Getting our priorities right

Editorial, Normal

The National

IT is human nature to have our hopes deflated if the neighbour has a better deal than us. If the neighbour has a better car or better job or a bigger house, we get plain jealous.
That is to be expected but we plod on in our line of business because ours is the only line of business we know how and it puts the bread on the table.
But sometimes, something snaps and a person looks up one day and says to himself: “I have had enough. I cannot work my guts out for a pittance while Joe Blow has everything without moving a muscle.”
When that happens, you might find the person dangling by the neck from the nearest tree or overdosed or comatose.
These private tragedies have their equal in the bigger business and economic world.
When you talk amounts in the billions of kina such as we do with the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project or amounts in the millions as we do with our big mining projects, they have a dampening effect upon smaller projects.
Those projects, which might be working 16 hours seven days a week, but net only hundreds or thousands of kina, lose their allure.
“Why must I work so hard for a pittance when a Foe man in Kutubu or a Moran man can land hundreds of thousands of kina and all the infrastructure projects he might want without doing anything?”
This kind of thinking might be going on in the minds of people engaged in industries which have sustained hundreds of thousands of people over generations.
Copra, cocoa and coffee industries might be impacted as the nation focuses its attention upon non-renewable but high yielding projects such as the LNG project.
When Ok Tedi copper mine or Porgera gold mine or Kutubu oil field started up, many trade stores closed up and a few cocoa and coffee gardens were abandoned in many parts of the country as the owners sought quick money in mining and oil fields.
A new mine might offer employment and business opportunities but the hidden cost in abandoned trade stores, market produce and small holder estates might equal or be higher than the opportunities offered.
Yet this has never really been investigated by the Government and if it has, little has come of it.
While the Government has offered incentives to the LNG project to the point of it being obscene, little has been offered in the areas of renewable resources such as agriculture.
The Green Revolution, about which there has been so much hype, and the National Agriculture Development Plan which has been allocated K200 million in the budget in the last two years, have produced very little of any significance.
There is no new major plantation estate introduced in the country or an old one rehabilitated. Copra plantations are old and the trees very mature and to the best of our knowledge, there are no new plantations of any significance taking their place. More is the fact that those plantations are being overtaken by bush or given over to some other business enterprises.
There is some promise for cocoa yet with a lot of new crops being planted both at plantation and smallholder level.
Coffee is another crop that has suffered much as the mostly smallholder base has shifted to other line of business or plain packed it in because of newer and easier ways of making money which is enjoyed by neighbours.
Other crops and lines of business will follow suit. There has been little sensitivity shown by successive governments towards this very real dilemma.
It boils down to this: Government activity, hype and interest seems concentrated in the ministries of Petroleum & Energy, Public Enterprises, Mining, Forestry and Fisheries and Marine Resources to a little extent to the exclusion of the more important and sustainable (in the long run) ministries of Agriculture & Livestock, Culture and Tourism and Education.
It is important that the Government is conscious that mining, petroleum and gas deposits are few and far in between in this country.
Much of the rest of the country comprises arable land that, for as long as we can remember, including the present, is receiving lip service only.
So long as that continues, the smallholder which comprises individual or small family groups might dry up as people give up the hard work and gravitate towards easier, bigger and quicker money areas such as major resource areas.
That is a tragedy that is already happening and warrants urgent addressing.