Govt vows to probe highway payments

National, Normal

The National, Thursday 5th January 2012

THE national government will investigate allegations of double and non-payments to landowners along the Highlands Highway but a senior minister has warned landowners it will not bow to unreasonable demands.
Transport and Works Minister Francis Awesa said yesterday in Port Moresby he would set up a team to investigate the issues of double and non-payments regarding the highway.
Awesa assured landowners in the Highlands Highway rehabilitation programme payments scheme that the team would look into the reasons why certain groups were paid while others were left out.
The team would comprise officials from the departments of Lands, Works and Transport who would look into the method of payments for verification.
Awesa was responding to recent media reports of landowners complaining about not getting their payments.
“First things first, I have sought advice on the criteria and methods of payments by consultants, Mori Resources Ltd, who I am not too clear on,” he said.
“But to date, I have no idea how the payments were being organised.”
“If (it is) found that the methods were improper, then immediate action will be taken. So, be assured, we are doing something.”
From his records, Chimbu had been paid twice and Southern Highlands once.
The consultants involved had also skipped some landowner groups and were allegedly paying others, he added.
“I want to assure the country that we are determined to address any issues from this.
“Among other things, I will be introducing fingerprint technology so that no one comes back for second or third servings,” he said.
The Highlands Highway, which begins in Lae, Morobe province and ends in Mendi, Southern Highlands, is a major road artery serving many Papua New Guineans.
“We have coffee and tea plantations there, the LNG project is in Southern Highlands and it is the only gateway to the Porgera gold mine.
“The Highlands Highway should be supported because of its role in the industrial sector,” he added.
Awesa also called on the landowners along the Highlands Highway to refrain from demanding compensation from the government.
The landowners had built huts, permanent homes and even tucker shops along the highway and were demanding the government compensate them first before fixing the roads.
“The government will not be dictated to like that because we have to think of the safety of travellers.
“The Highlands Highway is for PNG,” he said.
Awesa said should the landowners continue this practice, he would bring into play the Roads Infrastructure Protection Act.
“Do not breach this law by building your houses, gardens, roadblocks along the roads and also demanding compensation.
“This law, passed last year, is here to protect the users.
“The penalty is five years imprisonment or K100,000 fine because the government will not tolerate landowners who are sabotaging the law,” he said.
Awesa urged all Papua New Guineans to know this law and appreciate it “or else we will use it on you”.
He said the Department of Transport has begun an awareness campaign along the Highlands Highway starting in the Morobean capital.