By PISAI GUMAR
PNGDF engineers will start work on the final section of the Baiyer-Madang highway and open up a hitherto unreached region of the country. Work will start from Aiome in Middle Ramu and progress towards Jimi in Jiwaka.
The midnightskyover Lae was brightenedup with alluringlights of fireworks set out at Mt Lunaman that enlightened the hearts and minds of city citizens to welcome 2019.
Many citizens promised some changes to better their lives and kick bad habits in life prioritising ‘to do list’ in their respective walks of lives in the New Year.
Bravo to Lae MP John Rosso for organising 500kg of explosives that satisfied Lae businessman Hilmar Wong who is convinced that “without fireworks Independence Day nor New Year celebrations are meaningless”.
True to Wong’s zest, the explosion of fireworks, theechoes, alluring sparks in diverse twinkling colors encouragedthe human mind to think and wish for testimonies to set in life.
It was at this time also that a new blood of Sappers within PNG Defence Force Engineer Battalion at Igam Barracksset their priority for 2019 and to set a testimony in the next 24 months.
Soon after sunup on Tuesday Jan 1, the convoy of heavy machinery on a floater arrived at Voco Point destined for Aiome (pronounced Ayom), Middle Ramu in Madang.
Battalion Commander Lt Col Bruno Malau and Second In-Command (2IC) Major Nukama Mote led the floater from Igam to Voco Point.
The combat engineers were intent on a step aheadin theNew Yearto pursue their civic actionsprogrammewhen the citizenry were still filled with a sense of the festive season.
Since December when people were on a shopping merry-go-round for gifts to share with loved ones, the engineering soldiers were busy servicing road construction machinery.
The equipmentwere transported back from Baiyer, Western Highlands on Dec 2 after 10 years.
It was after completing 50km Baiyer (Western Highlands) to Jimi River (Jiwaka) pilot track road works of the 255km road alignment of this alternateHighlands-Madang highway.
The sappers set their sight to accomplish the mission to shedsome light to unreached communities in this part of the world where people were neglected and left to struggle over time.
Opening this corridor along Baiyer-Madang by Dec 31, 2020 will be a testimony to this dedicated young generation of sappers as a chapter of thePNGDF engineer’s history which started on Wednesday, Sept 1, 1976 in the swamps of Amanab in Green River, West Sepik.
Though it will take two years (24 months) to complete the road, the project remains a top priority for PNGDF sapper’s ‘to-do-list’ this year.
The equipment included an excavator, a bulldozer, two dump trucks, two four wheel drives and two banana boats destined for Aiome.
Some sappers in camouflage and others in civilian clothes arrived with the machineryand loaded them on the mv Sulu Expressthat departed Lae for Madang on Jan 4.
The mv Sulu Express will cruiseup the Ramu River via Bogiato the mobilisation site at Aiome where construction work start.
The shipment cost K400,000.
The Baiyer-Madang highway was launched in 2009 at Simonga village 10 years ago.
Simonga is centrally located between Enga, East Sepik, Madang, Jiwaka and Western Highlands.
The then PNGDF Engineer Battalion Commander, thelate Lt Col Mark Keru accompanied by Malau who was then a major, launched the project.
It was a great honour for this writer to be part of two high profile military officials to Simonga to cover this event and witnessthe beginning of a new journey and a testimony in constructing this new national highway by younger a generation of PNGDF sappers.
The writer, with a New Year’s wish in mind, is inspired to witness the launching of the construction of the 110km Aiome-Jimi section of the highway mid this month.
It will also be a testimony to witness the completion of the highway in Dec 31, 2020.
The completion and opening of this national highway as one of the 15 vital missing links in country will spur not only socio-economic activities in Western Highlands and Madang; it will relieve the pains and struggles the people ofBaiyer, Jiwaka, Middle Ramu and upper Sepik area bordering Enga have endured for many years.
The motto of the engineers’ – A step ahead – speaks a lot about the zest and passion within the green camouflages and the sworn oath to serve God and Queen.
They have sworn not only to protect Statesovereignty based on core principles enshrined in National Constitution without fear and favor but importantly, to be involved in civic actions in serving the basic needs of humanityamong other military engagements. This inspires the sappers to be mindful, disciplined and respectfulto one anotherin communities they livein and to serve with dignity and pride.
The three core elements exercised concurrentlyand faithfully brings to light the sappers strength of mind to reach the unreached rural communities in civic action programmes including those in times of natural calamity.
True to their motto, the engineering soldiers have set a high tempo for 2019 schedule with determination and 60 soldiers were deployed on site for six months.
For the next 24 months, 60 personnel will be deployed for each six month stint.
As the sappers from Bravo, Alpha and Support Company step into the New Year ahead with determination, many government offices, finance and treasury accounts remain closed.
For the sappers, their priority wish for 2019 is to pursue the 110km road from Aiome-Simbai(42km), Simbai-Ramu River (36km) and Simbai-Jimi River (32km) and complete the works by Dec 31, 2020.
These are all new cut roads in addition to the 43km from Kakal in Transgogol to Ramu River completed earlier.
The Government has allocated K15 million in the 2019 budget for the project.
Malau acknowledged the Department of Finance, Department of Treasury, Department of National Planning and Monitoring, Ministry of Defence and Defence Council for their undivided support.
“We’re scheduled to complete the road on Dec 31, 2020but that will be determined by continuous financial assistance from the Government.”
Malau said the project was one of the high impact projects for the Government in its Vision 2050 and Medium Term Development Strategy (MTDS) as an alternate Highlands highway to trigger socio-economic activities among those unreached rural communities.
“It also will reduce travel time between the Highlands and Madangand also tee-off to link East Sepik to fulfill the notion to link the MamoseHighway by embracing government’s aspirations to connect and develop least developed regions in country,” Malaunoted.
Sometime this month during a stakeholders meeting in Mt Hagen, the first phase (Baiyer-Jimi River) road will be handed over to the Government and Department of Works (DoW) to be contracted out to qualified national companies.
The launching will be concurrent tothe start of the Aiome-Jimi River sector construction.
Meanwhile,12 other engineering soldiers are also attached with DoW assisting in the construction ofthe Finschhafen-Bukawa highway to link Lae city.
However, the rugged terrain, wetlands and logistics are the main challenges facing the workers but the soldiers have mitigation strategies in place that address them.
Although the soldiers have constructed over 1,000 minor projects in their 43 years of civic programmes, construction of Baiyer-Madang highway will be their biggest achievement and testimony to their engineering skills.
The project brings with it some interesting experiences that enrichthe soldier’s engineering capabilities in civic programmes, includingimproved capacities in equipment, knowledge and skills.
The sappers’ deployment to Aiomegives Middle Ramu MP Johnny Alonk a sense of confidence and pride to work in partnership with and utilisePNGDF engineering skills and manpower to develop his electorate.
Malau told The National that Alonk has vowed to support the sappers in any way possible until the road construction was completed to ease the struggles of his people.
By PISAI GUMAR