By MALUM NALU
ALL roads lead to Tari, Hela, last Friday as favorite son, Tari-Pori MP and Prime Minister James Marape visits home.
The red carpet is laid, colourful Hela wigmen sing and dance, and the people come out by the thousands to welcome PM Marape.
Tari isn’t burning, as claimed by critics, and the Tari people aren’t fighting and killing each other as the armchair experts proclaim.
We land in Tari on a brand-new airport runway, and as the plane taxies in, we can see a flashy airport terminal undergoing construction and new buildings going up.
I think back to 2013, when I first came to Tari as Business Editor of The National, when the PNG LNG Project was under construction.
I have travelled back and forth over the last 10 years and have watched Tari grow into a lively town, despite all the gloom-and-doom stories of naysayers and ill-informed people, of a place in anarchy.
Last Friday, PM Marape leads a large delegation from Port Moresby for opening of the new National Development Bank branch in Tari, a Women’s Micro Bank branch, and the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) Forward Operating Base (FOB) just in time for the 2022 General Election.
The Prime Minister and his team of ministers walk through a phalanx of colourful Huli wigmen to the main area where he addresses thousands of people.
He urges the people of Hela to go into businesses, including commercial agriculture, and for youths to pick up education.
He warns law breakers to leave guns.
PM Marape says guns are no longer worth wasting time on as people found to be in possession will be jailed for life under tough new laws passed by Parliament.
He makes the call in front of a massive crowd of thousands of people during opening of the NDB Building and Women’s Micro Bank,
The NDB chipped in K4 million, Hela Provincial Government K3 million and Tari-Pori District Development Authority (DDA) K1 million towards construction.
PM Marape announces before the cheering crowd that the Tari-Pori DDA office, called Pangale Haus, has been given to Women’s Micro Bank to serve women of the district – who have been undergoing SME training conducted by Mrs Rachael Marape at Hope Institute
The Prime Minister is accompanied by State Enterprises Minister William Duma, Defence Minister Win Daki, Public Service Minister Joe Sungi, Hela Governor Philip Undialu, as well as representatives of Kumul Consolidated Holdings (KCH) and others State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) including NDB.
He also announces that Tari-Pori DDA has given K3 million to NDB and Hela Provincial Government K5 million to start lending to the people of Hela when the bank opens its doors on Monday, May 9, 2022.
Marape urges the people of Hela to take inspiration from two Hela business success stories, Shirley Komboli and Peter Honale, who became millionaires through hard work without the PNG LNG Project or support from MPs.
“In the 1980s, when Shirley Komboli and Peter Honale started their small businesses, there was no Hides gas field or MP to help them get started,” he says.
“Shirley Komboli was a simple village woman and Peter Honale was a simple village man, but today, they have properties in Australia, Port Moresby, Lae and other parts of the country.
“If they can do it, so can you.”
PM Marape cites the case of a young man from Tewai-Siassi, Morobe, who after completing university, went into the coffee business and made a turnover of K800,000 last year.
“A bag of coffee can now earn you K600 with the prices support we are now offering,” he says.
“You can earn more money from coffee, SMEs and agriculture than idling around waiting for LNG money.”
PM Marape says of the 115 students who sat for Grade 12 examinations last year at Hope Institute – which offers a second chance in education for school leavers – four are now at University of PNG, six at Pacific Adventist University and 16 at University of Goroka.
“I urge those of you who are doing nothing to go to Hope Institute and have a second chance at furthering your education too, whilst the rest can go into small business opportunities opportunities Government is creating,” he says.
From the NDB, we take a short drive to Paipali, where the PNGDF Operating Base – which can accommodate 120 soldiers – is opened by Defence Minister Daki.
PNGDF Commander Major-General Mark Goina and Defence Secretary John Akipe are the happiest of men.
Establishment of the PNGDF FOB in Tari follows the signing of an agreement between the Hela Provincial Government and PNGDF in June 2020.
“I welcome the establishment of the PNG Defence Force Forward Operating Base in Tari,” PM Marape says.
“This will serve not only Hela but also neighboring provinces such as Southern Highlands, Enga, Western Highlands, West Sepik, Western and Gulf.”
Maj-Gen Goina said the PNGDF FOB in Tari is “a very good initiative” of the Marape Government because of the law-and-order situation in Hela and the PNG LNG Project.
He says the PNGDF moved into the Tari FOB at the beginning of April this year in preparation for the 2022 General Election.
“This base will remain as a permanent FOB for the PNGDF,” Maj-Gen Goina assures PM Marape, other leaders and the public.
“I want to tell the people of Hela that we will remain here until the Third Battalion Barracks is built here, and then we will shift across.”
Brig-Gen Goina says the decision of the Marape Government will bring in increased economic activities, stability, growth and prosperity to Hela.
He says PNGDF soldiers and their families, once the barracks is established, will spend their money in Tari. “We (PNGDF) will help establish a hospital, we will help establish a primary school, we will establish other services within the barracks which will be extended out to the local communities,” Maj-Gen Goina says.
“The benefits will be enormous.”
PNGDF Engineering Battalion Director, Lieutenant-Colonel John Giregire, tells PM Marape that the FOB will be constructed in four phases, with the first phase currently underway.
He says the FOB can accommodate 120 soldiers in preparation for the elections, with 96 already based there.
“All up, 120 officers can be comfortably accommodated here,” Lt-Col Giregire says.
“This is the best-ever forward base ever seen in the PNG Defence Force. It is a four-star hotel with no complaints from soldiers.
“Hela is a very important province because of the resources we have here, therefore, PNGDF is here to stay.
“It will be the catalyst for economic and social development in this province and this country.”
That evening, as we leave Tari, I look down and wonder what the next 10 years will bring.
- Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister