The National, Thursday 6th September, 2012
By MALUM NALU
THE PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP) has drawn an ambitious plan to develop the mining town of Tabubil in Western into a mixed economy college town, with high-quality infrastructure and services to attract a range of commercial and various economic enterprises.
This plan was unveiled during a meeting in Tabubil last on Saturday between PNGSDP, Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML) and Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF) with a Fly River provincial government delegation led by Governor Ati Wobiro.
The plan, according to PNGSDP chief executive David Sode, is known as “Tabubil Futures” and would provide a healthy and safe environment for all residents and visitors, be a centre of excellence for research, education and training and have hospital partnership with Divine Word University to deliver rural health training.
A Star Mountains Institute of Technology (SMIT) is already under construction as the first phase of running Tabubil into a college town.
SMIT aims to provide research, education and training that support sustainable development for the benefit of the people of Tabubil, the Western Province and Papua New Guinea.
College accommodation construction has already commenced.
Tabubil Futures director John Wylie said that the initiative began with a recognition that the existing town was “a very valuable creation”.
“It is one of the best-functioning communities in the country, and as such, steps should be taken to preserve it after mine closure rather than go into decline as has happened with other mine towns.”
“Our agenda involves normalising the town and broadening its economic base.
“The aim is to move Tabubil from being a typical mining town to a sustainable urban environment which can function effectively after mine closure, however far off that may be.
“At a more practical level, the agenda involves two streams of work.
“The first is ‘getting the platform right’ so Tabubil anchor new economic activities and the second involves making those new economic activities happen.”
Tabubil Futures is now working on:
n The final stages of a comprehensive town planning exercise which will provide clear guidelines all future building developments;
n Overcoming a critical housing shortage which is constraining new developments;
n Keeping with the idea of a properly functioning property market where people can buy and sell houses or rent them if that suits their circumstances; and
n Thinking through how the town should be managed in the future so that it can continue to be run efficiently.
“Aside from ‘getting the platform right’ we need new business activities to support Tabubil’s growing population,” Wylie said.
“Without these sources of employment, the town will wither after the mine closes.
“To achieve a practical outcome here we must avoid the trap of thinking about each potential new project in isolation.
“Wherever you look there are exciting possibilities but before you can justify the investment, we almost always find that there are preconditions which must be put in place to make the project work: things such as accommodation to house the workers; transport infrastructure to get products to market; and enough demand to make things viable.
“While we take it as a given that each new project has to be commercially viable, we also think about industry potential in the province as a cluster of business initiatives which can support each other.
“We see this cluster underpinned by an infrastructure corridor stretching from Tabubil to a new port at Daru tying together a series of integrated supply chains.”
In keeping with this, Tabubil Futures is exploring a portfolio of new commercial initiatives:
n A key new economic development will be the establishment of SMIT which will make Tabubil a centre of educational excellence;
n Tabubil is bound to become a logical base for the corporate headquarters for new resource developments in the region, which will require homes for families;
n Roll out new hotel facilities in Kiunga and Daru;
n A gas-fired power station on the Stanley gas field with a transmission line that will link Tabubil to Kiunga and facilitate rural electrification along the corridor.
n A local cement manufacturing plant, which will use the Stanley gas and local limestone.
Preliminary studies indicate that this plant can supply local requirements (which will be substantial as the mine goes underground); the much bigger requirements for constructing the Purari hydro project; shipments into Moresby; and exports to West Papua and northern Australia.
n Another prospective joint venture partner to develop an industrial scale agribusiness on the Bige reclamation area.
Tabubil Futures has in mind a diversified venture which can grow grain to be milled into stock feed for poultry, pig and fish production; fresh vegetables grown in greenhouses and open field production units; and tropical fruits. This business will help overcome a serious food security problem (most supplies are currently imported);
n A new supermarket and a bulk food distribution outlet in Tabubil.
“You can see the cluster effect here,” Wylie said.
“Stanley gas, the new power station, the port, cement and other bulk commodity developments all make sense when considered as a bundled package.
“Building more houses, developing SMIT and upgrading the hospital will allow Tabubil to grow and this growth will easily justify the new hotel, new office accommodation, and new food supplies.
“It will also necessitate improved aviation services to handle the growth in passenger numbers, and we are beginning to think through creative ways in which this can be done.
“With appropriate transport infrastructure, developments in the north of the province will reinforce developments in the Middle Fly, and the new port development with its industrial estate in the south, and vice versa.”