For the pub­lic good

Kevin McQuil­lan meets the PNG-born pub­lic ser­vant who set­tled in the Cook Is­lands, and is now in NZ. He is also the driv­ing force be­hind a PNG co­coa project.

Paradise - - Living -

For more than 20 years, Pa­pua New Guinean Jonah Tisam worked in the Cook Is­lands as a se­nior pub­lic ser­vant, be­fore mov­ing to Auck­land, New Zealand, and com­plet­ing a PhD.

He says that PNG is an un­known quan­tity for many in the Cook Is­lands region, and that it is re­garded more as a part of Asia, than the Pa­cific, de­spite its mem­ber­ship of the Pa­cific Is­lands Fo­rum.

“That’s also the case in NZ, al­though Kiwi busi­ness peo­ple talk highly of PNG and its po­ten­tial,” he says. “Re­cently, there’s been more in­ter­est from younger peo­ple (in NZ) be­cause of the min­ing boom … they are seek­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he tells Par­adise.

Born in Wan­du­mui vil­lage in Wau, Bu­lolo district, Tisam at­tended sec­ondary school at Asaroka Lutheran High School in the East­ern High­lands, where he ex­celled as an ath­lete, was cap­tain of the Aussie Rules football team, and played basketball and vol­ley­ball. He went to the Univer­sity of PNG, grad­u­at­ing in 1979 with a com­merce de­gree, fol­lowed by a mas­ters in pub­lic pol­icy and man­age­ment at Monash Univer­sity, in Melbourne, Aus­tralia.

“I have had var­i­ous work ex­pe­ri­ences, from ac­count­ing to busi­ness man­age­ment, pol­icy ad­vi­sory, project man­age­ment, project de­sign, strate­gic plan­ning, re­search and manag­ing aid projects – some in PNG and oth­ers in the Cook Is­lands,” he says.

Tisam left PNG in 1991, ful­fill­ing a prom­ise to his Cook Is­lands wife, Vi­o­let, that if he failed to win a seat in that year’s gen­eral elec­tion, they would go to Raro­tonga. He says he liked the place (Cook Is­lands) for his chil­dren to grow up. “It has all the fa­cil­i­ties and easy ac­cess to good schools, hospital, run­ning wa­ter, 24-hour power sup­ply and good sport­ing ameni­ties.”

In the Cook Is­lands, Tisam worked in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties with two former prime min­is­ters and a deputy prime min­is­ter, and was the col­lec­tor of in­land rev­enue.

Af­ter 20 years in the Cook Is­lands, he moved to Auck­land and com­pleted a PhD in pub­lic pol­icy at the Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in 2015.

“I am do­ing some busi­ness con­sul­ta­tion work with con­sul­tants from Aus­tralia, NZ, the Cook Is­lands and Pa­pua New Guinea while sup­port­ing co­coa devel­op­ment in the Labuta LLG area (in PNG),” he says.

“Sur­pris­ingly, af­ter 20 years away, I found very lit­tle had changed in PNG, that is why I ini­ti­ated a co­coa co­op­er­a­tive for the lo­cal farm­ers in our area.

“I am now in a po­si­tion to help the farm­ers to grow co­coa and im­prove qual­ity so we can ex­port over­seas and man­u­fac­ture most of what we pro­duce in the coun­try.

“Since 2014, I’ve been able to re­turn reg­u­larly be­cause of the project. I also have a lit­tle house in Bukawa, that I am main­tain­ing in the hope that my chil­dren (he has four) will come back to spend time in the vil­lage again, get­ting to know their PNG fam­ily and see how great PNG can be.”

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