Road to Indonesia has many promises


IT will be a mega investment costing perhaps billions of kina but the planned international highway linking the northern half of Papua New Guinea to Indonesia can be the key that unlocks new economic frontiers for both countries.
Works Minister Michael Nali says this road, which will become the country’s only international highway, should be given the recognition it deserves.
Speaking in Aitape, West Sepik, on Tuesday during a nationwide tour to inspect roads with Works Secretary David Wereh, Nali said the Coastal Sepik Highway had been overlooked for many years.
It is one of the few missing links in the country which needs to be opened up for it to realise its full economic potential.
Others include the Southern Highlands-to-Gulf highway, which is currently being constructed, the Morobe-to Gulf link and the East New Britain Highway, which is nearly completed except for major bridges.
Nali’s colleague, Planning and Implementation Minister Richard Maru, also announced in Lae this week that it was a government priority to open a road from Lae to Madang, the Sepiks and Jayapura, in Indonesia.
As trade minister in the past government, Maru was a strong advocate of greater cross-border trade, especially with increased volumes of Papua New Guinea products – such as vanilla and cocoa – going across to Indonesia or other parts of Asia.
Although there has been some trade across the border, it has largely been Asian or Indonesian merchandise being brought across, and Maru argues that it is time more Papu New Guinea products are taken across to boost the local economy.
The economic possibilities that can be created by an international highway to Indonesia are immense. Road-freighting cargo into Indonesia or for transhipment to other Asian ports will, in principle, be cheaper and faster than shipping.
Also imports of Asian products into Papua New Guinea will become cheaper if freighted in by truck.
The proposed international highway will also open up trade opportunities between provinces.
Currently, there is no reliable road link between East and West Sepik, and to get out of Wewak.
To get out of Vanimo or Wewak one has to get on a plane or a boat.
Inter-connectivity between the Sepik provinces and Madang, Morobe and the Highlands region will definitely open up greater socio-economic activities.
People in the isolated areas between the major centres of Vanimo, Aitape, Wewak, Angoram and Bogia will be connected and so the cost of providing government services to them will be greatly reduced.
There will be possibilities for small and large-scale investments in agriculture, fisheries and even tourism.
In fact, as East Sepik Governor Allan Bird told Nali when he arrived at Wewak, East and West Sepik that had great potential for oil palm, vanilla and cocoa and a reliable network connecting either Indonesia or Madang will greatly benefit them.
Such investments will of course require careful assessment to maximise their potential.
As pointed out by Nali, the economic returns on investments should be assessed by all relevant agencies of government.
For instance, the Department of Agriculture should be engaged to evaluate the agricultural investment potentials any new road will create.
The Department of Trade, Commerce and Industry can step in to assist locals go into small-to-medium enterprises.
The proposed international highway, which will cross two of the country’s major rivers, is going to cost a lot and the government will most certainly look for international assistance.
An investment of such magnitude will take a while to plan and to mobilise the necessary resources, but the fact that the government has recognised its importance is a good start.
It may not be soon but when it is built, the Coastal Sepik Highway, or the Mamose Highway, will usher in a new era in development.
That is something to look forward to.

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