggest logging operator in PNG, claimed the Yale University Forestry School rated PNG forestry as sustainable in a letter published by The Australian. Rimbunan Hijau has made advertisements on PNG television stating the same. However, Melissa Goodall, Yale Centre Environmental Law associate director at Yale university, in a letter to the PNG Eco-Forestry Forum rejected the claims with 'dismay' by the PNG logging industry that the university had approved of how it operated.

"It is a true source of concern that any work associated with Yale might be misused in this way," Ms Goodall said.

She also said the University had a "fair degree of confidence" in a World Bank report estimating 70 per cent of PNG logging was illegal, which is disputed by PNG authorities.[4]

Latter statesmanship

Shoes episode

In March 2005 Somare was required by security officers at Brisbane Airport, Australia, to remove his shoes during a routine departure security check and took strong exception to what he considered a mighty personal and national humiliation verging on blasphemy, leading to a diplomatic contretemps and a significant cooling of relations between Australia and Papua New Guinea. A protest march in Port Moresby saw hundreds march on the Australian High Commission demanding an apology and compensation.[5] However the Australian Government ignored the matter. Somare now avoids Australia and obtains medical treatment, when necessary, in Malaysia. Since Kevin Rudd came to power in Australia, relations have improved, because Somare believes that Rudd understands the Papua New Guineans better than his predecessors and is therefore easier to talk to.[6]

Moti affair

Tensions between Papua New Guinea and Australia worsened during the course of the Julian Moti affair, in which Somare was implicated. Moti, a close associate of Manasseh Sogavare, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, was arrested in Port Moresby on 29 September 2006 under an Australian extradition request to face child sex charges over an alleged incident in Vanuatu in 1997. After breaking bail conditions and taking sanctuary in the Solomon Islands High Commission, he was flown to the Solomon Islands on a clandestine PNG Defence Force flight on the night of 10 October, causing outrage on the part of the Australian government. Australia then cancelled ministerial-level talks in December and banned senior Papua New Guinea ministers from entering Australia. Somare denied any involvement in authorising the flight.[7]

Fifty kina note

Somare's face appears on the face of the PNG fifty-kina note. This is due to the fact that Somare led the country to independence in 1975 and then served as founding Prime Minister. It has reportedly been perceived, some 15 years ago, that Somare is the King of Papua New Guinea.[8]

Anti Corruption Watchdog questions Somare over Cairns property

Sir Michael Somare was called up to give an explanation on how he obtained a AUD$349,000 three-bedroom executive-style apartment with private plunge pool in inner-city Cairns in April 2007, brokered through a Gold Coast lawyer. Along with his son Arthur Somare who is PNG's State Enterprise Minister and a political heavyweight, was questioned on a AUD$685,000 four-bedroom home he had bought two months prior at Trinity Beach. Ombudsman Commission, Opposition Leader Sir Mekere Morauta, and former finance minister Bart Philemon requested an explanation over the provided documents evident of the purchased property.

A senior legal counsel official with the Ombudsman Commission, Vergil Narokobi, said they would investigate the Prime Minister and Arthur Somare. "To afford such luxuries it is not something ordinary Papua New Guineans can do. It is a situation of unfairness, but that is my own personal view.

"We have to give them the benefit of doubt. On the face of it we will respect our leaders until the contrary is shown."said Mr. Narokobi

When Somare was requested for an interview in Cairns regarding the property, he declined and did not respond to a series of written questions. Former finance minister and anti-corruption campaigner Mr Bart Philemon said: "They have got to tell people in PNG how they funded those properties, otherwise it smells like corruption."[9]

Suspension from Prime Ministers Office

Somare was found guilty of 13 charges of misconduct in office as a result was suspended from office for two weeks without pay. A leadership tribunal was set up made up of three judges that found Him guilty for submitting late and incomplete annual financial statements, dating back to the 1990s. Judge Sir Robin Auld, out of three was the only Judge that called for dismissal, said Michael Somare's Attitude as prime minister's showed "a disregard bordering on disdain for his constitutional obligations".

"It would be bad enough in the case of any leader, but it is particularly reprehensible for one of his high standing and influential involvement in the initiation of the leadership code," he said.[10]

2007 election

Following the 2007 parliamentary election, Somare was re-elected as Prime Minister on 13 August with the support of 86 out of the 109 Members of Parliament.[11]

In March 2008, however, at the age of 71, Somare announced he would soon be stepping down from his position as Prime Minister, and ending his political career. He explained that, after forty years in politics, he simply "need[ed] a change" ("I don't think I have lost anything but the time has come").[12] In September 2008, Somare once again hinted at his upcoming retirement.[13] Somare remains in power. More recently he has responded irately to moves within his current party and in Parliament to end his rule. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 22 July 2010 that he had threatened to kill an Opposition MP:

"There were wild scenes when the Speaker adjourned the house until 16 November, despite the opposition's claim it had enough votes to stop the adjournment.
"Once most MPs had left parliament and the yelling and cries of dictatorship died down, Mr Somare crossed the floor, pointed his finger at an MP, Sam Basil, and shouted in pidgin words that translate as: If you were outside I would kill you.[14]

2010: suspension and illness

In December 2010, "amid failing health, he stepped down [...] to face a tribunal investigating misconduct for allegedly failing to submit full annual financial statements in the 1990s". He remained de jure prime minister, but appointed Sam Abal as acting prime minister for the duration of the investigation.[15]

In April 2011, Somare was admitted Raffles Hospital in Singapore for heart surgery, and remained in intensive care for as of late June 2011, when his family announced his retirement from politics, citing ill health.[16][17]

In June, as he remained in hospital, it was reported Somare intended to stand down later in the year, so that his successor could be chosen to lead the National Alliance Party into the 2012 general election.[18]

Somare Politics

In 2001, to stop Members of the Parliament from ‘party hopping’, party coalitions shifting, and votes of no confidence in the government of the day, the Organic Law on Political Parties and Candidates (OLIPPAC) was introduced. Being the reason the Somare government became the first since 1975 independence to last a full 5 year term. Although, the OLIPPAC did not stop party splits, MPs crossing the floor and attempted votes of no confidence from 2002 through to present. It is highly likely the Somare government will hold power through to mid-2012, protected against vote of no coincidence by the OLIPPAC.

As in the 2002–2007 Parliament, Somare government has been taking advantage of the controlling parliamentary procedures by using its majority to overpower challenges and adjourning Parliament. A greater political stability has been the outcome of such tactics, but this has caused a nation widespread of complaints of ‘executive dominance’ of Parliament, and an overload of blogging against Somare directly. Somare's attempts to block, and suppress the Defence Board of Enquiry report into the Moti affair has been criticized openly. Also charges against Somare for failure to submit financial returns required under the country’s Leadership Code, were only additional to the Prime Ministers list of controversial issues.

Changes of the deputy prime minister have been frequent during the Somare governments period of 2002–present, but no attempt to groom a successor has been made. There was only an attempt by respected Finance Minister Bart Philemon seeking leadership within the National Alliance in 2007 which resulted in him being dumped by the party and therefore crossed over to the opposition. Often it is said Sir Michael would like his son Arthur Somare, Angoram Open MP, to succeed him, but currently has the Leadership Tribunal to face.[19]

Since 2004 the Somare-led government made good use of resources, providing 80 per cent of exports and 40 per cent of government revenue, using ‘windfall’ gains to assist especially government MPs with electoral development funds of PGK 17 million (AUD$ 7 million) each. With little or no transparency or monitoring of the expenditure, this turns these legislators into the executive government. Somare avoided a vote of no confidence in August 2009 when the government paid PGK 2 million to its MPs each. Also an alleged K60 million at least, has been dispersed from ‘trust’ funds to hold the Somare government together in late July 2010.[20]

The new liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing in Boera and other mining and petroleum developments is generating a new prosperity due to commence production in 2014, which is predicted to double Papua New Guinea's GDP. A justified resource management is much needed for the nation if the forecast benefits are to be secured and distributed equally. To date the returns from management of major development projects has been poor and service delivery in many areas of government has dropped behind policy targets. Expect to see growing unrest, If the highly anticipated befinfits is not delivered to landowners while surrounded by big resource projects.[19]

Coalition for Rainforest Nations

Somare signs the Forests Now Declaration

On the international stage, Papua New Guinea has become noteworthy in climate negotiations, leading the Coalition for Rainforest Nations in proposals to include carbon credits for reduced emissions from deforestation (REDD) in the post-2012 international climate change agreement. Somare has personally endorsed the Forests Now Declaration, calling for this and other new market based mechanisms to protect forests.

2011 Resignation as Prime Minister and retirement

On 28 June 2011, the Somare family, led by his wife, Lady Veronica Somare, announced Michael Somare's retirement as Prime Minister and from politics.[17] Somare was still hospitalized in intensive care at Raffles Hospital in Singapore at the time of his retirement, more than three months after he underwent heart surgery in April 2011.[17] Prime Minister Somare's son, Arthur Somare, the Minister of Public Enterprise at the time, told a press conference in Port Moresby that his father had made the decision to permanently step down from the prime minister’s office and leave PNG politics. "It is our wish that Sir Michael will now pursue a life in retirement after nearly 50 years of active politics due to medical reasons and the uncertainty of the recovery period," he said.[21]

Reports in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier suggested that Somare could not communicate coherently at the time.[22] In the retirement announcement, Somare's son, Arthur Somare, acknowledged that he had "not spoken to my father in a long time."[22] To satisfy a requirement of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea, the government will send two doctors to Singapore to publicly confirm that Somare is too ill to return to office as Prime Minister.[17]


Somare has received several honorary doctorates, the first being from the University of the Philippines in 1976. Somare was appointed a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council in 1977 (as in Australia, the honorific "The Right Honourable" can only be granted when one is admitted to the British Privy Council), and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) by the Queen in the Birthday Honour List of 1990.) In 2004 he received authorization from cabinet to create an honours system for Papua New Guinea. In 2005, the Princess Royal invested him as one of the first Grand Companions of the Order of Logohu (GCL).


Commonwealth honours

Country Award or Order Class or Position Dates Citation
Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea Independence Medal 1975
United Kingdom Privy Council of the United Kingdom Privy Councilor 1977 [23]
United Kingdom Order of the Companions of Honour Companion of Honour 1978 [23]
United Kingdom Order of St Michael and St George Knight Grand Cross 1991 [23]
Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea 30th Anniversary of Independence Medal 2004?
Papua New Guinea Order of Logohu Grand Commander 2005
Fiji Order of Fiji Companion year unknown (2005?) [24]
United Kingdom (Royal Order) Venerable Order of Saint John Knight of Justice year unknown [3]

Foreign honours

Country Award or Order Class or Position Dates Citation
Vatican City Order of St. Gregory the Great Knight 1992


  1. ^ Jeffrey Clark, "Imagining the State, or Tribalism and the Arts of Memory in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea", in Ton Otto & Nicholas Thomas (eds.), Narratives of Nation in the South Pacific, Amsterdam:Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997, ISBN 90-5702-086-6, p.82
  2. ^ David Lipset (1997). Mangrove Man: Dialogics of Culture in the Sepik Estuary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  3. ^ James Chin (2008), “Contemporary Chinese Community in Papua–New Guinea: Old Money versus New Migrants,” Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies, Volume Two,120–121.
  4. ^ Somare admits links to logging. The Australian (20 June 2007). Retrieved on 29 June 2011.
  5. ^ "PNG rally against Australia's treatment of PM Somare". Radio New Zealand International. http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=15801. Retrieved 2 August 2007. 
  6. ^ Sir Michael Somare Interview. The-diplomat.com (2 February 2009). Retrieved on 29 June 2011.
  7. ^ "PNG report says PM Somare should be charged over Moti escape". Radio New Zealand International. http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=33672. Retrieved 2 August 2007. 
  8. ^ The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, Tuesday, 30 January 1996; The National, Tuesday, 30 January 1996.
  9. ^ Meade, Jenna. (5 November 2008) PNG leader Michael Somare and son asked to explain Cairns property deals. Courier Mail. Retrieved on 29 June 2011.
  10. ^ The West Australian. Au.news.yahoo.com. Retrieved on 29 June 2011.
  11. ^ "Papua New Guinea PM re-elected", Al Jazeera, 13 August 2007.
  12. ^ "PNG PM to step down after 40 year career", Sydney Morning Herald, 16 March 2008
  13. ^ "PNG's prime minister 'ready to leave' politics", ABC Radio Australia, 29 September 2008
  14. ^ Ilya Gridneff, "Somare threatens to kill opposition MP." Downloaded 26 July 2010.
  15. ^ "Woman's body found in Papua New Guinea leader's home", BBC, 15 June 2011
  16. ^ "Sir Michael Somare still in intensive care", Radio Australia, 21 May 2011
  17. ^ a b c d Callick, Rowan (30 June 2011). "Big shoes to fill as Michael Somare bows out". The Australian. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/big-shoes-to-fill-as-michael-somare-bows-out/story-e6frg6ux-1226084401077. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  18. ^ "PNG’s Somare intends to stand down this year". Radio New Zealand International. 24 June 2011. http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=61403. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  19. ^ a b Sir Michael Somare and PNG politics | Development Policy blog. Devpolicy.org (20 May 2011). Retrieved on 29 June 2011.
  20. ^ Papua New Guinea’s elusive stability. East Asia Forum (2 August 2010). Retrieved on 29 June 2011.
  21. ^ Papua New Guinea's 'father of independence' resigns. Telegraph. Retrieved on 29 June 2011.
  22. ^ a b Tannos, Jonathan (29 June 2011). "PNG's "Grand Chief" Remains in Intensive Care: Family defers to parliament, process". Papua New Guinea Post-Courier (Pacific Islands Reports). http://pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport/2011/June/06-30-02.htm. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  23. ^ a b c [1][dead link]
  24. ^ [2][dead link]

External links

Political offices
New office Chief Minister of Papua and New Guinea
Position abolished
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Succeeded by
Julius Chan
Preceded by
Julius Chan
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Succeeded by
Paias Wingti
Preceded by
Mekere Morauta
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Succeeded by
Sam Abal
Preceded by
Sam Abal
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea

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