Jiwaka’s teething problems

Editorial, Normal

The National

THE new Jiwaka province covers most of the fertile Waghi Valley and the rugged but rich hills and mountains of Jimi and Kambia in what is today Western Highlands province.
The valley takes its name from the river and it is here that some of the finest tea and coffee estates of the country are situated.
A fair share of the country’s coffee, which used to be the lifeblood of Papua New Guinea, before the advent of minerals and oil, used to be grown here. And that is written in the past tense because Jiwaka advances to a province of its own minus the biggest single revenue earner that has supported the Western Highlands economy and which contributed a fair share  in foreign exchange to the national purse – the Waghi Mek Plantations.
Unlike its sister new province – Hela – which is destined to become the richest province in the land with its gas and oil reserves, Jiwaka’s resources lie unproven. Its potentials are unrealised.
The only potential which is realised is in agricultural and particularly in its tea and coffee estates. Today, we only have the Kurumul Tea Plantations run by WR Carpenters. The major coffee estates are gone. Jimi contributes 30,000 bags of organic coffee annually from small holder coffee but the new province will need more – much more.
Waghi Mek was a collection of some 13 plantations in different locations which once used to fetch between K200 million and K300 million per year depending on coffee prices. Today, the tap has been completely shut off. There is hardly a drip. A lengthy court battle between landowning groups and the management of Waghi Mek has made sure of that.
Driving through or flying over what used to be lush plantation estates, today you can barely see the outlines of the plantations. Where there used to be the deep dark green of well tended coffee trees, you see brownish yellow trees which are fast losing their leaves and drying up. Weeds and jungle have taken over the plantations so that is it hard to tell where the coffee trees are.
We can only guess at what horrendous amounts is going to be needed to restore the plantations to their normal productive state. And this week, we learn that ownership of the Waghi Mek Plantations have been transferred without the knowledge of its former owners to an entity calling itself Eastern Pacific Mines Limited, a company which appears to be owned by former managing director of Waghi Mek, Dick Hagon, according to court documents.
The entire matter and various other aspects of it are running matters on foot in court, but it is in the public interest to state here that Mr Hagon used to be a 25% owner of the plantations with the majority owners being the North and South Waghi local government councils.
Somehow, WMP has lost titles to plantations at Talu, Marmal, Mintal, Karmang, Ban Block, Warakar, Sigiri, Jibina, Waghi, Kilip and Mangara. Its sole interest now appears to be at Damine Plantation.
Such transactions would normally need the concurrence of the board of Waghi Mek Plantations, but as the company has been closed down, it is uncertain who has the final say over how ownership is transferred.
The details will emerge in court, we are sure.
The new province will need the Waghi Mek Plantations back in operation.
Mr Hagon is not the Waghi’s best-liked man but he managed that company very well. The proof of this is in the year by year profits that were declared when the plantation was undisturbed.
At the same time, it must be said the company gave the man (Hagon) a good deal. It gave him 25% and management rights over the plantation. Somehow, over the years, somebody got greedy and a destabilising fight began between a group calling itself Mal Dam and the company (Hagon). That is what has laid this company to waste.
The Government parted with K3 million a couple of years back but nobody knows where that money has ended up.
There is promise of a further K20 million but that money should never be released until the ownership and all other matters are resolved.
The way the legal battles have last over this issue, it will be another two years before the all clear is given.
Jiwaka needs a helping hand to begin preparing for its new status and it will need to build up its local businesses in earnest.
In terms of bargaining power for a greater slice of the derivation grants or the special support grants, which is normally calculated on the basis of how much a province can contribute to the national purse, Jiwaka hardly has any.
That is one of the teething problems for the new province.