GRAND Chief Sir Michael Somare might have many faults but one of them is not nationalist fervour.
From the days when, as a young school teacher and broadcaster, he gingerly took the office of Member of the House of Assembly on March 16, 1968, that fire has never gone out when many other things have died out.
He has always stood for and backed Papua New Guinea at any world forum for 43 years.
This quality, above all others, provided the charisma and bond so necessary in the uncertain years between 1969 and 1974 to pull the divergent group of young Papua New Guineans to push first for self-government and then Independence.
Through the topsy-turvy world of PNG politics, this characteristic has earned this man nationwide recognition as father of the nation and the endearing term “chief”.
In a nation divided by regional sentiments, he alone among a handful of leaders is accepted on the coast, in the highlands and in the outer islands.
And so last week when, in a voice filled with emotion and thinly veiled anger, he spoke of bringing in overseas contractors to build PNG’s roads, it seemed as if he had departed from that thread that had been one of the constants in his entire career as a politician.
Suddenly, it seemed as if he wanted to turn his back on struggling national contractors and go all-out to bring in overseas companies.
Has the Chief finally turned his back?
It is quite a loaded question but one that we can answer without referring to him for guidance.
He has not. He is every bit as nationalistic as he ever was. He has just had it about up to here (we have an inverse chop just under the chin) with the state of deteriorating conditions of roads, bridges and other infrastructure in Papua New Guinea.
When the Chief spoke up, not one person stood up in Parliament to speak in defence of the present contractors in Papua New Guinea. It seemed the Chief was reflecting the feelings of everyone else.
Something is dreadfully wrong with the way we are building our roads today. Take the Highlands Highway, for instance.
That lifeline to the five highlands province was built by Dillingham Corporation more than 20 years ago. Yet, much of it remains intact. Those parts which have been completely redone are the same parts which have come unstuck time and again so that so much money is spent on the same portions.
This would indicate to even the non-engineer that the later works are not of the same quality of workmanship as the original work.
This is despite the fact that engineering technology and related skills have been upgraded and improved exponentially since the days of Dillingham Corporation.
There should be a major highway linking the southern coastline and the capital city to the northern part of the main island. There is a need to link Port Moresby to Alotau and Popondetta. There should be a second and a third access into the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
East New Britain ought to be linked to West New Britain.
Every one of those major roads would bring immense economic returns that, in less than a decade, the billions spent on them would be returned many times over.
Such roads need to be built properly to last decades and they have to be large enough to sustain the growth in traffic over those decades without the need to rip up everything and expand to cater for greater volumes of traffic.
Roads such as the north-south highway of Malaysia opened up the country and grew its rubber and oil palm industries which made that country the world leader of both commodities.
Proper roads in this country would bring enormous economic benefits many times that of Malaysia because there are far more commodities that would be brought along PNG’s roads.
Billion-kina contracts ought to be let to international tendering and bring in the best road building companies from around the world to enter PNG.
The sub-contracts for such major works would be more than enough for PNG contractors so that it will be a win-win situation all around.
Never has there been a better time than today for just such an effort.