By HELEN TARAWA
ON THE morning of Feb 7, 2019 eight choppers arrived at Okapa district station with government officials, ministers and members of parliament for the commissioning of the PNG Electrification Partnership programme between the governments of PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and United states.
It was a historic moment for the thousands who gathered to witness the commissioning of the programme.
It takes two to three hours by road from Goroka town to Okapa but only for this special event it took us about 15 to 20 minutes on the choppers.
Local MP Saki Soloma said people were very happy that day because they had never witnessed an event of this nature and were continuing to talk about it.
“To be honest we had eight choppers flying to Okapa station at the same time and this has never happened in the history of the district.
“It’s really a great honour and our people had that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience that and this probably will be the last time that such an event happened.
“I’m happy that the Government had chosen my district as the first to launch this important programme and they have put Okapa on the spotlight and the world now knows that such a district exists in PNG.
“The presence of all these dignitaries in a small district gives confidence and comfort that Okapa will be the first pilot district and the people are talking about it and it will take a while before they forget it,” Soloma said.
He said the Government had started something and it’s his duty as the local MP to ensure that whatever commitment that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill had made had to be achieved both for Okapa district as well as the Government.
Soloma said that it was a big event that would transform his district and the country.
“For O’Neill to come with the delegation to Okapa is something big for us and we are honoured and privileged,” Soloma said.
With a population of about 100,000 Okapa is centrally located connecting three other districts of Lufa, Henganofi and Kainantu.
Okapa highway is also part of the highlands highway which transcends the other districts and also the borders of Chimbu and Gulf provinces.
This highway can also connect Gulf province through the missing link road that is a shorter route.
The proposed road would also benefit the new Papua LNG project which is also a major investment for PNG.
“The turnout of my people and the people of Eastern Highlands reinforces the support that the eight members of EHP give to the Government. Through this undivided partnership it is my strongest belief that many more things will come to this province and throughout PNG.
“I would like this government to consider the sustainability of this high impact project.
Soloma further spelled out what he deemed necessary for this and other related projects in the district and province:
1. Ramu 2 project – there needs to be continuous dialogue between the Government and the people of Eastern Highlands so that proposed beneficiary arrangements can be mutually agreed so that our people may realise and maximise the benefits;
2. Kainantu, Okapa, Lufa highway which is part of the Highlands Highway needs to be considered under Tranche 1 of the Asian Development Bank Sustainable Highlands Highway Investment Programme due to its scope and costs;
3. The missing link to connect Gulf through Okapa as an alternative road or the highlands region to connect Port Moresby as well as the proposed Papua LNG project needs to be considered;
4. Consideration needs to be given under the Government’s Public Transport Board revitalisation programme to improve the district works capacity to support the Governments’ ongoing efforts to improve all district roads throughout the country.
Former state minister and member for Okapa Castan Maibawa is fully supportive of the current member Soloma’s plan to change his district and calls for his people to do likewise.
Maibawa who had held a number of ministerial portfolios during his three terms in Parliament from 1988-2002, commended Soloma for his efforts.
“I had big plans for Okapa district; to seal the roads, bring electricity, rural hospital and district administration but due to lack of financial resources we were unable to achieve that.
“I am happy that Soloma is a good listener and is taking on the challenge.
“We need to give him all the support he needs, because there are so many things and we cannot do everything, it requires financial resources,” Maibawa said.
Okapa Primary School head teacher Cindy Essy said: “It is hard to express my gratitude for the electrification programme because it will benefit the school.
“For the last few years, we have been spending a lot of money on fuel and engine oil to run the generator that we are using right now.
“We use it for administrative purpose and for photocopying work sheets and we need to run the generator every day.
“We will be relieved when electricity finally reaches Okapa,” Essy said
Soloma’s key priority now is to work on the Okapa highway and he has plans to buy equipment for the road works.
“Our roads are the biggest challenge and by June we should have the launching of some of the machines for the road works.
“I want the people to leave their land free; whether it be coffee trees or whatever on the side of the road, they must be removed to open up the road so that the people can bring in their produce to the markets.
“No man can perform miracles and complete all the development needs for Okapa in one term. It’s good to have consultation and share ideas and get support from each other and in that we way can get our experiences together and find new ways learn from past experience and avoid mistakes done before and deliver as much as we can this time.
“For me I don’t like to make too many promises but to work within our limits and measure our way forward. We don’t want to raise people’s hopes and when we don’t’ deliver our very words become like venom to us.”
With electricity to be rolled out in his district, Soloma is focusing on other areas including law and order.
Although it was one of the biggest challenges for the district he was looking at addressing that with the posting of policemen in Okapa.
“I want public servants to be stationed in Okapa to serve our people better and we have sent the police personnel there.
“Roads is another big challenge and I hope before June to get a couple of machines to build the roads.
“I want the people to give me their assurance and guarantee that they will not demand compensation, to leave their land free and open up the roads.
“We are building the roads so they can bring their produce to the market and we appreciate the Government’s support.
“Okapa is a big district and we all need to all work together. It’s good to have consultation and share ideas and get support from each other using our experiences to deliver as much as we can,” Soloma said.
- Next week: Usino-Bundi District is connected to the national electricity programme.