BY JEFFREY ELAPA
AFTER walking through knee-deep mud and rugged mountain terrain, the people of Bolangun never thought they would one day have a road built through their village.
Bolangun is one of the villages in the Ok Tedi mine area in Western.
While the mine under the former mining giant BHP had been there for the past 30 years, it never thought of building road for these landowners. They were locked away in their communities for a long time although there is a road that links Kiunga and Tabubil and all the way to the mine site.
While many people, including the developer of Ok Tedi mine, BHP and others critics from Telefomin thought things should remain as they have in the past, it was a different thinking for the current Member for Telefomin Solan Mirisim.
Mirisim who once worked with Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) says his heart cried for his people when they had to dig deeper into their pockets to transport their goods or travel outside and decided to save his people.
He said everyone thought the people of Telefomin and their Min brothers would never have a road connecting their communities.
However, he said he differed and thought it was possible to build a road if there was strong leadership.
Strong leadership needed
“There is nothing impossible if there is a strong will and strong leadership.”
He first contested the Telefomin seat in 2007 but lost but after five years he won.
He said he started to look for ways he would fulfil his dream for his people and in 2017 general election, he won the seat for a second term and this time was able to pursue his dream and pushed for the Tabubil-Telefomin road.
Misirim made himself clear to the government of Peter O’Neill he joined after winning the 2017 election that he just wanted help to build the Tabubil-Telefomin road and did not worry about being given a ministry.
However, he was given the Defence Ministry and was fortunate to be in the Cabinet to make decisions and he pursued his dream further.
In mid-2018, the National Executive Council approved the construction of the road through Ok Tedi mine’s tax credit scheme. The funding is derived from the mine but managed by the company based on recommendations by the Government.
A K75 million tax credit fund was approved by the Government and with counterpart funding from the Telefomin district development authority the road construction started last year.
The beginning of the 75km road began and after almost a year, the construction reached the first village of Bolangun, one of the landlocked mine villages in the Ok Tedi mine area.
So far 23km of the 75km road is accessible and people who have walked through mud and thick jungles are now travelling in buses and family cars to go to the village.
A proud Mirisim told that people that it needed leadership to make such changes and he was pleased the people of Telefomin mandated him to pursue his people dream to build the road for them.
He said Bolangun was the first mine village to access the road and after 6km of construction the road would reach the Olsobip junction.
He said from the bush track junction, one group of construction workers would work on the Olsobip road while the other would continue on to build the Telefomin road.
Onward to Olsobip
Olsobip is another landlocked mine village in the Star Mountains of Western.
The road when completed, will also for the first time allow the people Olsobip to drive in cars and buses to Tabubil and Kiunga.
Many young people from Bolangun and Olsobip have left their communities and settled near Tabubil where they have road and other basic services while only a handful of elderly people live in the village.
However, that is gradually changing as many of those young people who have migrated to Tabubil decided to drive to the village and stay in the village and drive to Tabubil and Kiunga for work.
It is one of the most difficult roads to be built in the country as it cuts through the famous Hidenberg Wall, and the great wall that separates Western and West Sepik,and has one of the highest rainfalls in the country all year around.
The Hidenberg is also home to some of the world’s unique wildlife species and would be the centre of attraction to the world around as tourists and scientist visit the area so many opportunities would open up when the road is complete.
With this in mind there is a plan to build a guest house on the top of the mountain so people who want to visit the area can have a feeling of what life is in that corner of the country.
It would not have been possible without Mirisim who wanted to share his people’s dream to one day travel by cars to their villages in Telefomin.
Counterpart funding came from Telefomin district development authority, Sandaun Provincial Government, North Fly District Development Authority and the Western Provincial Government. The road would be completed by 2022 to be delivered as a present to the people.
Mirisim said he entered politics to serve his people and build the road after many years of struggling and he was happy that about 23km has been completed.
He said the road would continue on from Telefomin to Oksapmin and eventually connect Kopiago in Hela.
Former Minister for National Planning and Implementation Richard Maru assured the people that another group with several machines would start work from the Telefomin side down while the one would continue working up from Tabubil.
Minister Mirism thanked the contractor Ipwenz Construction Limited, the Department of Works and its engineer, the local men engaged in the construction for a job well done despite the difficulties they have endured working in one of the most remote places.
Ipwenz Construction is a local companies that has a record of cutting through difficult mountain terrain and virgin forests in road work around the country.
Governor chips in
Sandaun Governor Tony Wouwou who accompanied Mirisim for the launching of the five year district development plan in Telefomin said he wanted the road to reach Telefomin to give access to people there.
The governor presented K500,000 for the road while another K500,000 would be released later.
He said the Tabubil-Telefomin road was a provincial road that would connect two provinces so he would continue to fund the road to eventually connect Telefomin.
The construction company’s public relation officer Amos Daniel explained that within the next couple of months, they would complete the remaining 6km which would also be one of the toughest tasks through muddy locations before reaching the bush track to the Olsobip junction.
He added that from there they it would be another 8km to reach the base of the Hidenburg Wall. The most difficult part of the work is to cut through the wall.
The construction crew is a mixture of Papua New Guineans from Hela, Southern Highlands, Telefomin in West Sepik, Enga, Eastern Highlands and Western itself.
Wilson Mokomne, a machine operator from Mendi wanted to pack up and leave but after seeing the elderly walking through the thick jungles, he changed his mind and stayed on to do his bit so Mirisim’s dream could materialise.
“I shed tears and even my heart feels for them when I see the people walking through the thick jungles and knee-deep mud so I continue to help.
I will stay and deliver the road for the people and I will go back to Mendi,” he said.