By ERIC PIET
WE do things not because we want to follow others but because it’s new and hard to do; we do it differently here in New Ireland.
Those were the words by New Ireland Governor Sir Julius Chan when welcoming, along with the Provincial Administrator Lamiller Pawut, officers from tje Department for Community Development and Religion in Kavieng recently.
The department delegation, led by the acting Secretary Jerry Ubase, was there to learn how the province’s old age and disability pension scheme works.
As Sir Julius, the grand maimai (chief), dubbed in the ‘Island of many Islands’ as a ‘little man with a big heart’ clearly says it in the above opening lines, New Ireland no doubt leads the development front with its unique models some of which have taken and may take center stage in the national government’s development agenda.
One of these is the free and subsidised education concept which has now been adopted in the national government’s school fee payment programme in the country. It has its beginning in New Ireland in 2008 following Sir J’s election as governor in 2007 after ousting his predecessor, who is the current MP for Kavieng and Treasurer Ian-Ling Stuckey.
Sir J did not introduce free education to lure the votes of parents to keep him in power; he did so to transform the reliance on one resource to another (from natural resources to human resources) when the former gets depleted in the islands that constitute the province.
Sir J, whose administration as to date, expended K176m on the programme since 2008, says: “When we talk about subsidy for schools, my definition is completely different, not like many other leaders who do that to get votes from parents to be in power. I do it because New Ireland is an island of many islands and the trees and other resources will one day be depleted on those islands and I cannot tell the people to grow trees on water.
“So I have to plant the seeds of development in the young kids of New Ireland so that they can get a competitive knowledge and sustain themselves and the province when the natural resources are gone.
“That is exactly why I introduced free education in New Ireland, not to stay in political power.
“We did it in 2008 and after four years in 2012, the Government borrowed it.”
Guided by the province’s Malagan Declaration that has human development as its core tenet, from which, other forms of development take root, Sir J’s approach is one that takes the complete revolution. When the young are set on the journey of competitive skills and knowledge pursuit, which are the enablers for better jobs and successful living, the old and disabled also need decent care before exiting this life to another; hence, the care giving policy.
New Ireland has championed this policy effectively in the country since 2009. That now has Waigani desiring New Ireland’s aged and disability pension scheme that it considers expanding in the country. This was revealed by Secretary Ubase in Kavieng, when he led his department’s elderly and disability section officers recently, who are spearheading information and data collection in the country for policy formulation that will safeguard the subsequent pension scheme.
But why would Sir J use the New Ireland government development money in an area that literally brings no return to the province? None at all, he admits.
“There is nothing that comes back from it to the New Ireland provincial government, it is all just consumption expenditure but I have been careful in how I manage limited financial resources.
“I believe many people are saying that Sir Julius is one of the most stupid governors to spend public money on something that bears no fruit in return.
“Although it is true that there is nothing to gain from it, in New Ireland we go by doing things differently. As long as the concept seems new and challenging to us, we get our hands on it. But most importantly, we don’t just do it to get praise or criticism from people, we do it because it matters for our people.”
All criticisms aside Sir Julius may be a true ambassador of Christ on earth, albeit not a full church goer, as he says.
He pays his current 11,300 pensioners K500 each every year. This is an increase from K360 in the last two years because it is God’s work for him on earth in New Ireland, and this has been biblically guided. The eligible age group is 65 years and above.
In Sir J’s words, Matthew instructs us in his book in Chapter 5 that we must not forget the weak and the poor because they too have a place in heaven.
“Having read this, I said Father, let this work be placed upon my shoulders. I will be your agent here in New Ireland for your people,” the governor said, adding that K40m had been expended to date on pensioners.
As it is said, health is wealth. A healthy population contributes to the development of a society. And Sir J knows that too well; as long as the wealth and wellbeing of New Ireland is concerned, it is placed in the hands of the people.
“When people are healthy, New Ireland is rich. This points back to the Malagan Declaration where we talk about human development,” he says, stressing that all programmes or policies in the province are designed to bear multiple benefits to people, with human health and wellbeing centrally anchored in the development statute guide.
For instance, the bicycle subsidy in the province was not only introduced to complement the better quality roads that New Ireland has, with an intent to have the many villagers enjoy the modern thoroughfares alongside those that have vehicles, but this has also made people exercise when they ride bicycles, and the health benefits from that are certain.
“These days, we take a lot of processed food, and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes are on the increase in the province before but this has gone down because I made people to exercise when they ride bicycles, thereby prolonging their lives. This is what human development is about,” said the governor.
His government provides a 50 per cent subsidy for those who want to own a bicycle.
The ‘roof over heads’ policy encourages family heads to contribute only K180 each while the rest of the cost for 12 sheets of roofing iron is covered by a provincial subsidy. This housing assistance has not only removed kunai thatched houses but brought with it a much desired health benefit – access to safe drinking water and reducing dysentery and diarrhea cases in the province in recent times.
The beautification programme, where winners get announced in September during Independence celebrations by the governor himself, has truly substantiated New Ireland’s claim as ‘Bilas Peles’.
To top it off, another important development has recently emerged in New Ireland’s Konos station in the Sentral Local Council area: The Konos Solar Power Plant. This again, is a first in the country, which offers a panacea in clean energy development, albeit in a small corner of a planet hit by climate change. (This will be separately featured in a coming article).
The quality sealed roads harmonise well with the beautiful natural scenery.
The lovely welcoming New Irelanders have another magnificent structure in town, built in style, and incomparable to any I know in the country – resembling the National Parliament in Waigani.
It is the New Ireland Legislative House nestled in the heart of the provincial capital, Kavieng.
Surely ‘Bilas City’ is coming up!
- Eric Piet works with the Department for Community Development and Religion.