Roadblocks obstacle to development

Editorial

The Highlands Highways has been blocked – the second time in recent weeks – by a disgruntled group of people for some reason or other, mostly to demand money as compensation from authorities.
This is despite the Government telling the people it is illegal to block public roads. It has also been reminding people that it will not pay compensations for land – traditional or otherwise – acquired for public access. Why the people cannot understand this simple straightforward information boggles the mind.
In January 2015, the Highlands Highway outside Kainantu, Eastern Highlands, was reopened to traffic after grinding to a halt a few days earlier. Heavy rain at that time had caused abutments on the Bane Bridge to collapse with a three-metre deep crack appearing on the road.
Landowners took advantage of the situation and demanded compensation, claiming that the Government had paid for other parts of the highway, but not theirs.
October 2017 – and history is repeating itself. Members of the Anku’Aintenu Landowner Group of the Agarabi local level government have felled trees, placed old vehicles on the highway, and blocked at least six different portions of the 4.5km road between Bane and 4-Mile bridge.
They want the Government to pay them K85 million in compensation for the highway that crosses their land.
They say the 4.5km stretch of the highway that runs through their land is still customary land because it was never purchased by the then colonial government. Group chairman Aaron Afantai claims that they have been sending petitions sent to the Government and Department of Works to pay them but there has been no response.
They are demanding that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Works and Implementation Minister Michael Nali, and Secretary David Wereh meet them as soon as possible to discuss their compensation demands.
The landowners from seven villages – Aga’anantu, Kainantu One, Kainantu Two, Kainawa One, Kainawa Two, Kelimapara and Omunayo – still wrongly believe that by closing the highway, the Government will relent and pay them money they had been trying to get for more than six decades.
Thousands of innocent people who use the highway are again being punished by the actions of these so-called landowners. They have been forced to walk the 4.5km of the blocked road, putting their lives at risk.
They are being punished for no fault of theirs.
Millions of kina worth of goods and services from the port city of Lae are not reaching the Highlands. Likewise, coffee, fresh fruit and vegetables from the Highlands are not reaching the coast.
Wereh says the roadblock at Bane is illegal and police will be told to clear the highway which belongs to the public, not to any particular tribe or clan.
We totally agree with Wereh that people living along the highway seriously need to change their attitude and thinking. There seems to be a trend now that people living along public roads set up roadblocks whenever they have an issue against the State or anyone else.
Nali is likewise unfazed, reiterating the government stand that it will not entertain any compensation claims by people and businesshouses alongside major roads.
Work is starting next year on the K3 billion rehabilitation of the highway and compensation claims are popping up like mushrooms. Perhaps all these claims of compensation may have something to do with that.
But Nali summed it up nicely when he says one of the major hindrance to development is the compensation culture which has somehow taken root in the way some people think and view development. It seems a quick and easy way to make money.
As Nali rightly points out, it has become a major obstacle to infrastructure development especially regarding roads.
The message to the people is simple: Do not block public roads because they do not belong to you even if they run through your land. You are just creating problems for yourselves.

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