By PETER ESILA
THE New Britain Highway cuts across many rivers, spectacular landscapes and forests being robbed by oil palm. The loss of forests however, is compensated by the eco nomic benefits from the crop.
This is true at least from the west side of the highway.
If you travel from Kimbe to Bialla and all the way to Navo near Ulamona in West New Britain, you would expect some downpour coming from the Nakanai Range almost daily.
This poses a challenge for the “Oil Palm Province” that pumps in about K1.3 billion annually into the PNG budget from this crop alone, according to Regional Member Sasindran Muthuvel.
The high rainfall causes floods that damage roads, bridges and slows down business for New Britain Palm Oil Ltd (NBPOL) as well as Hargy Oil Palms Ltd, the two palm oil producers operating in the province.
NBPOL gets west of Talasea while Hargy takes on from Bialla and into East New Britain.
Talasea is one of the biggest districts in PNG, and that is another story altogether.
Last Thursday, the province marked an important occasion, the opening of eight of the 12 bridges on the highway funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the PNG Government.
The 12 bridges cost US$32 million (K109 million), financed under the Bridge Replacement for Improved Rural Access Programme (Brirap).
The grand event that closed the highway at Korori Bridge, one of the eight bridges that hosted the opening ceremony near Lavege village was attended by Works Minister Michael Nali, Muthuvel, Governor Francis Maneke, ADB country director David Hill Hill, Works Secretary David Wereh and Transport Secretary Roy Mumu, among other leaders.
The business community in WNB, Works department officers, provincial government staff and the public witnessed the event covered by the national media.
Prime Minister James Marape who was scheduled to attend, did not, so Nali received the grand welcome.
Humbled by the reception from the locals, Nali promised to pursue further discussions with stakeholders to fix another two bridges that gets hit the most by the bad weather annually, the Tiauru and Ivule bridges.
Arriving at Hoskins on a charted Air Niugini Fokker 100 at around 9.50am, Nali was received by a combined Royal PNG Constabulary and Correctional Service guard of honour.
This was followed by an hour and 10 minutes’ convoy from Hoskins to Lavege village.
School children starting from Hoskins Secondary to Ubai and Lavege Primary Schools lined up on the road to welcome the delegates.
Hill said ADB was very proud to work with the Government on development plans to have better infrastructure and connectivity in PNG.
This partnerships is “bridging the gap from farmers to markets and increases economic opportunities for the country’s rural communities, which indeed represent the vast majority of the population of PNG, and initially support the better access to health and education facilities,” Hill said.
“All of this will assist in realising the Government’s vision for a better future. Please take care of your bridges,” he urged.
Nali encouraged the people to use the road access to venture into economic activities.
“It is not easy to build roads and bridges and connect people, you are very lucky that you have these infrastructures before you. Get back to the land, get back to agriculture, don’t be lazy,” he said.
“Why should we continue to build roads for drunkards to drive up and down and cause accidents?
“New Britain Highway is one of the priority roads for the country. I am happy to build infrastructure when government gives me money for people who are prepared to use the road corridors, to get into agriculture,” he told the people.
Maneke said the province would continue the important partnership with NBPOL and Hargy who will benefit greatly from these infrastructure by way of the tax credit scheme.
“We want to see that the tax credit scheme portion of the benefit benefits the people of WNBP, especially through infrastructure like roads, bridges, aid posts, schools and hospital facilities in the province. That is because we contribute to the economy of this country, and it is only fair and right for us to be able to be given the right benefit from our sweat.
“The south coast of New Britain is also an economic corridor and an important road network that we really need to see developed.
“We want to see that the whole province is developed economically. Only by way of roads can we be able access and enhance the economy of our south coast.
“There is so much of the landmass there and it is only fair that we develop the road network that is on the south coast so that we can see some of the economic development on the southern part of this Island.
“We know that the tax credit scheme programme is a very important for the province and we will be contributing to make sure that we identify programmes, submitted through a proper process, and then we have to deliver all the infrastructure programmes for our province,” Maneke said.
“Tiauru and Ivule are the disaster bridges and need fixing.”
He said WNB has all the potential to become a tourism hub.
“This very important infrastructure development has been delivered; we see that it will develop most other sectors in this province.
The Government has identified East New Britain as a tourism hub and if the New Britain Highway is done up properly, we want the tourism hub in East New Britain to spill over to West New Britain.
“We have all the potentials of tourism in this provinceand having a very good network that is now been initiated, we want to see more of those programmes so that we can be able to benefit from what is delivered in East New
Britain and also in other parts of the country,” Maneke said.
Works Secretary David Wereh said Brirap was the replacement of old bridge specifications comprising single lane bailey bridges being phased out and replaced with double lane and all weather resilient permanent concrete structures designed to last up to 100 years.
The Korori bridge was opened at 13.21pm with everyone among the crowd wanting to take a picture with their smartphones.
The event ended at 2pm and it was time to head back to Hoskins for the 3.50pm departure to Jacksons Airport in Port Moresby.
Of course there were stops along the way to grab some West New Britain taro.
The remaining four bridges will be opened before June, according to Hill.
The opening of the new bridges was truly a blessing for the people of WNB who are now connected and the provincial economy is certainly will see a growth as a result of the improved infrastructure.
The next time you ride on the New Britain Highway, keep an eye out for the “Kerosene Wara” as it will take your breath away.