The National, Monday 17th June 2013
MANY of our people, particularly those living along the Highlands Highway, have turned a particular trickery into an art form.
That is how Hela Governor Anderson Agiru put it last week.
The trickery involves moving gardens, homes and business premises as close as possible to any public infrastructure, particularly roads.
The reason, as we shall see, is not only for convenience of having access to the road for transportation purposes.
It is best done if one knows that the existing infrastructure is due for an upgrade or if one knows the route or site of a proposed public project.
Let’s say if a surveyor were to point out where the route of a future road project is going to take place, immediately one will begin to see frantic activity all along the proposed route.
And no, it is not road clearing that is the focus of the activity but rather the opposite.
People are known to have moved homes, uprooted grown sugar canes and banana plants and plunked them down smack in the middle of wherever the road is going to be built.
And of course if one were to remove such structures or commercial crops some form of payment has to be made.
For the very short span of road between Watabung on the border of Eastern Highlands and Kundiawa town in Chimbu, some K63 million was paid by the State as compensation during a recent upgrade of the road.
There are tens of millions of kina more in claims before the Works Department for that section of the highway.
Multiply that by the length of the entire Highlands Highway and you will get an idea of just how much out of any budget appropriation will go into compensation.
And that is before the first grain of soil is removed for any upgrade.
The recent passage of an Infrastructure Protection Act was to ensure this kind of nonsense does not prevail in future.
Agiru told the people of Hela to voluntarily remove all obstructions within a 20m corridor on both sides of the road.
He said those who chose not to heed his advice would find their properties destroyed or burnt down without any compensation.
The 20m corridor are kept exclusively for roads expansion or for service lines.
They are to be kept free of obstruction at all times.
Any infringement onto the services corridor is guilty of violating the law and should rightly be penalised.
Long before the Infrastructure Protection Act came into play, the exclusive services corridor existed as a law.
Yet that law was never reinforced and so one wonders whether or not the new law can grow teeth to bite.
It is important for leaders at all levels to emulate Agiru and call on their people to forget this nasty habit.
It is not unusual, for instance, that leaders will lead their community against the Government for compensation payment for certain land that is commissioned for public infrastructure projects.
Our people cannot cry for government services and yet when the service is about to be delivered they also want compensation for their land or labour.
That is just not on. One cannot have their cake and eat it at the same time.
Leaders such as Western Highlands Governor Paias Wingti have been telling their people for years that there will be no public funded infrastructure project in any area where the people are unwilling to give their land or labour freely for it.
This country will never develop by using limited funds to pay people who cry for service and yet they want to be paid for it.
A strong government policy should accompany the Infrastructure Protection Act in that wherever a group of people want compensation for government services, all government services ought to be removed from such a community.