Monday, December 15, 2008



Re-align priorities to save people

IT’S that time of the year when reviews and assessments are done by Government and its agencies of the year that has been. That’s okay but to this scribe the approach would be different and the verdict is straightforward, especially in the face of natural calamities that have hit the nation: Stuff the reviews, put them on the back burner, lower them in the pecking order or at least re-align the priorities. The main resolve should be about securing life and limb of thousands upon thousands of ordinary and not so ordinary Papua New Guineans made homeless and dispossessed by natural calamities beyond their control in the preceding two weeks. On this occasion the Government must save the people first. Everything else can wait. There is a time and place for everything. Those governmental reviews and revisits to find facts, faults and failures are bound to be obscured by events that have unfolded without notice in the last two weeks and are continuing still unabated. The whole nation will feel their impact in the aftermath. Despite all the reviews, assessments, stock takes and whatever is forever, one conclusion will keep rearing its head insofar as PNG’s present and future prospects are concerned. That conclusion is simple enough. We, as a nation, are never prepared enough to face off the unforeseeable situations and circumstances that intrude into our national life or to scramble at short notice in response to neutralizing the threats or to hit the ground running when emergencies and disasters strike us. There is a glaring absence of a state of preparedness in our national life. Shamefully pathetic. We are always responding – and often times incompetently, inefficiently and disastrously -- to emergency and disaster situations. Quit the complacency and do something to become more prepared to confront unforeseen nation threatening events. The Government has to stop politicking with people’s lives, stop procrastinating, and stop exclusively placing all executive attention on pursuing big multi-billion foreign investments to the great detriment of the people. The Government has to get serious about the welfare of the multitude of rural and urban settlement–dwelling Papua New Guineans who are marginalised and live below the poverty line in a modern monetary economy. Government has to – by authority of the National Constitution of PNG -- create participatory basic life support opportunities to lift the living standards of the ordinary man, woman and child and the executive must start being decisive and assertive about the seven main priorities under the Medium Term Development Strategy 2005-2010. These priorities are Primary and Preventative Health Care, HIV/AIDS Prevention, Basic Education, Development-oriented Adult Education, Transport Rehabilitation and Maintenance, Promotion of Income Earning Opportunities and Law and Justice and they have been prioritised as such to build the foundation for creating a higher – if not perpetual -- level of happy, healthy and wealthy PNG society. When the people are happy, healthy and wealthy and are constructively and gainfully participating in and adding value to the overall state of happiness, healthiness and wealthiness of the people at large, then we, as a nation can rejoice and shout for the entire world to hear. That’s right. Papua New Guinea needs to move up to higher level of playing field. This will not happen when decision makers are driven by personal agenda. When this article went to print this scribe could not help but reflect on the fact that PNG is in the throes of two monumental natural disasters -- acts of God -- that have impacted most negatively on the economic and social lives of almost half the total population of Papua New Guinea. This Christmas looks to be a bad shocker for many people. We are faced with blocked major highway and at least 10 provinces whose coastal villages and respective coastline have been devastated by unusual high tides that brought on heavy swells and tear-way waves. The landslip and unusual high tides are naturally induced events. Let me explain why I say these are acts of God with two real life examples before I am accused of blasphemy. First, there’s been that controversial landslip at Mindima in Simbu Province that has cut off access or delivery of vital goods and services to almost two million people inhabiting Southern Highlands, Enga and Western Highlands and to government institutions and businesses operating in those three provinces and other parts of Simbu that share the provincial border with Western Highlands. The highway disaster has been compounded by compensation demands by a group of unreasonable and heartless roadside dwellers or opportunists at Mindima.  These compensation seekers will not allow temporary repairs and maintenance to stabilize the road and create access. They want their greed satisfied first. They want money – millions of it. Sometimes some of us wonder whether there is really any monetary value attached to piece dirt that is good for nothing else except for a road to go through. Papua New Guineans need to change their mindset about pushing the compensation culture as a way of life. Most Papua New Guineans are hard workers and survive on what they can grow as subsistence farmers. Among the noble and honourable hard workers are the spivs, conmen, bludgers and idlers who provide no constructive contribution to their respective communities and society at large except to look for quick money making opportunities like pushing false invoices and claims against the State or demand compensation for situations and events that arise as an act of God. These compensation seekers at Mindima deserve no humane description. What they are doing is typical blackmail. They have implied by their greedy actions that they give no damn for the livelihood of Western Highlanders, Engans and Southern Highlanders. Now that is not a friendly act at all, isn’t it? It’s unreasonable and heartless attitude akin to declaration of hostility against a majority of peace-loving, God-fearing, industrious and innocent Western Highlanders, Engans and Southern Highlanders. That compensation demand must be denied and the full force of the law must applied to punish the opportunists. The landslip is an act of God and therefore beyond compensation. There was no contract between the compensation seekers and God Almighty in the unlikely occurrence of a force majeure situation. So lump it.  Here are a couple of historical quotes from great minds of the last century that are also relevant in this century. Hopefully by reading and understanding the message therein respectively d some light and commonsense may shed on people who still think they are owed a living without doing the hard yakka. Theodore Roosevelt, a former United States president once commented: “It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage that we move on to better things.” That is very true. One cannot expect the luxuries of this world without getting one’s hands dirty or without sweating for the rewards. Then that prolific American humorist, satirist, lecturer and novelist Mark Twain once wrote: “Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” Liken that to the compensation seekers at Mindima. Nobody owes them anything for a piece of valueless dirt – not created by the compensation blackmailers -- whose monetary value has suddenly been inflated beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The compensation seekers did not build the road, create the soil or spent money to build the road. They are simply bludgers. God created the soil. The Government spent money for the road to be built. The lesson for Government to learn is that there is a real and urgent need to create an alternate route to the isolated highlands provinces and not necessarily through troublesome Simbu. Time is overdue to seriously upgrade and seal the alternate highway into the populous highlands hinterland of Papua New Guinea. The Southern Highlands, Enga and Western Highlands – home to a little over two million people – need another alternate highway route for delivery of their vital goods and services. Government does not have the luxury of time to procrastinate on whether or not there should be an alternate road link to the rest of the highlands region. It’s there already. The Southern Highlands to Gulf highway is the most logical choice and the “win-win” way forward for the nation. The three isolated highlands provinces and Gulf have a great deal of economic fire-power via their vast natural resources to justify recognition and upgrading of such an alternate highway link.  Two LNG delivery pipelines are going to be build through the Gulf Province anyway so what’s the big deal about loading a highway on top of these two projects? Why not? When there is a political will there must a political way to move forward positively and gainfully. The highway is already in existence except a portion of about 30 kilometres between Kagua and Sembarigi that’s still under construction.  This highway needs to be upgraded, sealed and made an all-weather road and have it further developed on the back of two multi-billion kina liquefied natural gas projects to link up with Wabo and Baimuru which are closest points to InterOil Corporation’s Elk and Antelope gas discoveries. From there road linkage can be extended as far as Kerema to link up with the Hiritano Highway and then to Port Moresby. The flip side of such a development presents the opportunity for a major port development to take place at Wawabo or at Paia inlet in Baimuru to service major resource developments, business and government goods and services delivery in Gulf, Southern Highlands, Western Highlands and Enga. Yes, make it happen. Studies for such a port development have been collecting dust in the backrooms of the PNG Port Authority and the Transport Department since independence. As a national we cannot continue to manage our national affairs by reacting to crisis after crisis.  As if the highway woes were not enough, PNG has been hit by an unusual high tide this past week. Again it is an act of God. Weather experts say the tidal phenomenon has been triggered off by a climate condition known as La Nina, which, like El Nino, creates unusual weather and climate conditions in countries fringing the Pacific’s volcanic ring of fire. Some effects include unusual high tides, high temperatures, drought, heavy rain, snowing, landslides and cyclonic weather. The unusual high tide has wreaked havoc to the lives and wellbeing of thousands of Papua New Guineans can totally unexpectedly. Many of the affected people are traumatized and will never quite recover losses. This column extends sympathies to everyone who has been affected one way or another by this unusual tidal phenomenon. The Government – to its credit -- has acted swiftly and assertively to salvage what’s left and to rehabilitate the lives of the displaced and dislocated people. Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s cabinet on Thursday appropriated K50 million for immediate disbursement to disaster-stricken provinces. The high tides featured heavy swells and waves that repeatedly pounded and eroded the shore line in Milne Bay, Morobe, Madang, East and West Sepik, Manus, New Ireland, Bougainville and East and West New Britain. Thousands fled inland or to higher grounds as homes either became submerged under seawater or collapsed against the fury of nature. The historic Windjammer Beach Hotel in Wewak collapsed and many seafront village homes, businesses and government institutions and service centres suffered massive damage. The disastrous outcome in East Sepik was similarly experienced elsewhere in the affected provinces. The tidal disaster and the landslip at Mindima are unforeseen and unpredicted events. That is why I have chosen to describe them as an act of God. In the laws of compensation and contract, lawyers call such circumstances force majeure. In layman terms, it’s a legal clause that safe-guards parties in a contract from unfair liability or compensation. An elaboration of the act of God terminology is that it’s “so extraordinary and devoid of human agency that reasonable care would not avoid the consequences; hence, the injured party has no right to damages. Accidents caused by tornadoes, perils of the sea, extraordinary floods, and severe ice storms are usually considered acts of God, but fires are not so considered unless they are caused by lightning.” That’s true.  While relief is on the way to the tidal stricken people the highway situation has become extremely critical. A decisive and assertive government action spearheaded by a combined police and army callout to round up the blackmailers and lock them away must take place without delay. The last thing the government would want to avoid is a situation where Western Highlands, Enga and Southern Highlands are also declared disaster provinces as consequence of supply and services blockage and denial of access at Mindima.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:53 PM


    Well said. I am personally disturbed when PNG economy is held at ransom by few greedy people who claim to own the highlands highway. When looking at the pace other countries in the region are growing by giving priority to road/railway network, electricity, communication, education, medical services and other basic service to enhance the lives of their people and its economy, PNG is still lacking behind.

    The government must move in by force and secure the road. We can not allow this to happen. PNG's economy can not be held back by few individuals.

    Now, where are the local MPs? Are they worrying about their political future? They should educate those "stupids".

    Mathew Yakai