Lae city: Its roads as muddy as its politics

Momase, Normal

The National, Thursday June 20th, 2013

 THE roads in Lae are as porous and muddy as the politics in Morobe’s capital over funds and who is responsible for what.

Riding at the heart of this political scrum between the three tier governments is the considerable internal revenue generated by the city’s lucrative manufacturing, shipping and transport industries.

At present, the Morobe provincial government, custodian of the funds, is reported to be collecting in excess of K40 million per annum in taxes, land rates and other utility bills.

Out of this sizable revenue, only K2 million was allocated this year for maintenance of roads in the  city, Lae Mayor James Khay said.

That amount constitutes 25% of the Lae City Council’s (LCC) actual 2013 allocation this year of K8 million by the provincial government, a K5 million shortfall from the budgeted K13 million.

“Overheads burn K4 million and the balance of K2 million goes to maintaining basic utilities such as water, electricity, sanitation and garbage collection,” Khay said. 

A veteran of two terms and champion of a city commission status for Lae, Khay raised his ire this week about the allocation which he said was mere gravel filling and patchwork money.

“You can only do regular maintenance work with that kind of money,” he said yesterday. 

Khay’s estimate of a realistic budget to comprehensively maintain all roads and other crucial services annually was K40 million, more or less the city’s annual internal revenue collection. 

His plan to achieve a budget of that volume is through acquiring a commission status for the city’s local level government authority.

Khay wants the city council to be empowered by an Act of Parliament so that it could collect revenue that could be expended on infrastructure.  

His argument: Lae is a city like Port Moresby and therefore should enjoy the same status in terms of administrative and financial autonomy.  

But that is unlikely to happen, at least not in the immediate future, following a Morobe provincial executive council meeting in Port Moresby last month which called for further consultation among all stakeholders.

Khay has also blamed the work of nature for the persistent bad road conditions.  

“Lae is rainy Lae, the problem is nature takes its own course,” Khay said. 

Lae receives rain during most of the year. 

Add that to the fact that the city sits on a flood plain and the arithmetic is easy – excessive surface water plus underground water equals weak subsoil structure, hence the never-ending potholes.

While those issues are relegated to the backburner for the moment, Religion, Youth and Community Development Minister Loujaya Toni comes into focus as the Lae MP which encompasses the city.

Tongues have been wagging about her seeming disinterest in the state of roads in the district, preferring instead to point the finger at the provincial Works Department as the agency responsible for all infrastructure in the district.