By JAYNE SAFIHAO
SENIOR government ministers were branded "conmen and thieves" at a public rally organised by Justice Minister and former Madang governor Sir Arnold Amet last Friday, The National reports.
The rally, at Alexishafen, saw angry landowners and villagers expressing their frustration over outstanding land issues and refusing to let the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone project go ahead until all issues were resolved.
Ministers of two of the three leading departments, Trade and Industry and Commerce and Environment, Gabriel Kapris and Benny Allan arrived two hours late for the gathering, scheduled for 11am.
A notable absentee was Fisheries Minister Ben Semri, who was said to be overseas.
People from the impact areas in the crowd commented that they had received little support from the concerned departments.
Outstanding issues highlighted included organising of incorporated land groups and infighting among executives and clan members of the two umbrella companies, Kananam Investment Ltd and Rehammb Holdings, over positions of power; the absence of a working memorandum of understanding and agreement yet to be formulated; the exclusion of any legislation protecting the people's interest regarding long-term effects to their environment, health or land; the government's failure to conduct thorough awareness exercises in discussing boundary issues concerning underwater leases already marked and taken over by the project; and the question of equity for the people and provincial government.
Thirteen speakers grilled the ministers repeatedly on the outstanding issues.
Provincial government officers said since the inception of the project, the Madang provincial government, its project representative Francis Irara and impacted locals had been "in the dark" on how the project was progressing.
Francis Gem, a NGO representative and landowner, incited a scuffle on stage and started the name-calling.
He pointed at the ministers' faces, and said: "Konman ya. Yupela olgeta konman (you are all conmen)".
This was after Gem asked the crowd if they wanted the PMIZ pro-ject to continue and the crowd shouted "nogat (no)".
His outburst, which did not settle down well with Allan, who stood up to confront Gem and was shoved aside, brought provincial police commander Anthony Wagambie Jr and his men promptly on stage to calm things down.
Gem insisted on finishing his speech despite attempts by police to get him off-stage.
He was allowed to do so as villagers crowded the small stage, shouting menacingly.