By MALUM NALU
MONDAY this week, on the night before I left for Kavieng, the lights went out in our house.
My children, who were doing their homework, tried in vain to replenish the power supply through Esipay but to no avail.
It was only late that night, around 10.30pm, that PNG Power Limited posted a notice on social media that the Easipay server was down and that it would be restored at 10.30am on Tuesday.
Tuesday, however, the server wasn’t restored until a day later on Wednesday.
This was totally unacceptable from PPL in this day and age, especially on the event of Papua New Guinea’s 42nd anniversary of Independence, and shows that we are still in the dark – both in town and in the rural areas.
It’s also very embarrassing for the government at a time when it is currently in its much-mooted 100-Day Plan which includes ambitious plans for electricity.
It is one of the greatest ironies that Papua New Guinea, with all its fast-flowing rivers and streams, and now gas, does not have electricity for all citizens.
Electricity remains a far-off dream after 42 years of independence.
In September 1976, a year after independence, Public Utilities Minister Donatus Mola announced ambitious plans for rural electrification. To this day, those dreams have not been fulfilled and rural electrification remains a political football.
In hindsight, rural electrification could have assisted in breaking down the rural-urban drift and the ensuing massive social problems experienced over the past 42 years.
It could have meant more opportunities and new fulfillment for the people when integrated with all aspects of development: agricultural, village, industrial, social and economic.
“The present plan is that where it is shown to be feasible, micro-hydro power will be developed in rural areas and from the station, distribution lines will be spread out to those places demanding the service,” Mola said in 1976.
“In time, the distribution line will link together all the various micro-hydro stations, so that the second step can take place where one major hydro-electric power station can link up all the distribution lines and the minor power plants can be moved to a new area where the same plan commences.
“Thus, the spread of development depends on the needs of the consumer and his demand for the power produced.
“The distribution of this power must rest in the hands of the provincial authorities so that the people not only receive but actually own the power that is generated within their province.
“Any profits will be ploughed back into improving the living standards of the people of the province.
“The way that I anticipate that this will be done is that the national government will arrange loan funds from various sources for the capital cost of the micro-hydro electric power stations or transmission from existing power sources.
“The province will utilise the profits from the sale of the power from existing power sources to distribute power to the villages, so spreading power to the villages according to the wishes and needs of their own people.
“The province will also be required to pay the loan for capital equipment.
“In this way, the province can feel that its people are the real and true owners of the power supply and that they determine the use to which the power is put.
“It is not a dream, but a target for achievement.
“We can do it, we must do it if we are to function as a government of the people, for the people, and it is my declared intention that we should do it, starting now we should light into the lives of our people, joy to their hearts and prosperity to their lives by bringing power to the villages.”
Papua New Guinea remains in the dark after 42 years of independence.
Another point worth mentioning, with so many things wrong with this country after 42 years, is the fact that we do not know our exact population.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill admits that the exact population of the country is not known. He said this in his opening address to the 10th Parliament last month.
O’Neill’s remarks come after the 2010 census was never held which means that no one knows the exact population of the country.
The National Identification Project (NID) in the last government did not deliver the expected results leading on to the recent national election.
The Electoral Commission made estimates of the number of people in the country for the election which resulted in many people not being able to vote.
Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato copped flak from around the country for this when it is not his doing.
“One area that we need to be aware of is we do not know how many people, and what is the accurate number of our population in the country,” O’Neill said.
“We have estimates, but these estimates are not accurate enough.
“We need to reestablish the National Data Collection Centre so that we can plan better, and develop policies even better.
“Accurate population data is key to proper public policy planning and monitoring. We must aim at keeping our economic growth above our population growth.
“We can only do this by having access to reliable data so that we can monitor these important indicators as we move forward.”
Back in 2010, after the failure of the 2010 national census, former kiap Graham Pople told me about the simplicity and accuracy with which they carried out censuses in the colonial days.
He told of how he conducted a census and law-and-order patrol in Laiagam, Enga province (then part of Western Highlands) in 1959.
Indeed food for thought as we wonder why, in this day and age of information, we do not even know our exact population.
“Most of my time while at Laiagam was spent in patrolling,” Pople remembers.
“My initial job was to go around the valley recording names in village, clan and lineage groups. I recorded some 65,000 names in the Lagaip Valley.”
Many of our young people born after September 16, 1975, take it for granted that life, as it is now in PNG, has always been like that. Those of us from the pre-independence era recall with nostalgia better days.
We know that the country has gone backwards instead of forward.
We had good schools with well-disciplined students, good hospitals with hard-working doctors and nurses, good towns and cities where we could walk around freely at night without fear of being robbed or raped, where people didn’t litter or spit betel nut everywhere, we had good infrastructure equivalent to any Australian town, we didn’t have people powered by homebrew and marijuana, and the list goes on and on.
Decentralisation of powers to provincial governments after 1975, in my view, is one of the worst mistakes this country made.
Look at the government and administration in your province today.
Everyone has their own views on independence and why this country had gone backward instead of forward over the last 42 years.
Graham Pople believes self-government and independence came too early.
“My own personal view is that the declaration of self-government was early but could have been handled okay if the interval before independence could have been lengthened,” he says.
“More emphasis should have been in the 1960s and 1970s in educating more senior public servants from the national sector.
“They should have been educated at universities and similar institutions overseas to get the necessary exposure to other cultures and people from other countries in similar positions from countries faced with similar development problems.
“But this was not to be and the establishment of the University of PNG in the late 1960s then made it obligatory, from a point of pride, that all training would take place in-country and so our potential leaders lost that opportunity of exposure to other cultures which could have made a big difference to our development.
“I know that there are many people, mainly academics, who would oppose my point of view, claiming it was more essential to develop a national identity, but these are my personal views for the information of my children.
“Despite the early declaration of independence and the paucity of training for future leaders, PNG has now been independent since 1975, and we are all aware of how the country is faring and has fared.
“But would later independence with the training I suggested have made any difference?
“No one knows and it is impossible to tell, and so it is a useless debate.”
By MALUM NALU