Connect PNG a crucial agenda


IT will be a mega investment costing perhaps billions of kina but the planned international highway linking the northern half of Papua New Guinea to Indonesia could be the key to unlocking new economic frontiers in both countries.
Works Minister Michael Nali has said in the past that this road link, which will become the country’s only international highway, should be given the recognition it deserves.
Speaking in Aitape, West Sepik during a nationwide tour to inspect road infrastructure with Works secretary David Wereh, Nali said then that Coastal Sepik Highway had been overlooked for many years. The Government has incorporated this link in its Connect PNG agenda.
The Coast Sepik Highway is one of the few missing links in the country which need to be opened up for it to realise its full economic potential. Others include the Southern-Highlands to Gulf highway which is currently being constructed, the Morobe to Gulf link, and the New Britain Highway which is nearly completed except for major bridges yet to be completed.
Nali’s former colleague, then Planning and Implementation Minister Richard Maru had also announced in Lae that it was a government priority to open a road link from Lae to Madang, the Sepiks and onto Jayapura in Indonesia.
As trade minister in the previous government, Maru had been a strong advocate of greater cross-border trade, especially in increased volumes of PNG products such as vanilla and cocoa going across to Indonesian or Asian markets.
Although there has been some trade across the border, it has largely been Asian or Indonesian merchandise brought across and Maru argued that it was time more PNG products were brought across to boost the local economy.
The economic possibilities that would be created by an international highway to Indonesia are quite immense.
Freighting cargo into Indonesia or for transhipment to other Asian ports would, in principle, be cheaper and faster than shipping.
Also imports of Asian products into PNG might be lot cheaper if freighted in trucks.
The proposed international highway would also open up trade opportunities between and among provinces.
Currently, there is no reliable road link between East and West Sepik and to get out of Wewak.
To get out of Vanimo or Wewak one gets on a plane or passenger boat. Inter-connectivity between the Sepik provinces and Madang, Morobe and the Highlands will definitely open up greater socio-economic activities.
People in the isolated areas in between the major centres of Vanimo, Aitape, Wewak, Angoram and Bogia will be connected and so the cost of providing government services to them would be reduced greatly.
At the same time there would be possibilities for small and large scale investments in agriculture, fisheries and even tourism.
Such investments would of course require a whole-of-government approach and careful assessment to get money’s worth in the end.
As pointed out by Minister
Nali, the economic returns on investments should be assessed by all relevant agencies of government.
For instance, the Department of Agriculture and Livestock should be engaged to evaluate the agricultural investment potentials any new road would create.
The Department of Trade, Commerce and Industry could step in to assist locals venture into small-to-medium enterprises.
The proposed international highway, which will cross two of the country’s major rivers, is going to cost a lot for the government and it will most certainly look for international donor assistance.
An investment of such magnitude will take a while in planning and mobilising the necessary resources but the fact that the government has recognised its importance is a good start.
It may not be soon but when it is built, the Mamose Highway will create a whole new range of possibilities in the country’s development.