By GRACE MARIBU
THERE is a general misconception that the City of Port Moresby is the only location in Papua New Guinea that is receiving national and municipal government attention in infrastructural service delivery.
Blame this on dire publicity by the Department of Works (DOW) to pair up with the extensive work the department is carrying out throughout the country on roads against what the public is only seeing in Port Moresby. Couple these with adverse publicity driven by certain pockets of the community to push their own political agenda against government efforts and one gets a skewed sense that Port Moresby is receiving everything while everywhere else is being neglected of infrastructure development.
However, the real story is that Papua New Guinea’s roads are being built throughout the country as we speak – old ones being upgraded to unprecedented levels, new ones constructed, and some major ‘missing links’ (the connectors between certain highways and provinces) being planned for, and formalised.
Since 2013, after the O’Neill Government took office in 2012, Papua New Guinea is seeing its biggest Capital Works investment to date, by any government since Independence.
Why are roads and infrastructure so important to the development of a country or a city? The answer is obvious, besides the plethora of anecdotal and more technical evidence that better quantity and quality of infrastructure can directly raise the productivity of human and physical capital and therefore growth; that roads provide access to markets for rural growers, access to health care, that it improves education, that it facilitates private investment, and improves jobs and income levels for many. Roads and transportation are the bedrock of the modern world. They facilitate the trade and specialisation of tasks that is fundamental to economic growth since the industrial revolution.
In PNG, the country’s roads total over 30,000km. This comprises 9,000km of National Roads and 21,000km of provincial and district roads including 1,590 bridges.
Works Secretary David Wereh says about the importance of these roads: “It is an undeniable truth that the Land Transport sub-sector provides basic access of 89 percent of the freight and passenger movement needs in this country compared to the Air and Maritime modes of transportation.
“Road transport infrastructure is very important for the progress of our country. One cannot overstate the importance of road transport then to call it the ‘lifeline’ of the country. Connectivity to empower service delivery and economic growth is unattainable without better roads,” he said.
The maintenance and construction of these roads have, therefore, remained the priority of governments down the years. However, not all governments have taken this priority seriously or neglected to put emphasis on it, leading to the deterioration of many of these roads down the years.
A report out from the DOW has stated that “inconsistent and inadequate” funding over the years have led to the deterioration of PNG’s roads, with governments giving only up to 30 percent of the total package required to service all PNG roads.
This has led to 75 percent of PNG roads falling into “failed” condition and a maintenance backlog that equals to up to K4 billion, the report continues.
In 2012, the O’Neill Government came to power and singled out Infrastructural Development (together with Education and Health) to give it “special attention” in line with the National Government’s policy frameworks of Vision 2050, the Medium Term Development Plan 2010-2010, and the National Transport Strategy 2011-2030.
Since 2013, the Government has expended K3.2billion on roads and bridges throughout the country, making it the highest single sub-sector funding by any government to date.
This has come about because of the current Government’s insistence that identifying some few good priority programs and going in heavy to implement these was a better approach than the ‘spreading- ourselves-too-thin’ approach that PNG used to take.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said of the rationale behind this: “For far too long, we have been approaching our nation’s development woes on a piecemeal basis, spreading scarce resources thinly across the entire government sector. That past policy might have been a considerate and fair approach but at the end of the day, we achieved virtually nothing.
“(We) have decided that we have to reverse this bit-by-bit approach and open up the whole country by spending heavily on transport infrastructure, education and health. I am happy to see that in the last four years, we have achieved much of our plans and the infrastructure sector has been in the forefront to this.”
O’Neill, speaking again at the 2017 Leaders’ Summit in March, added: “Our investment in rural infrastructure is unprecedented in the history of the nation, and is by far the biggest increase in road maintenance funding.
“In 2012, only 23 percent of National Roads were classified as being in ‘good condition’. This year, close to 50 percent of our roads are classified in good condition.”
“We are implementing high impact projects starting in our major cities of Port Moresby, Lae, Mt. Hagen and Kokopo and getting into the rural areas.”
The priority road programs under this 2013-2017 development include: the reconstruction of 800km of the Highlands Highway, the upgrading of 70km of Lae City roads to concrete standard, the upgrading of Port Moresby City roads, the upgrading of 2,500km of National Highways that have deteriorated to a ‘failed’ state, the opening up of four ‘economic corridor’ roads – Gulf and Southern Highlands (Semberigi to Erave), Morobe and Gulf (Aseki to Kaintiba), East New Britain to West New Britain link, and Western Highlands to Madang link. In addition, the Government focused on maintenance for 3,000km of National Roads, the maintenance and upgrading of 800m of bridges, the rehabilitation of 3,000km of Provincial and District roads as well as doing structural changes within the Works Department to make sure the implementation of these projects got off the ground and continued.
Out of the K3.2 billion expenditure, K700 million has been spent since 2013 on Provincial and District roads rehabilitation, seeing to the improvement of the Menyamya-Aseki Road, Tsak Road in Wapenamanda, Saidor Road, Miskamba Road, Mape Road, Finschhafen Road, Wiru Loop Road, Mt Kuta Road, Baiya Lumusa Road, Nodogul Kimil Road, Malasang Road, Kaibola Road, Baiyer Lumusa Road. All these roads are in various provinces of the country.
“The Government is approaching roads and bridges maintenance in a total context manner. We are not only focusing on City roads as many critics and commentators say. Our capital expenditure distributions confirm that priority roads reconstruction, upgrading, rehabilitation and maintenance is 34.5 percent, 19 percent for development of city town roads, other roads 14.35 percent, and Missing Links is about 2.75% of the total budget. The donors component in the Budget is 20.13% and the remaining balance is for Design & Survey and others,” says Secretary Wereh.
Prime Minister O’Neill summed up his thoughts on roads this way: “Only when we open up our country through transport infrastructure and connecting our missing links, will we empower our individual and corporate citizens to mobilise their resources to help themselves. In this manner, the people will create wealth and progress on their own steam rather than waiting on the Government. That is real empowerment of our people to be involved in their own development.”
- Grace Maribu is a freelance writer.