Tari rises from ruin

PM Marape with workers at the Hulukumaiya Building in Tari.

TARI, the provincial capital of Hela, has come a long way since the huge earthquake of February 2018 which caused massive devastation.
I was one of the first journalists to visit Tari a day after that juggernaut, while working for The National, and can vividly recall the scale of damage.
Roads were cracked open, buildings collapsed, power pylons fell down and left the town in darkness, and more.
There were sad scenes everywhere and I remember thinking, at that time, how Tari and Hela would ever rise from the ruins
On Sunday, Oct 24, I visited Tari for the first time after three years and was amazed at the changes that have taken place.
Tari, like the mythical Phoenix, has risen from the sadness of the 2018 earthquake with renewed youth and vigor.
There is a new-look fenced airport, new buildings are popping up everywhere, roads are sealed and houses are lit up to a 10km radius from Tari.
It is certainly not lacking in development.
Prime Minister and Tari-Pori MP James Marape, opened the airport on Independence Day in 2020 after more than two years of closure after it was damaged by the earthquake.
There is renewed optimism in the air, unlike 2018, where there was so much gloom, doom and despair.
Right in centre of town, next to the airport, the Hulukumaiya Building is rising up like a shining star for Tari and Hela.
PM Marape says the Hulukumaiya Building was planned to be the district office, but as Hela did not have a provincial office, it would also be used by the province
“The three-storey building has adequate space to house the entire district and provincial structure,” he says.
“We will have the provincial assembly downstairs.
“The assembly will be used by all local level governments (LLGs), who can also come and hold their LLG meetings there.
“It will be a modern building with latest technology so that Governor Philip Undialu and I, if we are not in Tari, can convene with the other leaders through Zoom.
“We will have PA systems so that people can stand outside and listen to assembly meetings, or we can make announcements to the public.
“Up on the top floor, I’m going to set up an FM radio station which will feed out news and positive messages to the people.
“We will also have an entertainment area upstairs.”
PM Marape said Hela, since it split from Southern Highlands and became a new province in 2011, has not had a permanent provincial assembly.
“We are a new province, who split from our sister province Southern Highlands, and whatever records we had we left behind in Mendi,” he said.
“I started this building in 2014.
“The provincial government, under former governor, the late Anderson Agiru, started three buildings.
“Fortunately, the foundation of the Hulukumaiya Building was strong, so when the earthquake came in 2018, it didn’t affect the building.  The Hela 1, Hela 2 and Hela 3 buildings – set up by Governor Agiru – collapsed and Governor Undialu is now working on them.”
Across the road from the Hulukumaiya Building, the magnificent National Development Bank (NDB) is nearing completion, and is another beacon of hope for Tari-Pori and Hela.
“Our Tari-District invested K1 million, Hela Provincial Government K3 million and NDB put in K4.5 million,” PM Marape says.
“It’s in line with our concept for small to medium enterprises (SMEs).
“When the bank opens, we will roll out K2 to K3 million to youth groups, women’s groups and men’s groups.
“I’m organising for Grade 12 and 10 students from Hope Institute to go back to their communities, mobilise youth, and get them into SMEs.
“We’ve got Hides (LNG) next door, Kutubu (oil) next door.
“Our kids should be looking at supplying poultry and other meat products, and vegetables, to these major projects.
“I have already put in K300,000 into NDB as seed capital, and we will put in another K2m to K3 million on top of this.
“I’m encouraging my people to go and open their bank accounts with NDB, whose subsidiary MiBank, will operate withdrawal and deposits.
“There will be five ATMs placed there.
“I’m doing a franchise arrangement with NDB so that in remote places like Tari, and others, they can operate almost like a commercial bank.”
PM Marape says there is no point in telling people to hand in guns, when the Government is not providing alternatives to them.
“We are offering education and SMEs as alternatives,” he adds.
“By December, which is the deadline for return of guns, our youth should be returning to education or they should be returning to SMEs.
“It’s all in that context.”
A new PNG Defence Force forward base, big enough for 100 soldiers, is being built in Tari.
“We will establish a base here as a precursor to a PNG Defence Force battalion being permanently based here in Hela,” PM Marape says.
“In the next two to three years, we will have a battalion permanent based here, because you are only 30 minutes by plane from the border with West Papua.
“We already have a military base in Wewak, one in Vanimo, one on the southern side in Daru and now a central one in Tari to serve Kiunga, Tabubil, Oksapmin, Kopiago, Kutubu and Porgera.
“Instead of mobilising soldiers all the time from Moem Barracks or Taurama Barracks, you can have them permanently stationed here to be dispatched to assist police.”
A new high school is also being built. “We’re building a day high school for our public servants and residents in and around Tari town,” PM Marape says.
There are so many other developments, big and small, taking place around Tari but we did not have time to visit them all.
Perhaps on another visit to this fast-growing part of PNG.

  • Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister