MORE than 200 people staged a noisy march to the Madang provincial government office to petition the Government to stop work on the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ).
The PMIZ, at Vidar along the North Coast Road, is expected to be one of the biggest tuna developments in the Asia-Pacific region and will employ more than 30,000 people. It will have 10 tuna factories and processing facilities like the ones currently at RD Tuna Canners, where fish will be processed and exported. However, the people are protesting against the development because of concerns over the environmental and social impacts the project will have on the people.They said environmental impact assessment reports presented to them indicated that pollution would be a high concern and their livelihood was likely to be affected because their survival depended on the sea. Men, women and children sat in front of the Madang provincial government building with placards that read ‘No more PMIZ’, ‘We want our land back – think about our future’, while others proclaimed ‘We do not want PMIZ – it will destroy our sea’. Earlier, Governor Sir Arnold Amet had arranged a meeting in the provincial assembly chambers for the group’s leaders with Commerce and Industry Minister Gabriel Kapris, secretary for Trade and Industry Anton Kulit and officers from the provincial government to address their concerns and discuss some of the issues surrounding the project.
As soon as the Government leaders emerged, the people became restless and started protesting loudly.
Many of the speakers voiced frustration over issues which they said had been overlooked and never addressed by the Government.“Con Government! Giaman Government! Shame on all those three men,” a speaker said, referring to Governor Sir Arnold, Mr Kapris and Mr Kulit.
A young female spoke out angrily against Mr Kulit for “not doing enough to address the needs and issues of the people as a local man”.
The protesters said that if the issues contained in the petition were not addressed, then there would be no PMIZ project.
Among some of the demand contained in the petition are that a new impact area be established to include all the Bel tribe, that the entire Bel area get 100% benefit, allocate new traditional boundaries, pay compensation for damages, do an environmental impact assessment, spin-off benefits to go to the Bel area and float landowner equities.
However, Sir Arnold and Mr Kapris, after learning that an NGO group was behind the protest, said that outside people like NGOs should not use the people to protest over the project.
“Outsiders should stop misleading the people.
“NGOs try to turn and twist things but please respect the Government and educate them on what is right and wrong,” Mr Kapris said.
Sir Arnold also warned the adults from using children in such marches because it was a form of child abuse.
At one stage, a young boy who was told to carry the petition, burst into tears when he was asked to talk.
The mother of the child, who was dressed in traditional attire, came back with her son and confronted the governor, calling on him to tell the boy what he was going to do to address their concerns.
Meanwhile, the two leaders told the protesters that they were committed to addressing the issues and they would be meeting with their local leaders to find solutions to the issues through dialogue.
Meanwhile, the cleaning work at Vidar has been forced to stop by the disgruntled landowners.