Restored after years of neglect

Weekender

PNGDF Support Battalion single barracks refurbished

By ALEXANDER NARA
TRAFFIC at the Three Mile roundabout in the nation’s capital is sometimes very unkind.
Especially in the afternoons and especially if you are stuck in one of those overcrowded city buses.
Overwhelmed with the heat, you slump there helplessly as the bus crawls along in the queue towards the turn.
But if you’re heading in from Hohola way, you will find some comfort once you reach those old rain trees that grow alongside the perimeter fence of PNGDF Force Support Battalion.
Thick branches as if in search of the heavens stretched over the road, casting heavy shade onto the sidewalk and the passing traffic crawling towards the roundabout.
So let’s stop right there under those trees and take a look inside the fence of the Force Support Battalion.
Almost hidden by the hanging branches are three identical white barracks that had stood there, rundown and neglected, for many years.
They were built around 1994 and had been home to many soldiers since those days.
History tells us that 1994 was one of those trying years for our nation’s military, marred by the Bougainville conflict which was raging at that time.
Today, after years of being overlooked, the three buildings stand ready to open their doors again.
Defence Secretary Hari John Akipe confirmed that they had been earmarked for upgrade by the Defence Council under the Defence Public Improvement Program funds.
Akipe said the PNG Government has directed an increase in the strength of the PNGDF to 10,000 by 2030 and housing them is a high priority.
So the three buildings were among key housing infrastructure identified for urgent refurbishment beginning this year. Akipe said that the Covid-19 pandemic had also been a factor in providing suitable accommodation for members of the PNGDF and their families as PNGDF members are being deployed to support the government’s response to the pandemic.
Last week PNGDF Commander Major General Gilbert Toropo and Secretary Akipe stopped by at the buildings to see progress.
The two men confirmed that all contracts were tendered through the National Procurement Committee where all state of emergency directives were observed and complied with before approval was granted to commence the refurbishment.
The Defence Council had underlined abuse of procurement processes, poor coordination and splitting of contracts to avoid proper procurement procedures as the cause for much deteriorating and incomplete infrastructure across PNGDF establishments.
Early this year, stern directives were issued by Secretary Akipe for processing all contracts worth from K500,000.
“This is the setting for this year and years to come in order for the organisation to deliver infrastructure worth the money,” Secretary Akipe said.
Planning Secretary Koney Samuel shared the same sentiments, highlighting that accountability and value for money are the key pillars that must embrace all levels of decision making and contract management.
For the Force Support Battalion accommodation project, work is set to begin on the third building with the first two ready to be officially opened.
The smell of varnish, paint, freshly sawn wood and floor treatment lingered in the corridors as I stepped inside the buildings last Friday afternoon.
It is known that most of the soldiers who lived there during those trying years of the 1990s have left the PNGDF, either retired or passed on.
It is said that the spirits of a rundown building hide inside their broken walls but here there was a feeling of newness and warmth as if they had been set fee after all those years.
Each building has the capacity to house 60 people and will be fully occupied when you look in next time.
But for now, I’ll let you go back and join the traffic.

  • The author is a PNGDF public relations officer.

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