Roads, bridges and development


EVIDENCE-BASED planning and making informed decisions on the allocations of limited resources available to the Government is very important to maximise the return on investments when Papua New Guinea is going through a very tough and challenging time.
These were the words from Works and Implementation Minister Michael Nali when inspecting the status of the Coastal Sepik Highway, starting from Wewak in the East Sepik to Aitape in the West Sepik last week, accompanied by Works Secretary David Wereh.
Soon after his appointment as minister during the formation of Government in August, Nali wasted no time in taking a nationwide tour of the country’s national and provincial roads to see for himself their actual statuses and conditions.
“You cannot have wrong people at the wrong place and expect them to get things done.
“I am a boiler by profession and I do welding and smelting myself and I have been a builder so I am grateful that I am the Works Minister now,” Nali said.
The nationwide inspection of national and provincial roads commenced last month with a look at the Boluminski Highway in New Ireland and the Highlands Highway starting from Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands to Lae in Morobe. The minister and secretary also inspected Lae City roads where the Government has spent well over K760million over the last five years to upgrade – replacing bitumen with concrete. They also had a chance to have a look at the Coastal Sepik Highway and Wewak town roads.
Aerial inspections of the missing links between Lae and Port Moresby through Bulolo, Aseki, Menyamya and through Kerema in Gulf and onwards through the Magi Highway, as well as a bird’s eye view of the proposed Baiyer-Madang road from Western Highlands to Madang were also made. The missing link from Madang to East and West Sepik through Bogia and the Sepik plains, through the famous Sepik River and all the way to Wewak in the East Sepik before driving on land through the Coastal Sepik Highway to Aitape in West Sepik were also inspected.
Nali and Wereh made an impromptu landing at Menyamya, taking people at the remote government station by surprise. Mathew Joseph, the executive officer to Menyamya MP Thomas Pelika and Menyamya locals who around at that time wasted no time expressing their frustrations as soon as they found out who their guests were.
An emotional women’s representative of the Menyamya District Development Authority Serah Ako said “we are Papua New Guineas and we are part of this country, but we have been living like a lost tribe all this time.”
“We have large gardens of coffee, Menyamya is the largest producer of organically grown Arabica coffee, but who would know of this and make markets accessible to us.”
“A person has more than three coffee gardens with over three to four thousand coffee trees.
During peak coffee season, one farmer can easily pick an average of 15 to 20 bags. Sadly, most of them have nowhere to sell their produce and going to Lae by road can be costly.
“We only carry a few kilograms to sell in Bulolo to buy some basic things like, oil, salt and soap and the rest just rot away in the garden,” Ako lamented.
Joseph pointed out that Menyamya had a huge agricultural potential but the only setback was a good road access.
“We have very good climate with arable land and vegetables such as cabbage, carrot, broccoli, bulb onions, and other veggies grow very well here.
“We are even doing fish farming for self-consumption.
Making large gardens with the hope of selling at markets would be a waste of time and effort and villagers have resorted to gardening only for local consumption.
Without roads, there are also no health services and government services are almost totally lacking.
This scenario is the same in all remote places in the country. But in places where there are roads, they have been left to deteriorate. Even people who operate PMVs struggle to make a profit.
The story is the same in the case of the Coastal Sepik Highway which connects the East and West Sepik from Wewak to Aitape. It was previously linked all the way to Vanimo and Butum at the PNG/Indonesia border but road became so bad, the link was severed. People now connect Aitape and Vanimo by sea transport.
While the country is currently facing an economic downturn, Nali says this is the best time to make the best investments and sound decisions with the limited resources at hand.
“Decisions that will benefit the people and the country and putting resources to right use and that’s why, I have made a Ministerial visit to see, feel and get first-hand information on the status of our roads and the struggles and the challenges our people are facing,” Nali said.
“My priority now will be to upgrade our priority roads and second priority will be giving access.
“Connect these people with at least a road access so when there is a dry weather, a land cruiser can go and transport their coffee, cocoa, vanilla or other fresh produce to market and as well, drop off medical supplies and other services.
“That is the plan I have now and that will all depend on funding we receive from the Government next year,” Nali said.
He said the Government has already secured K3billion to upgrade the Highlands Highway and tender will out soon with work expected to commence in April next year.
According to Wereh, lack of funding from the Government over the years has been the root cause of roads not being maintained and upgraded in many parts of the country.
The minister is set to visit Vanimo to look at the road leading to the shared border between PNG and Indonesia in Butum,  and will also visit East and West New Britain roads, and the part of the Highlands Highway from Hagen to Mendi and Tari.