Thursday, April 28, 2011

The truth about the old House of Assembly

By JULIUS VIOLARIS
President – Board of Trustees
National Museum and Art Gallery

The House of Assembly as it used to be, driving up Touaguba Hill
A lot of controversy and misinformation has been circulating in the press regarding the “Old House of Assembly” and the future of the site and the building.
As President of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum & Art Gallery I wish to clarify the situation that now exists by providing some hard facts to dispel rumors and misconceptions.

These are the facts that people should consider, regarding the recent history of the “House of Assembly” and the actions taken by the Government to safeguard the site and to replicate the original “House of Assembly” on that site.
These may not be what the public perception is at the moment, but it is the truth of the matter.
Firstly, there is nothing left of the original building that can be saved and refurbished.
It is all gone.
• The Old House has had a varied history, originally built in 1905 as a hospital in early colonial times. Eventually it became the First Legislative Assembly between 1958 and 1960, and four years later it became the full House of Assembly. It was extended at various times and after independence in 1975 it changed name from House of Assembly to National Parliament.

• It was vacated after the construction and opening of the National Parliament building at Waigani in 1984. The building was left to the care of the Central Provincial Government for purposes of its Provincial Assembly. This was formalised by an NEC decision, No27/90

• In 1992, the Central Provincial Government was granted a Business (Commercial) lease over the land where the Old House of Assembly was located. By this time they had abandoned the building for Konedobu where they actually moved to in 1990.

• Between 1990 and 1996 the building was left unattended by any official government authority and illegal tenants moved in. The building suffered severe vandalism during these time and two fires consumed 90% of the building in 1996.

• The fires crystallised attention on the Old House of Assembly and a public outcry galvanised government action and the NEC in 1996 by its Decision No.182/96 rescinded the earlier decision No.27/90 resolved to transfer the custody of the Old House of Assembly from the Central Provincial Government to the National Museum & Art Gallery. The same decision carries a Directive to the NMAG tasking it with restoring the Old House of Assembly and developing it into a political museum and a historical monument. Following the NEC decision the Minister for lands granted a lease on the property to the NMAG in February 1998.

• The restoration project was supposed to commence in 1997 and the Government earmarked seed funding of K106,000 for this. The Museum, also with the help of the “Friends of the Museum”, initiated a fund-raising drive called “Save the House Fund” which apparently raised K300, 000 between 1997 and 2006. Sadly not only did the NMAG neglect to take any action to restore the building, it made all the funds raised “disappear” (see Post Courier 26th April 2006)

• It is a sad fact that the management of the NMAG and the leadership became weakened by politics and self-serving interests and obviously lacked the inspiration, willingness and energy to see this restorative project implemented. Even after the NCDC Building Authority issued a demolition order on the buildings in June 2005 they waited for a year for the NMAG to respond. When they failed to do so , they published the Demolition order in the National on the 26th July 2006.

• This period marks the “Dark Ages” for the NMAG, with ineffective and corrupt management that did not just neglect its duties but actively acted contrary to the safeguarding and preservation of our culture, monuments and artefacts.

• The NEC, in its wisdom, resolved to take action and by its Decision No 30/2007 to approve the proposal by OPH Limited to replicate the Old House of Assembly and have that and the land it sits on handed over to the NMAG as the State Agency that is to be responsible to preserve the “Historical Centre” and that OPH Limited have the remaining land granted to them.

• The remains of the OHA are not existing to be refurbished – it is physically impossible to do so – and so a new building, replicating the old, will be constructed and given to the NMAG. It will be developed at a cost equivalent to the market value of the whole Section 8 Allotment 11.

Basically, the NMAG and the people of PNG are getting a replica of the Old House of Assembly at no cost to the state, and as far as the NMAG is concerned it is in fact selling part of the land to finance rebuilding the Old House of Assembly.
In view of the situation that existed in 2007, the NEC acted in the best interests of the NMAG and the people of Papua New Guinea by the actions it has taken to safeguard the site of the historic building and at the same time creating a monument to the birth of our Nation.
This land that the Old House was on is not just any lease-hold land and it should not be traded and bought and sold as any other lease-hold property in the land.
 It is the womb in which the Nation of Papua New Guinea was developed and grew before its birth, and the Government should take whatever steps necessary to protect it and this it has done through NEC Decision No. 30/2007.
The current Board of Trustees is very much aware of its duty and is doing everything in its power to return the NMAG to its proper role.
We have now identified the only Papua New Guinean educated and qualified to run the Museum, we have overcome challenges and court actions by the past management and are now waiting for our political masters to officially appoint him in this important role.

1 comment:

  1. Finally, a much needed explanation of what is happening behind the scenes. While I support the initiative of the TEC and NMAG - the process by which the replica will be "paid" for is rather distasteful. Why couldn't the Government front up with the money to begin with - instead of securing a contradeal involving public land? With the large sums being thrown left, right and center, surely this could have been accomplished. Of more relevance, what will OPH (Lamana)do with the rest of the land? The potential of a commercial complex opposite the replica may prove to be quite a mistake. It seems as if this was a desperate solution to a soluble problem. No business ventures into a deal which will not yield profit - it appears that OPH have secured a very good deal at the expense of the public.

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