By MALUM NALU
THE people of New Ireland extol the virtues of their beautiful island home in that unforgettable song, ‘Niu Ailan Bilas Peles’, which has become something of a provincial anthem.
I remember once in 2015, when I was in New Ireland, that former Kavieng MP Ben Micah invited me to walk with him and students of Utu High School along a stretch of the Boluminski Highway.
It was an unforgettable walk, along what is unarguably the best road in the country, with picturesque scenes of coconut palms, unspoiled villages and unbelievable coastline.
As evening fell, and the sun turned the land into a magnificent spectrum of colours, the students of Utu broke into a rendition of ‘Bilas Peles’.
It’s a moment I can never forget.
This time round on Wednesday, Sept 13, 2017, I accompanyed new Works and Implementation Minister Michael Nali, Secretary David Wereh and New Ireland Provincial Works Manager Solomon Pela on a tour of the Boluminski.
The visit is the first of Nali’s trips around the country during which he will check out progress of work of major roads in the country.
The highway is named after German administrator, Franz Boluminski, who supervised the task of building a road in the early 1900s using karanas (dead coral) that is in plentiful supply in New Ireland.
It was the longest and best road in the Pacific until the 1950s.
The Boluminski today is a vital 365km road in New Ireland linking Kavieng in the north to Namatanai in the south.
You can see the diversity of New Ireland along the way from the sea to the highlands of the Lelet Plateau, where coffee and high-altitude fruit and vegetables grow.
Tourists, including Australian students, regularly cycle the Boluminski and stay in the villages along the way with the friendly and hospitable people.
There are many attractions along the way, including the famous freshwater eels of Laraibina village, which visitors feed by hand.
Nali becomes a believer after checking out the 200km or so sealed section of the highway from Kavieng and the remaining 30km that is being sealed.
The rest of the road after that to Namatanai is all sealed.
Nali says the Boluminski is without doubt the best in the country “with not one single pothole”.
“This is the only best road in PNG with not one single pothole,” Nali says.
“This could be so for two reasons: The surface itself which is limestone all the way and could provide basis for its stability; and secondly, when the road was built, it must have been done properly and supervised well.”
Nali urges highway contractors to do their job right, and his department staff not to compromise their positions and provide the supervision required by the people of not only New Ireland but Papua New Guinea as a whole.
“When roads are constructed, they must be done properly,” he says.
Nali says the Boluminski Highway has been kept in good condition over the last 15 years “which has resulted in it being the best road in PNG at the moment”.
“The main problem with our roads is the lack of maintenance all-year round,” he adds.
“When a little pothole pops up, it’s important that we repair it quickly, and the road will continue to provide the service that we require.
“When we ignore them, we start to see roads fall apart.
“In PNG, we need over K1 billion (annually) to keep the roads up to standard.”
Secretary Wereh says it is costing the Government K35 million to complete 20km of the remaining 30km of the Boluminski Highway in New Ireland.
Dekenai Construction has been awarded the contract to seal the 20km section.
“It is costing K35 million to seal and upgrade 20km,” Wereh says.
“I think that’s reasonable and works out to K1.5 million per km.”
Wereh says the Boluminski is in good condition because of the continuous maintenance work over the years.
“The road has always been there, with the sealing programme starting some 15 years ago,” he says.
“The road was already existing on the foundation that was laid some years back. The sealing programme is continuing. The remaining bit is about 30km, and the entire 365km will have been sealed. Our target is to see that by 2018, we should pick up the last 10km and that’s done.
“We should be then have sealed off all the gravelled sections of the Boluminski Highway. We are reaching the 365km mark now which is really good.”
Wereh says they wanted to do likewise to all major roadways in the country and seal off all gravelled sections.
“We want to see that all our main highways, priority road networks throughout the country, are sealed, maintained and well managed,” he says. That’s the vision the minister has and the Government has.
“We want to align ourselves to make sure that our priority roads are well maintained, well looked after and well managed.”
New Ireland Provincial Works Manager Pela says the Boluminski is the flagship of road infrastructure projects in the province. Pela says the total length of the highway was 365km from Kavieng Court House Junction all the way to Poropo in Namatanai.
“The sealed section is all the way from Kavieng to Punam, while from Punam to Poropo, we have about 40km unsealed. That section is now being taken by the provincial government, which has sealed 7km already.
“The National Government is partnering very closely with the provincial government, so we have funding from both sides.”
Pela says contractor Dekenai Construction started work on the project in August 2016 and is expected to complete it by August 2018.
“All-in-all, it’s a total of 18 months project, however, progress at the moment is a bit slow because of financial constraints,” he says.
“We are still optimistic that we will reach the completion date next year.
“The contract total is K35 million, which is fully funded by the PNG Government, however, Australia is also involved in the project through supporting us with project management consultants.
“We are working with Australia and the Government of PNG to implement this project. Once this is done, Boluminski Highway will be the best national highway in the country, which is entirely sealed.
“There are no potholes, no major deformations or distress on the pavement itself, basically because of the fact that the road has been maintained and has a very solid foundation.
“The late (German Administrator, Franz) Boluminski, who first built this road, used limestone coral from the sea and laid the foundation, so it’s very compact.
“This road will last for many years to come.”
Franz Boluminski, who is buried at Bagail Cemetery in Kavieng, would certainly be proud of his han mak (legacy).
By MALUM NALU