Gulf deserves better leadership

Editorial

KEREMA town is well-known throughout Papua New Guinea but mostly for the wrong reasons.
While Gulf musicians like to portray their provincial capital as an oasis of love in their popular songs, Kerema is hardly a sentimental destination.
It is not even a tourist destination in the mould of beautiful Madang, scenic Rabaul or idyllic Alotau.
Instead, Kerema became notorious for criminal activities and other social ills.
Decades of dereliction compounded the problems that made the town a hotspot for criminals and other unwanted elements.
Kerema’s notoriety was made infamous by the late William Kapris who masterminded one the biggest bank robberies in the country’s history several years ago.
Kapris and a handful of crooked friends robbed the Kerema branch of the Bank South Pacific of almost a million kina, forcing the town’s only bank to close indefinitely.
Since then, the town residents and rural people have had to travel to Port Moresby to do their banking as BSP refuses to re-open the branch while other commercial banks will not even think about opening up branches there.
There is no doubt that since Independence, this former colonial administration outpost has been neglected by successive national governments and abandoned by its own political leaders.
In fact, there is little tangible development in Kerema town and throughout Gulf province with hardly any road network, bridges, sea ports and other key infrastructure.
Like neighbouring Western province, time seems to have stood still in Gulf with the majority its people continuing to live the way their ancestors did.
While Gulf leaders and its educated elite prefer to live under the bright lights of the National Capital District, their home town and province continue to suffer from lack of government services, infrastructure development and socio-economic growth.
It was indeed welcome news for the town’s residents and people of Gulf when Prime Minister Peter O’Neill opened a new K2.2 million mess and kitchen at the Kerema General Hospital on Tuesday.
O’Neill, accompanied by Health Minister Michael Malabag and other government dignitaries, travelled to Kerema to witness the swearing-in of the new hospital board, which is chaired by InterOil executive Christian Vinson.
The Prime Minister’s assurance to provide direct funding to Kerema General Hospital and other hospitals throughout the country reaffirms the O’Neill Government’s focus on delivering an effective public healthcare programme.
“The healthcare sector in our country is one of the foremost areas in which our Government has placed great importance. We have put more budget support than any Government into healthcare after hospitals had been in decline for decades,” O’Neill said in a statement on Tuesday.
It seems the people of Gulf will finally be getting the much-needed government services that have eluded them for decades.
The Prime Minister’s visit to Kerema is of great significance to the province, which will soon see the start of the Papua LNG Project, the country’s second liquefied natural gas project.
The town is strategically located within the corridor of the current LNG development in the Highlands and Southern regions and is expected to become the hub of the Papua LNG Project.
Indeed, the future looks bright and the opportunities are seemingly enormous but the people of Gulf should not become mere spectators of this major resource development.
But they will if their current and future leaders continue to govern the province in the reckless manner of their predecessors.
It seems that millions of kina provided annually to the province by the National Government have never seen the light of day.
The Prime Minister was rather blunt in his assessment of the Gulf political leadership when he told hundreds of people who gathered to welcome him in Kerema that there was nothing to show for the large amount of public funds that had been allocated to Gulf over the years.
And while O’Neill was expressing his grave concerns over Gulf’s leadership and financial woes, vowing to get to the bottom of it, Governor Havila Kavo had the audacity to ask for K50 million to connect his 10 local level government areas to the highway.
Kavo said his people had not been participating in economic activities due to the non-existence of road infrastructure.
Has the governor woken up from his long slumber or is it a genuine request to help his people?
With just 10 months left before the country goes to the polls, Kavo’s request for more funds should be dismissed as election-related claptrap.
The people of Gulf deserve better than the past and current crop of leaders.

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