By MALUM NALU
NO market in the country has been more in the news so far this year than the 13A Market in Lae.
The market, next to Chinatown and the notorious Bumbu Settlement in Lae, was torched by police early last month after one of their vehicles was stoned.
Hundreds of innocent people, who depend on the market for their livelihood, were affected by its closure.
It was touch-and-go but negotiations between police, local leaders and market management allowed to be reopened.
It was discovered that one person had caused this whole fracas.
Like the phoenix, the mythical bird that rose from the ashes, so has 13A Market.
I come from Butibam village, just up the road, and have seen the value of this market since it was opened some five years ago.
It is a melting pot for people from all over the country to gather and sell or buy fresh produce, betelnut, and other items next to the iconic Bumbu River.
The market has contributed to increased cash flow in the community around China Town, Bumbu, Butibam and all the way up to Malahang.
It takes its name from PMV Route 13A which passes through China Town, Bumbu, Butibam and up to Hunter and Malahang.
The Bumbu Settlement area, once one of the most-feared areas in Lae, is a lot safer than it used to be before the market was opened.
Last Sunday, while at home in Butibam, Apu Delabu, who is chairman of the market, showed me around.
I talked to fresh produce and betelnut vendors, and customers from around the community and Lae, who extolled the virtues of the market.
Delabu, 43, tells me that the community has suffered since the closure of the Butibam Market in the 1980s.
I did my Grade 6 at Butibam Primary School in 1979 and the Butibam Market then was the biggest in Lae after the main market.
“For close to 40 years now, the community around this area has been affected by the lack of a market,” Delabu says.
“The area where 13A Market is has always been around but the government and landowners have not utilised it.”
Delabu was working with Dekenai Construction as a public relations officer some years ago and used waste gravel to fill up the waterlogged area and reclaim it.
“I could have used this land for other purposes but saw the need for a market,” he says.
“Since the market was opened, I have seen that it has changed many lives, and here I’m not talking about money but people’s attitudes.
“The market has been operating for five years now.
“We have betelnut vendors coming from as far as Sepik, Madang, Popondetta, West New Britain, East New Britain and even Bougainville.
“People come from all over Lae City, Morobe and the Highlands to buy betelnut, so you can appreciate the impact of the market.
“We have farmers from the Highlands and rural areas of Morobe like Bulolo, Nawaeb, Markham and Huon Gulf bringing in their garden produce.
“As a landowner, and development applicant for this area, it was a very big challenge to me.
“It gives me so much pleasure to see that so many people are able to make money through this market to sustain themselves and their families.”
Delabu says one single person had caused the trouble which resulted in police burning down the market last month.
He is thankful for the support from Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu and Lae MP John Rosso to reopen the market, however, wants additional support to upgrade it
“13A Market has been sustaining itself right from the beginning, meaning what little money we make through gatetakings, we used for development,” Delabu says.
“We currently have 37 employees whom we pay from gate takings, as well as support local leaders and China Town police to maintain order in the community.”
He says last month’s incident has strengthened his resolve and the market can only grow from here.
“The trouble was caused by one person, from the Bumbu Settlement, but 13A Market became a victim,” Delabu recalls.
He believes that the market can change the face of the local community and Lae.
“I see that 13A Market has a very good future,” Delabu says.
“We have received recognition from Physical Planning for 13A as a gazetted market within Lae City.
“I asked government to come and support me, as a landowner, to develop this market.
“This will be the first time in history, according to my understanding, for a landowner to work with government for the good of Morobe and Papua New Guinea as a whole.
“I also appeal to my fellow villagers from Butibam to put aside our differences and work together for our common good.
“I have put together a plan with the help of students from the University of Technology.
“We also want to submit a public investment proposal (PIP) through Physical Planning to support market development.
“I’m looking forward to assuming title of this land to further development of 13A Market.
“My ambitions include a Morobe trade centre where we can sell and buy coffee, cocoa and other commodities.
“Right now, I have a skeleton crew, with a few people helping me to run this market.”
Delabu never completed his high school education, however, has done something that many educated people could not have achieved.
“I only went as far as Grade 9,” he says.
“After that I remained as a ‘mangi bilong ples (village boy)’, doing odd jobs around the village, and buying coconuts from Finschhafen and reselling in Lae.
“After that, I joined DekenaiConstruction as a public relations officer, and from there, I worked on developing the market.”
Delabu has had challenges, including K70, 000 worth of fencing being pulled down by Physical Planning, which he rebuilt.
“This market is now recognised by the nine districts of Morobe,” he says.
“It is recognised by the provincial government.
“They acknowledge that a local man like me has ventured into such a project.
“That’s something that makes me so happy.
“I am blessed and that’s what drives me on.”
Meantime, the crew of the 13A PMV buses continue to holler: “China Town, Hunter, China Town Hunter.”
Get on one of them.
You’ll inevitably end up at 13A Market.
By MALUM NALU