Sombore’s gleam of hope

Weekender

By PISAI GUMAR
SOMBORE is a name not too many are familiar with because of its isolation.
It is located in Satwag, east of Kabwum station in Morobe and shares borders with Sialum and Wasu in Tewae-Siassi district.
Third level airline North Coast Aviation is the only mode of transport to Satwag but a flight from there to Kabwum or Lae is still beyond the reach of most villagers.
Locals would rather walk four days to Kabwum station with their fresh food or coffee bags for sale.
Walking from Satwag to Sialum or Wasu on the coast takes a week through rugged terrain, rivers and forests that remind locals of cargo cult practices and the rumoured spirits associated with them.
But the first rays of hope for the remote communities of Patenga, Goama Qak and Quirong appeared this year in that they were formally recognised as custodians of a possible oil and gas resource in their customary land.
It was the result of their unity, perseverance and a sacrificing what little they earned from coffee and garden produce.
Clan leaders Geruwe Fenzong, Mare Keteng and Rindung Owung felt the gleam of the dawn of an era when receiving incorporated land group (ILG) certificates on Tuesday, March 6.
The Lands and Physical Planning Department’s Northern regional office in Lae had assisted in registering the ILGs.
The ILG certificates will give recognition to the clans to secure resources to manage their own affairs.
The ILG certificates will also be used as an authority for clans to work with the Government and investors to develop their resources.
It all started in 2004 after the locals realised the oil and gas seep in Sombore.
The locals dug deep into their pockets and initiated the Wemamsam Resources Owners Association (WROA) which mobilised the communities into 14 sub-associations.
Eventually, WROA mobilised Sombore people living in Lae, Port Moresby, New Guinea Islands and the Highlands.
Martin Fenzong, a primary school teacher, took the samples of the oil and gas to the laboratory at the University of Technology in Lae and Department of Petroleum and Energy in Port Moresby which confirmed the oil and gas deposits.
But feasibility studies to identify the various reserves and their commercial value are yet to be conducted.
If proven viable, the economic landscape of the 14 remote villages including those along the Satwag to Sialum coastline which a future pipeline may run through, is expected to change dramatically.
Fenzong anticipates better living standards as all 21 clans and those along the pipeline and wharf area will be captured in benefit sharing.
The project will be another socio-economic game changer, apart from the Hidden Valley mine, the Wafi-Golpu mine and the Ramu II hydro project which is in the pipeline.
Governor-General Sir Bob Dadae, as Kabwum MP then, initially assisted the WROA with K75,000 which was used to set up and office at Malaubu in Lae.
He again assisted with K10,000 for the ILG survey in 2016 before he became Governor-General last year.
Department of Lands and Physical Planning’s Northern region lands Surveyor Joel Kenny and customary lands acquisition officer Albert Kalne flew to Sombore to conduct the ILG survey for Patenga, Goama Qak and Quirong clans in April 2017.
It took 11 months for ILG officer Martha Solomon, customary land lease senior officer Rita Pamenda, Kenny and Kalne to process the three ILG certificates before issuing them to principal landowners on March 6 at Malaubu in Lae.
Solomon said that the unity amongst the people and their support to the leaders of WROA have helped them to acquire the certificates.
“People’s unity is crucial in such impact projects because it is notable in indigenous societies that humans are intimately attached to the land and surroundings; when you exploit one, it has its chain reactions,” she said.
“Thus, ILG certificates confirm the respective clans’ authenticity to manage resources while opening the way for landowners to negotiate with government and business partners including major investors to develop the resources.”
Solomon said that clans owned the land because of traditional genealogy systems, customs, rituals and belief systems while humans were merely custodians.
WROA has engaged Shoreline Technology and private expert Moses Robby as business partners in this project which could turn out to be Morobe’s first in the hydrocarbons sector.
Fenzong says the Morobe government knows the existence of Sombore oil and gas project but has yet to make any financially commitment for its development.
WROA has set its sights on downstream processing. Assistant business manager Kenny Imbong says if feasibility surveys affirm the economic viability of the project, the Government and investors will need to process the resource locally and export only the end product.
This will ensure locals see the end products of their resource, Imbong says. Besides, it will create more employment for Papua New Guinean professionals trained in the oil and gas industry.

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