By MALUM NALU
This year is come, and all Goroka is bright and fresh, and brimming with life.
There is a song in every heart; and if the heart is young the music issues at the lips.
There is cheer in every face and a spring in every step.
The trees are in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms fill the air.
The above lines, from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, perhaps capture the excitement in Goroka as it prepares to host at least five Apec meetings this year.
I was in Goroka during my vacation last December and could feel the optimism in the air as I moved around the Eastern Highlands capital.
Explorer Michael Leahy described Goroka as a land with an “eternal spring climate” in 1930 when he looked down from Bena.
I can’t agree more.
There is a new airport runway, a new airport terminal building, a new hospital.
Goroka will have a new water supply funded by the Chinese government at a cost of US$32 million (K102.4 million).
The Goroka Market, disparaged as a “pig sty”, will be rebuilt at a cost of K22 million.
Korofeigu, along the Highlands Highway at Bena, will be one of the two sites of the US$330 million (K1 billion) PNG-China Integrated Agriculture Industrial Park projects.
Eastern Highlands acting administrator Samson Akunai is grinning from ear-to-ear as he talks to me about Goroka hosting at least five Apec meetings this year.
“We are very excited about it,” he says.
“”We already have excellent facilities for meeting purposes at University of Goroka auditorium, which can hold up to 1000 delegates at any one time.
“In the auditorium itself, we have specialist meeting areas which will be convenient for other smaller meetings like those for SMEs as well as interaction.
“The University of Goroka mess has recently undergone an extensive rehabilitation which will enable it to host lunches or provide catering facilities for visiting delegates.
“The other venue that is being considered is the PNG Institute of Medical Research auditorium facilities down at Red Corner.
“This facility was recently renovated through the generous support of the Australian Incentive Fund.
“It has a state-of-the-art audio-visual system to cater for any meetings that will be held at the IMR.
“In terms of preparations, we, in Goroka at provincial level, are making some budgetary provisions to rehabilitate theRaun Raun Theatre facility at the market.
“We will change all the kunairoofing, do internal plumbing work and look at the furnishing.
“We plan to out some cultural displays.
“Out arts and craft will be displayed at the Raun Raun Theatre.
“We also hope to bring in traditional singsing groups, including the famous Asaro mudmen, to do daily displays. We plan to have our visitors have lunch thereand witness our rich culture.
“We are also planning visitations to coffee plantations.
“We intend to use the presence of Apec members to attract and boost SME activities in the province.
“There are other discussions going around between the urban council and the police department to look at eradicating some of those illegal markets in town.”
Akunai is also beaming about developments at the airport and hospital.
The airstrip at Goroka, which stands to this day, was laid out by American engineer Col LJ Svedrup during WWII and was one of the prototypes for towns built around airstrips during the colonial era.
“This airport rehabilitation is one of the key targets to be ticked off for the Apec meetings,” Akunai says.
“Extension work on the runway accommodate jet aircraft with visitors for the Apec meeting.
“Work is progressing very smoothly and nearing completion.
“That should be the first quarter of 2018.
“In addition to this, we have the state-of-the-art terminal building facility for the airport.
“This is well advanced and already completed, with work now going on in the interior.
“This facility should be ready early in the New Year (2018) and will be commissioned for use, whilst waiting for the airport runway to conclude.
“The only thing slowing down work on the runway is the rain.”
Then there’s the K200 million state-of-the-art diagnostic hospital funded by the Czech Republic – a big improvement from the Goroka Base Hospital of yesteryear.
“This one is progressing very smoothly,”Akunai says
“My last update is that they are doing the internals now.
“I’m very pleased to say that with minimum disruption, this very-important project is coming to an end.
“Again, this is one of the key target areas for Apec.”
He lights up when talking about the impact of these projects.
“These three major impact projects will lift the profile of the province,” Akunai says.
“Not only that, but they will attract a lot of visitors to Goroka and in turn, will trigger a lot of economic activities for Goroka as the capital of Eastern Highlands.
“We are very grateful to the national government for these key projects.
“In addition to this, the provincial government has been talking with the Chinese government, which has led to this key agreement to pave way for the complete rehabilitation of the Goroka water supply system.
“The Goroka water supply system was built during the colonial days to cater for around 10,000 people.
“Over time, the town has grown so significantly, with increases in the population due to people coming in and going out.
“Natural increases in population is putting a lot of strain on municipal services in town.
“It’s been a difficult road for us to try and secure adequate funding to support the Urban LLG to fix the water problem.
“This will now be a thing of the past,with the recent signing of the US$32 million support from the Chinese government, which will allow us to have a completely new water supply system for town.
“It will have the capacity to supply the town as well as neighbouring communities like Kabiufa Seventh Day Adventist, Asaro, Bena and Ketawo where the New Tribes Mission station is located. It’s an important project.
“This will also boost the profile of Goroka as a destination for investment by people from within Papua New Guinea and our friends from overseas.”
I ask Akunai about the infamous Goroka Market, a once-thriving icon of the town which has become a political football now taken over by pigs.
“Again, it is a very-important milestone that we need to tick off,” he replies.
“The matter is now before the Goroka market steering committee.
“The market will then proceed to the Central Supply and Tenders Board to put it on tender.
“The K22 million money for the market is secure and safe in a trust account held at the Bank South Pacific in Goroka.
“All we need to do is to get the endorsement of the Goroka market steering committee.
“That will give the clearance to the Central Supply and Tenders Board to put the market on tender.”
We all look forward to a better Goroka this year and beyond.
By MALUM NALU