Don’t squander State land

Editorial, Normal

THE Works Department’s Boroko workshop is being demolished at the time of writing.
Within a few months, this once proud home of the department will be in foreign hands, serving as a major casino and hotel for a South Korean group.
Across the road at an adjacent block, which we understand also to have been once Government land, another development is going up which also looks to be private sector related.
The settlers in the nearby areas have been watching these developments with more than passing interest. For they occupy Works Department land as well and have been claiming that if the Government is going to give away land to foreign interests, they might as well lay claim to the land on a permanent basis.
At this rate, prime Government land is ending up in private hands throughout Port Moresby and in other parts of the country.
At some future date, the Government will discover that it has no land for its own operations. This shows the greed and lack of foresight that accompanies decision-making in Government at the moment.
The Works Department land at Boroko was sold, we are told, with the full concurrence of the minister and the department head several years back. The money that the State might have received is now almost certainly used up.
The land remains but in the hands of a foreign interest, the title totally indefensible so that no minister or secretary or even the full Cabinet can overturn the title without a lengthy legal process. And what reasons would the State offer, in any case?
Everywhere else we are seeing similar moves by private sector interests on Government land. There is nothing wrong with private sector investment. It is a good thing and promotes growth and employment. The point here is that Government must be careful it does not give away all its land because it has its own needs for land.
Today, Government departments are being housed in office spaces all over town. At least two major office complexes in Waigani are rundown and gutted, occupying space and totally useless.
The Government seems to have abandoned them, preferring to pay rents which if they had been used to renovate the Central Government Offices or the Pineapple Building or to build new office spaces, might have saved the State millions of kina.
It would be an interesting exercise to undertake a survey to see how much the Government actually does spend to house its various departments in private buildings.
This affects productivity and security of department operations as well. There is lack of coordination between Government departments and even between separate divisions of the same department because they are physically separated in different buildings.
Security of sensitive Government information and property is suspect in such a situation. More is the case for the Government to invest seriously in its own buildings in one central location. That was the original plan for the Waigani area but such a plan appears to have been abandoned along the way.
On the other extreme, available space is not being utilised properly. Parliament, for instance, has beautiful offices for every Member of Parliament. Most of the year, these offices are left vacant while ministers rent spaces in other parts of town, even in private sector buildings, at great public expense.
There is only one address in town which might be better off were it to be relocated out of town and the land sub-divided and sold to other interests including Government. That is the military headquarters, Murray Barracks.
This occupies an entire section of Port Moresby’s Boroko and Hohola suburbs. In wartime, the military would need to mobilise discretely without alarming or interfering with the civilian population.
The military HQ would most obviously be the target of enemy action. Having a HQ in the centre of a city exposes the citizenry to violence. The military have their own code and separate ways that do not normally conform with civilian standards.
When Murray Barracks was first built, it was on the periphery of Konedobu, the then city centre, but Port Moresby outgrew the original plans so that the city now surrounds the barracks.
This is also indicative of bad planning.
Soon the city will grow around Taurama Barracks as well. It would make sense to shift the defence HQ out of town, perhaps to one of the border provinces.