By MALUM NALU
MORE than two years after its passing, the controversial Lae City Authority has not come about, and left our evergreen ‘Garden City’ home looking the worse for wear.
The passage of the LCA Bill was just like opening a Pandora’s Box which unleashed all manner of vice upon our fair City of Lae.
Pandora’s Box, in Greek mythology, was a box that contained all the evils of the world which were let loose.
It’s a very sad story too, of betrayal and failure to work together by Morobe leaders, which has taken its toll on the general upkeep of Lae – now struggling to look like a city.
It’s a whole comedy of errors which has cost the people of Lae dearly.
Former Morobe Governor Kelly Naru, former Lae MP Loujaya Kouza and the late Chief Secretary Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc never saw eye-to-eye on the authority issue.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s dream of the authority has yet to eventuate.
Naru and Kouza lost their seats in this year’s general election while Sir Manasupe, until the day he died just before the election, pushed for the authority but to no avail.
It’s a quiet Friday afternoon on June 5, 2015, when the Lae City Authority Bill is overwhelmingly passed.
The press gallery is empty so most media miss out on this big story.
Naru and Bulolo MP Sam Basil, for reasons known to themselves, had been vehemently opposing the LCA concept since it was first mooted in 2014.
Lae City Authority chairperson and MP Kouza is over the moon that day when the bill is passed 59-5 in Parliament.
Two days later, on Sunday, June 7, 2015, I meet Kouza and her chief financial officer Elizabeth Bradshaw and legal counsel Ralph Saulep.
“This is the 40th year and if our men can see and have that confidence, to be able to stand and say yes to the Prime Minister’s call for Lae to have a city authority, and even more to have a woman to head that authority, shows that we certainly have come of age,” she tells me.
“We have some very deep-thinking, well-educated Papua New Guinean men on the floor of Parliament and their foresight, hindsight, support for the Prime Minister on this initiative that was voted on overwhelmingly, puts paid to the few that continue to carry the mindset of male Melanesian leaders in this country.”
Kouza appeals to Naru to work with her.
“I put out the olive branch to the Morobe Governor Kelly Naru again,” she says.
“I ask that he find it within himself the truth of the matter.
“This entity is solely and purely for the development for the people of Lae and the people of Wampar and Nawaeb, who share the border with Lae.
“We can only do well for our people by working together in a cohesive, unified, effort as leaders of Morobe in the best interest of our people and for our people.”
Unfortunately, for Kouza, she has unwittingly become like Pandora in Greek mythology and opened the box of bad news for Lae.
Naru and Basil can’t accept that the Lae woman MP will head the authority and immediately go on the warpath.
They hold press conferences in Lae, go on radio and garner support from Morobe provincial politicians to oppose the LCA.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is now getting fed up with of the continuous politicking over the LCA.
Naru is threatening to derail the LCA legislation by taking it to the Supreme Court for interpretation.
“With due respect to the Morobe issue, I’ve had enough of that debate,” O’Neill says.
“I think I want to move on, Parliament has moved on.
“If they (Morobe provincial government) want to go to the courts to determine this, we will see them in court.
“But please, don’t try to stop me from doing the work that I’m doing in Lae.
“I think people of Lae City, people of Morobe province, are happy with the work that I’m doing.
“If you don’t like it, please don’t vote for me in 2017.
“I don’t need to have unnecessary slurs and unnecessary debates.
“Just simply exercise your right and don’t vote for me, but please, don’t stop me from doing my work.
“I think that’s a fair comment.”
O’Neill says Naru has every right to challenge the establishment of LCA in court.
“The Morobe Governor is within his legal rights to do so,” he says.
“We welcome any challenge that he wishes to put up, but challenging decisions, and structures, are one thing: let us deliver tangible development that is going to benefit the people.
“My challenge to Governor, and anyone who has got some debate on this issue, is to show us what you have done over the past two or three years.
“See what we have done over the last two or three years and see whether that is comparable or not.”
The honeymoon ends on Monday, July 20, when Kouza drops a bombshell by announcing that she is stepping down as chairperson of the newly-enacted LCA
She breaks the news of her resignation to me before she announces it at the People’s National Congress caucus meeting in Port Moresby that night.
“Basically I want to step down publicly because I’ve been given the raw end of the deal since last August,” Kouza says.
“When they gave me the job, they took the position of Community Development Minister away from me.
“I’ve been out in the cold, no resources, no secretariat, and no office.
“My staff from Community Development have not been on a salary, unpaid, helping me to do the job and research for the LCA and what it’s all about.
“We have never been involved in the planning since day one with Chief Secretary (Sir) Manasupe (Zurenuoc, and when he was ill, with (Department of Personnel Management Secretary John) Kali or any of these people who were working for the legislation (of LCA).
“We, meaning myself, legal counsel (Ralph Saulep) and chief financial officer (Elizabeth Lolo Bradshaw).
“These two people have been with me to help me and to support me.
“They have not been paid for their services and have not been recognised.
“Basically our input, our submission for the LCA, has not been entertained.
“How can you not entertain our amendments to the LCA and you still want me to sit on that thing?
“I’m going to admit at the caucus tonight that I’m a rubber stamp, I’ve had enough, and I’m stepping down publicly.
“I’m not going to lose any sleep over this, I’m still the Lae MP, and I’ll see what I can do with my K15 million budget and that’s it.”
Kouza said it’s up to Government to select its candidate to be LCA chairperson.
“There has not been any support whatsoever, secretariat support, consultative support, nothing at all,” she said.
“I’ve been in the dark all along.
“I have a lot of respect for the Prime Minister, I have a lot of respect for his men, but they’ve treated me like this.
“I’m going to announce that tonight and I want to be compensated for the hardship that I’m going through and sticking my neck out with no support.
“I’ve copped everybody’s criticisms left, right, and centre and I’ve never said anything because, truth be told, I’ve never been in the engine room.
“I’ve waited for that, I’ve given enough time, August this year will make it one full year.
“I’m stepping down, that’s it.
“I don’t deserve to be treated the way I’ve been treated and I’m a member of PNC (People’s National Congress).
“I’m a mandated leader like all these men and I’m being treated like this for what?”
• PS: There has been a lot of talk since July 2015 but it all seems to have been much ado about nothing. The people of Lae continue to wait for their long-overdue Lae City Authority.