LAST May 27, The National published a full page press statement by Prime Minister James Marape about the Government’s approval of the K20 billion connect PNG national road network strategy.
I commend the Marape-led Government for this vision and the leadership.
This strategy will promote business and agriculture revolution in the country.
I am particularly interested in the impacts this road network strategy would have for Madang and its people.
Of the 15 core roads captured in this strategy, four would converge in Madang, connecting Madang with the Highlands, East Sepik and Morobe.
People in Madang would be able to drive to Port Moresby traversing parts of the Highlands region, Morobe and Gulf.
These planned four roads are the Vanimo-Wewak-Madang road, the Madang-Baiyer-Kompiam road, the Ramu-Gembolg-Kundiawa-Karamui-Purari road and the Madang-Lae-Finschhafen road.
The next and alternative port to Lae that would support and sustain service delivery, business and commercial operations of mining, oil and gas projects in the Highlands is the Madang port. I note the distance for travel via road, especially for trucking companies, from Lae to the planned Madang-Baiyer-Kompiam road is 264km, and given this, there is a huge cutback of some 347km of road distance.
What would then be the effects or impacts of this distance cut-back on service delivery and livelihoods is the Highlands region, on business and on commercial operations of mining, oil and gas projects in the Highlands?
A fundamental thing that is certain to occur is a shift in choice, decision and plan towards using this new Madang-Baiyer route than the existing Highlands Highway to Lae.
Madang, specifically Madang town, is geographically well-positioned at the centre of trade, commerce and development activities whose advent would be occasioned by and given the impetus under this road strategy, vis-à-vis other provinces.
What is more, the ease geographically of access to the Asian economies and their lucrative markets is already the best from Madang and would be made even more with all certainty.
All that is to come would not only put but push Madang town on the path to becoming a city.
Madang and its leadership should envision a city for its capital.
The bulging economic activities would exert immense pressure on the existing infrastructure, space and available services.
The indigenous people of Madang would feel mounting pressure on services, stress on their certain rights and entitlements, stiff competition in the grab on business turf (space) and in the worst, pushed into being marginalised.
Concurrently, the opportunities for employment, business and trade would become more in scale and size.
There would be an urgent need to expand the physical planning and town boundaries from the existing ones to make way for developments.
The quest for land space to accommodate some city design would need the mobilisation of State land, private land and customary land – this reality would need to be acknowledged and accepted by all stakeholders in the issue and some declaration on this made for the start.
As we pre-empt all these developments, what should happen for the indigenous Madang people to truly benefit from all these?
I would say that for them, the story of failures, missed and squandered opportunities and the inability or loss of the capacity to be prepared to as to optimise on any gain from this and any new development outweighs remarkably any positive story – this is not to be pessimistic in the viewpoint.
Madang people do not own businesses in their own town.
The political leadership in Madang is probably the most disunited of any province.
As opportunities open up and competition become stiff for indigenous Madang people under the Connect PNG strategy, the levels of influx of people and rural-urban migration will increase in magnitudes.
A rapid growth of illegal settlements in Madang will be seen and experienced, and so would problems associated with it.
It would become an insurmountable task to manage settlements.
The recent handling of the Nagada eviction of illegal settlers and previous handling of the same have fallen short of a good way to manage and control settlements in and around the town.
We definitely need a better way for managing settlements in Madang.
We need an arrangement that would make us avoid court cases on human rights issues and see a safe transition through controlled eviction and integration of people onto a town life culture and environment.
We need a new vision, a sought for wisdom on all these and a sincere heart in the leadership in Madang to bring the province forward.
The recent arrests of senior officials of the Madang administration in relation to allegations of misuse of Manam funds might become a testimony-in-waiting of gross corruption and maladministration in Madang.
There is now a call for much more effort to put into restoring, building and securing Madang and its people.
If we fail this time to take proper decision and action, we may lose the battle to secure entitlements and rights for ourselves and generation to come.