By MALUM NALU
Students at remote Kandep High School in Enga are having dinner of plain rice in their dilapidated mess last Saturday evening when Kandep MP Alfred Manase drops in unexpectedly.
He is shocked to see that state of the mess and the food that students are eating.
The deterioration of the school epitomises the decay of Kandep over the years.
The once-thriving government station has literally gone to the dogs after 20 years of tribal warfare and the bitter feud between Manase and former MP Don Polye, who served for three terms from 2002 and 2007.
One thing I noticed last weekend was that the warring tribes have had enough.
They want development, not guns.
I first visited Kandep in 1997, when there was a large Chinese wheat project, in this very high-altitude part of the Highlands.
The sad skeleton of that project remains today – a reminder of the war that has brought Kandep to its knees.
But back to the future
“I’m sad to see your conditions,” Manase tells the students.
“It’s not a good sign. It’s not good for kids.
“You shouldn’t even be eating in here.”
Manase promises them a brand new K250,000 fully-kitted mess by the end of this year, apart from new dormitories and school fee support for non-supported students.
“We’ve put aside some money and will fix up the mess for you,” he tells the students.
“As soon as the tender is given by the Enga provincial government, contractors will come in.
“We’re put aside K250,000 and will get this mess fixed.
“We have also asked the provincial government to add some more money, so we’ll get your mess up to standard so you don’t eat in a place like this again.
“We’ll fix up the kitchen and everything.
“You will have a nice mess to enjoy your meal and then study.”
Manase also announces funding of K400,000 for new dormitories for boys – K200,000 from Kandep and K200,000 from the Enga government.
He presents K56,000 to the school for payment of fees for non-TFF students.
Manase says work on girl’s dormitories will start as soon as the boy’s were completed, and then staff houses.
“By 2020, we’re looking at making this into a secondary school, therefore, we have to bring this school up to standard,” he says.
Principal Peter Kewa says the school, which has 387 male and female students, has “fallen apart” over the years.
Students’ representative Kingston Iki thanks Manase on behalf of all the students.
“We have suffered enough,” he says.
“Today is a blessing and we are seeing salvation coming to our house door.”
Another exciting project for Kandep is reopening of the disused airstrip, with the support of National Airports Corporation (NAC). It is one of several projects intended to revive this remote and tribal war-torn area of Enga.
Manase announces this to hundreds of people at the end of the airstrip last Saturday.
Major projects for Kandep include building of the long-overdue and controversial Wasa Bridge to Hela, a second road access to Mendi apart from the Mendi-Kandep Road, an upgraded health centre with plans in the pipeline for a district hospital, upgrading of Kandep High School facilities, and several others.
He says funding to upgrade the airstrip will come from the second phase of NAC’s Civil Aviation Development Improvement Programme (Cadip) funded by Asian Development Bank.
“It will cost about K3 million to fence and get it fixed,” Manase said.
The second phase of Cadip will focus on rebuilding rural airstrips.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill promised at Kandep last year while campaigning for People’s National Congress Party candidate Manase that the airstrip will be reopened.
This is welcome news as the airstrip, which runs through the centre of this station which is rarely out of the news for the wrong reasons, has not been used for the last 20 years.
The people of Kandep have had to rely on air services at nearby Mendi in Southern Highlands and Wapenamenda in Enga.
Manase tells me that NAC has allocated K200,000 which has been used to clean the airstrip.
This year drainage has been done all around the airstrip perimeter.
“We are also waiting for funding from Prime Minister’s Department as his promise is there,” Manase says.
“I have also put it on the rural airstrip programme as well.”
Manase says a small terminal building will also be built.
He says Kandep will be an ideal location for an airstrip to be used in emergencies such as the recent earthquake in the Highlands.
“Caribous and large aircraft use to land here before,” Manase recalls.
The controversial Wasa Bridge linking Kandep to Hela, for which millions of kina have been spent without it being completed, is finally on the way to becoming reality.
It is also in line with an election promise made by O’Neill to the people of Kandep in June 2017 while campaigning for Manase.
Millions of kina were spent on Wasa Bridge under the leadership of former Treasurer Polye without it being completed.
Manase tells me that bridge parts worth K10 million are already in Wabag for work to begin.
“We’ve already got 96 metres of bridge frames,” he says.
“The design has already been done by Works’ engineers.
“It’s now gone to the Central Supply and Tenders Board for the contractor to be chosen
“That will connect Hela and Enga.
“Construction should start in the next two to three weeks.
“We’re hoping to have the bridge completed by December.”
Manase says he is bewildered, as is everyone else in Enga, about what has happened to previous funding for the project.
“I don’t know what happened,” he says.
“In 2010 there was about K10 million given but they didn’t get the bridge up.
“In 2014, there was an appropriation of K5 million – again nothing was done.
“There was another K35 million appropriated in 2015 – of that K9 million was used up while the rest was taken back when doing up the supplementary budget.
“In this year’s budget, we’ve got K5 million under the PIP (public investment programme) to buy the bridge parts and commence construction.
“Next year we’ll put another K5 million into the PIP and we should completely construct the bridge.
“This will make it easier for people from Hela to travel.”
The bridge links Kandep to Margarima and Tari in Hela, and will provide a welcome alternative, given constant hold-ups of Hela people at Nipa in Southern Highlands.
“This is a very critical route for the Hela people.”
Manase says people are still continuing to use dugout canoes because of no bridge.
“A lot of money has come in but the actual bridge is not here,” Manase says.
“People still travel in dugout canoes.
“It’s been very risky and hard for the people.
“I don’t want to talk too much; I want to get the job done.”
The winds of change are indeed blowing over Kandep.