Koiaris go for a fair deal

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday, April 28, 2011

WHILE one can fully understand where the Koiari people are coming from, in terms of their demands for better equity from the government, we cannot, and should not, condone the method of protest. We appreciate where the angst is coming from for a people on whose land the city of Port Moresby is powered.
From the Sogeri plateau to the hinterlands surrounding the nation’s capital, the Koiaris have been passive benefactors of the natural resource which powers NCD and provides water for all manner of daily activity. Governments, past and present, have failed to compensate adequately for this privilege. This is no trivial matter.
This week, the killing of a Koiari youth brought to a head the pent-up frustrations of the Koiari people.
An ultimatum was presented to the government from the landowners of Rouna, Mt Eriama and Sirinumu Dam, where PNG Power’s electricity generation and Eda Ranu’s water treatment plants are located, that a shutdown was imminent if PNG’s political leadership and, indeed, the city’s administrators did not consider seriously their claims for recompense.
The killing is only a catalyst. The issue is that the Koiari people, who have seen little in the way of development, have freely provided the life blood of the city since the middle of last century. Their frustration is borne from the fact that elsewhere in the country, particularly the resource-rich areas of the Southern Highlands and other locations where the extraction of valuable commodities, be it useful metals or hydrocarbons, has come at a high price and not without the indigenous landowners playing a significant role in the process. That has not happened for these people, who inhabit a corridor of land in Central that just so happens to supply the fuel that runs the metropolis that everyone, including parliamentarians, bureaucrats and even the affluent landowners from other parts of the country, take for granted.
Something needs to be done.
Action needs to be taken, but not in the form of a ransom demand. And, not in the threat of “turning off the tap” in order to get the government’s attention.
Regrettably, it has come down to this sad state of affairs where a minority, regardless of the fact that they are more or less in the right, has the power to bring an entire city to its knees. This is unacceptable and must not be tolerated.
There are better and less crippling ways of getting one’s point across. The courts are available to every citizen of this country to seek redress. If it is good enough for the rest of PNG, then, it should be good enough for the Koiaris.
Many will point out that other groups, particularly from the highlands, have held the nation and government to ransom for dues unpaid, promises unfulfilled and expectations unmet but this is a problem a prudent and fair government should solve on a case by case basis.
Some instances warrant positive response while others require a need for restraint. The regular threats and demands and claims by landowners in certain parts of the country are, for the most part, not dire because they do not affect the here and now but, unfortunately, a threat to shut down the nation’s hub is.
The catalyst for this shutdown threat was the recent death of a Koiari man of high standing in their community. He was murdered in Port Moresby last week, allegedly by a person or persons from the Hela region.
This is the very place which is presently the scene of massive economic development by virtue of the fact that their resource will power the country well into this century. The irony is that, while the feeling of not being given a fair go has been the Koiaris’ main cause for disappointment, Port Moresby continues to provide a haven for all the nation’s people to go about their business in blissful ignorance, unaware and much less concerned, about the injustice and unfairness of the situation.
One would have thought that the Hela, who have received large sums of compensatory funding in the tens of millions from the LNG development, would see fit to build their province by remaining in it. Instead, they have chosen to migrate in large numbers to NCD. They live and prosper in the city which the Koiaris play provider to.
The Koiari, who in sharp contrast, have received almost nothing in return from the users. With this as the backdrop, one can see how a feeling of deep-seated frustration and resentment at missing out on their dues is imbued in the Koiari leadership.
As usual, the police say an investigation is in the process of bringing the killer, or killers, to justice. This is an appeasing line played out almost in default when ethnic tensions threaten to boil over.
But the bigger issue here is not a criminal one, but one of fair remuneration.