Papua New Guinea
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Connect rural communities first

Hiri Koiari MP Keith Iduhu is right. He has a valid point.

Why interconnect the country by highways when the most remote communities are not even connected to their provincial capitals?

Is the government blind to the aspirations of the people? The Connect PNG road linkage looks good on paper. It is generous for political mileage. It might seem like a goal post for development.

But in reality, it is far from being a cross crossing inter island national freeway. It is being touted as a development tool, to connect all the provinces in PNG and open up access to all centres in the country.

But what then about the little village tucked away in Teptep where John has to walk three to four days to reach Finschhafen on the coast?

What about mama Monica who gives birth in the bushes of the Sepik River and then has to endure a long boat ride to Pagwi to attend a rural centre?

Has the lot of the public servants who endure the hardships of remote outposts in Southern Highlands, Gulf and Madang ever been considered?

There was no government response to a story we ran recently about coffee farmers in Chimbu’s remote Karimui Salt Nomane District trekking for a day carrying their coffee bags on their shoulders to neighbouring Chuave station to get a highway PMV to Goroka the next day.

However noble Connect PNG might sound, the government seems to have placed the cart before the horse.

Where are the roads that connect remote villages to the administrative district centres? Are

all the 10 districts in Morobe connected to Lae?

Where are the paved roads that connect the Rigo hinterland to the Magi Highway on the coast?

How are we going to connect the island of New Britain to the mainland? The challenge of linking up NGI is just insurmountable. It’s a PANGU dream that will never materialise.

Let’s be realistic, even with a Connect PNG highway, there will still be underlying issues.

One that has plagued PNG since 1975 has been the growing movement of people from rural to urban areas in search of an easier life.

This rural urban migration has gone unabated and has contributed to massive problems in Mount Hagen, Lae, Madang, Kokopo and Port Moresby.

Ethnic clashes are common, squatter settlements have built up, criminal activities are on the rise, fuelled by illiterate and unemployed young men, serious crimes abound and previously unknown transnational crimes are on the rise.

By Mr Iduhu’s reckoning, the Connect PNG is a great risk to the well being of his Papuan tribe who are under duress on their own lands in NCD, Central, Gulf and soon Milne Bay from other ethnic groups, mainly from the highlands region of PNG.

Mr Iduhu is right in saying the government must look for ways to mitigate rural urban migration, end squatter settlements, repatriate homeless and unemployed outsiders back to their homeland, and spend more money on rural development initiatives to stem the flow of urban drift before it progresses with its link PNG highway.

Even many of the existing highways are in poor shape and badly maintained. In Papua region, despite hosting the biggest mining operation since 1969, Western Province still remains stagnant in all socio-economic indicators. The only major road there is the Tabubil to Kiunga highway.

The Kokonas highway on the Sepik coast connecting East and West Sepik is a scene of constant robbery attempts and frequent hold-ups resulting in loss of life.

There is already a groundswell of opposition to the great Papuan highway connecting Port Moresby and Alotau because the peace loving people do not wish to be besieged by the ethnic problems they have witnessed in Moresby.

Development of any sort will always bring with it positive and negative implications and if the government is blind to this and does not consult with and listen to the mass of rural voices, then this is sad.

The government should fund district and provincial roads first, there must be a network that enables rural connectivity before we hook up to the national grid.