Bernard Narokobi: A great supporter of the development of renewable energy
Liu Zhaoxiang, one time resident of Papua New Guinea and currently living in Beijing, China, recollects his first encounter with late Bernard Narokobi. Liu believes PNG should have more of late Narokobi in his personality, knowledge and above all, his ideology and wisdom.
I WAS extremely sorry to learn last Friday afternoon (March12) when news was received at the PNG Embassy in Beijing that Mr. Bernard Narokobi had passed away. I was shocked and saddened and immediately wanted to ring his house and convey my deepest sympathy to his family members, but I didn't know his telephone number.
To get his number, I then called two good friends of his, Mr. John Momis, PNG's former Ambassador to China, and Mr Joseph Gabut, the former Secretary of the Department of Petroleum and Energy (DPE). Unfortunately, I couldn't reach either of them.
As is known to all, Bernard was one of the most prominent lawyers and one of the most honorable politicians in PNG. However, little is known of his great and firm support for the development of renewable energy in PNG.
First Meeting at Manila Airport
I was invited to go to PNG as a private citizen by former Ambassador Larry Hulo in 1994. Soon, I found PNG was facing a serious challenge of power shortages not only in its rural areas where more than 80% of its population lived but also in all its urban centers where blackouts were daily occurrences. So, I made up my mind to do something about the power issue in PNG.
In the following years, I traveled extensively throughout PNG conducting a series of field studies about renewable energy. I found that PNG is blessed with very rich renewable energy opportunities due to its favorable and advantageous geographical, topographical and geological characteristics.
PNG has almost all forms of renewable energy, including solar, wind, hydro, biomass, geothermal and ocean wave energy. I was confident renewable energy could provide the people of PNG with indigenous, affordable, reliable and clean energy.
In June 2000, we shipped the first batch of six wind-powered generators from China to PNG for demonstration purposes. I happened to take the same flight from Hong Kong to Port Moresby with Bernard Narokobi, the Speaker of National Parliament, who had just completed an official visit to China and was on his way back home.
We had a one hour stopover in Manila, the Philippines. I met Bernard for the first time on his way to the VIP lounge. With some nervousness, because of his position and my lack of any earlier communication with him, I asked him whether he was interested in wind power.
To my surprise, he said quietly, "Yes. Come and explain it to me." I was very happy and followed him into the VIP lounge. At the same time he asked some other members of his delegation to join us.
Bernard listened attentively, and looked carefully at the brochure I gave to him. From time to time, he asked questions. At last, he told me, "We have wind all the year round. We need wind power and it is environmental friendly. I fully support you. If I can do anything for you, just let me know."
Then, he gave his name card to me. He was so humble, friendly and warm. This first meeting with Bernard has stayed in my memory ever since.
A photo in front of the wind -powered generator
As soon as wind-powered generators arrived in PNG in the first week in August 2000, we erected one of them in the corner of Waigani Village near its front gate. Waigani Village is just on the roadside of Waigani Drive, and it attracted the attention of many drivers and passengers.
Mr Collin Taimbari, a reporter for Post-Courier, interviewed me in the following week, and Post-Courier carried his report on 15th August 2000.
I wanted very much to invite Bernard to have a look at our demonstration generator. So, I called him the following day. He said he was delighted to read our story in the newspaper and he would like to visit us during the weekend.
At 7:30 AM on 19th August 2000, Bernard drove himself to Waigani Village. He switched the lights attached to the generator on and off twice. He looked at the inverter and battery and asked how long the battery could last.
When he learnt that the battery could last only for three years, he said it needs to last longer than that because it would be inconvenient for the villagers in remote areas to replace it.
A photo was taken of us standing together in front of the wind-powered generator. Whenever I look at that photo, I always remember his smiling face.
Also before he left, he encouraged me to write something for the media about renewable energy because at that time not many Papua New Guineans knew about it. With his encouragement, I wrote my first article entitled "Develop PNG Renewable Energy to Realise Electrification" and it was published in PNG Business (January, 2001)
A letter of recommendation
Just at that time, DPE was looking for a renewable energy consultant. I guess it was through the news, my articles and interviews in PNG`s media that led DPE to assess me as a candidate.
I was selected after an interview by Mr Vore Veve, Director of Energy Division of the Department. In order to complete the appointment process, however, he needed a letter of recommendation from a prominent figure of PNG.
I told this to Bernard. Without any hesitation, he said to me, "I will write a letter of recommendation for you to the Department." Two days, I was given his letter at his house. Bernard`s recommendation letter was very important for me.
After three months of scrutiny by departments concerned and upon the approval of Consultancy Steering Committee, DPE formally engaged me as a renewable energy consultant on 10th April 2001 for a term of three years.
The first and major term of reference of my engagement was "Improve awareness coverage of the renewable energy sector in Papua New Guinea". From then on, I became very busy, and often I had to work seven days a week in my small office in Gordons.
During the three years, I tried my best to conduct extensive work by undertaking research into identifying appropriate renewable technologies given PNG conditions. Mr Joseph Gabut, Secretary of DPE recognized the value to PNG of the technologies I had identified and kindly wrote in a performance assessment report that, "Mr Liu has fulfilled all the requirements of the terms of reference, resulting in proven record of achievements. He has done an excellent job as a consultant, and I am satisfied with his work."
I could not have achieved all these without the help and encouragement of my colleagues and many readers, among whom Bernard was the most outstanding one. He had given me the utmost encouragement. Many times after I published my research papers, Bernard would call me and urge me to "keep up the good job".
On 1st May 2003 in his Column "Seliter Whispers" of The Independent, Bernard published his comment entitled "Liu Zhaoxiang`s vision of PNG`s renewable energy".
He wrote, "Mr Liu has done more than writing these great energy sources available to us. He has a vision for our country's modernizing itself with a maximum of energy sources which are both cost effective and environment friendly," and "from his tiny office at Gordons, Mr Liu has generated enormous energy."
I think Bernard was over complimentary of me and my work. His words always inspired me to work hard for the development of renewable energy in PNG, which, I am sure, is in the best interest of Papua New Guineans.
Bernard Narokobi had a rich full life and lived every minute of it to the fullest. May his vision and enthusiasm for a brighter, sustainable future for PNG remain as a beacon to guide us all now that he is no longer with us.
In his book, "The Melanesian Way", he wrote and I quote, "Melanesian has been invaded by a huge tidal wave from the West in the form of colonization and Christianization... Whilst acknowledging our beautiful past along with its constraints, we also recognize the good in the new ways, and mindful of the bad ways of today. With the freedom we have, we can make conscious decisions to opt for what is best in both worlds.
"Today, we Melanesians stand at the crossroad. More than any people in the world, we can choose. We can choose to ape the West and the East or we can choose to be ourselves in our philosophy, our life-styles and our whole beings."
Can PNG leaders today guide PNG in the true Melanesian Way, yet live the current globe?
For comments, contact Mathew Yakai on email: firstname.lastname@example.org or SMS 71489901