By MALUM NALU
A massive A$20 million (K43 million) of Australian tax payers' money supposed to have been spent on the Kokoda Trail since 2008 has seemingly disappeared into the surrounding 'mists', according to veteran Kokoda trekking company operator Charlie Lynn.
He provided evidence of poor villagers along the trail being duped into raising chickens and goats which were later eaten because there was no training or support, likewise with growing vegetables, fish for an aquaculture venture never turning up though a pond was built, and even construction of a 'massage parlour' which was unheard of with masseuses reluctant to touch their potential clients for cultural reasons.
Lynn has called for the responsibility of the World War 11 heritage of the Kokoda campaign to be transferred from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC) to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).
He said since 2008, when there was public outcry over the threat of mining, Kokoda seemed to have been used as a "subterfuge" for DSEWPC to pursue an environmental agenda in PNG, at the expense of the military heritage and the simple villagers along the trail.
"Highly paid Canberra envirocrats with tax-free salaries and generous allowances were dispatched to advise/assist the PNG government to 'save' the Kokoda Trail," Lynn said,
"It was the first trip to PNG for most of those involved.
"The trail quickly became a lucrative honey-pot for a coterie of anointed consultants who came, saw, held talk-fests, produced five-point action plans - and left with a wallet full of booty.
"The results speak for themselves.
"When the envirocrats arrived in 2008: 5, 621 Australians trekked Kokoda.
"After three years of 'assistance' resulting in a 10-fold increase in staff, a conga-line of consultants and more than A$20 million of taxpayers' money, the numbers decreased to 2, 914.
"Projects initiated, without any reference to relevant PNG authorities or the trekking industry included the construction of massage parlours, a failed $3 million 'Village Livelihood Project' that has not produced a single dollar and a dysfunctional management structure.
Lynn said DSEWPC had much to answer for.
"There is no evidence of a single sustainable outcome from their initiatives along the trail during their watch," he said.
"Apart from safety projects at the Kokoda airfield and the Owers Corner road, most of their A$20 million aid budget has boomeranged via Australian salaries, consultant fees and talkfests. "It is also apparent that Australian managers unfamiliar with PNG soon find the frustrations of their working environment too difficult to handle.
"They then 'manage' their jobs through to the end of their tenures and mask their lack of achievement with reports, meetings and conferences regarding codes of conduct, licensing conditions and consultant liaison tasks."