Sunday, May 23, 2010

Questions on use of Gulf accident funds

Questions have been raised about how public funds have been used as the first anniversary of the horrific Hiritano Highway accident is remembered on May 30.

A horrific head-on truck crash involving two passenger trucks from Gulf province killed 17 people, in what was Papua New Guinea’s worst-ever road accident, until the Jan 12 accident along the Markham Valley this year in which more than 40 people were killed.

The trucks collided near Bereina in Central province, about 100km west of Port Moresby.

Fourteen passengers and the two drivers died instantly in the accident on the Saturday afternoon of May 30, 2009,  while a young boy died later from severe internal injuries at the Port Moresby General Hospital.

Many survivors were taken to hospital, some with life-threatening injuries and others suffering broken arms and legs.

One passenger truck was heading to neighbouring Gulf province, while the other truck was heading for Port Moresby.

The vehicles were reportedly carrying 28 passengers each, many of whom were sleeping at the time of the crash.

After the accident, the Gulf provincial disaster task force committee was set up, especially to look after funds which were donated to assist victims

Committee member Jacob Ivaroa, who has been appointed new chairman after allegations of misuse of funds by the previous executive, said this was “blood money” for victims of the accident and should never have been misused.

He had a short meeting with members of the Gulf community at the OTC oval at Five-Mile on Saturday, at which it was decided that another meeting be held on Wednesday this week, to prepare for the anniversary.

Ivaroa said over K200, 000 was raised by the committee for the purpose of repatriating bodies, erecting memorials and various others.

“The balance of the money has disappeared,” he said.

“These are public funds and we must be accountable to the public.

“Unfortunately, we have no funds, despite the first anniversary being on May 30.

“We want to hold a small commemorative ceremony; we want to remind drivers of the dangers of not being responsible.

“We want to go back to the accident site, set up a plaque, maybe go to the Gulf villages and have some food, publish something in the newspaper, and wash our hands clean.

“We don’t want people to question us about how we have used the money.

“We want to be fair to the people, especially those who lost family members.”

Ward 8 councillor from Sepoe village, Vincent Aiere, said all concerned members of the Gulf community should attend Wednesday’s meeting.

“Today’s turnout is very poor and could have been influenced by the previous committee management,” he said.

Accident survivor Damien Feareka, 32, from Lese Oalai village, suffered serious physical injuries and is still going through psychological trauma.

A devout Catholic, Feareka was traveling home that weekend to be with his wife and son for a church festival for Mother Mary, however, ended in tragedy with many people including his brother-in-law Sylvester Auhava being killed.

He has taken a year off work from his job as a storeman with Airways Hotel because of the serious nature of his injuries.

“I’ve gone through a lot of pain and trauma,” Feareka said.

“Sometimes, when I sit down by myself, all those memories come back to haunt me.

“It also comes back to haunt me when I look at my bad legs.”

Feareka said while in hospital, committee members never visited him, and when he was discharged the previous chairman gave him a mere K200.

He and wife Sophia Auhava, as well as four-year-old son Colbert Ivosa Kovea, plan to travel to Lese Oala to remember the accident and brother-in-law Sylvester Auhava.


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