By ISAAC NICHOLAS
VEHICLES started travelling again from Mt Hagen into Mendi after Works, Transport and Public Service Minister Peter O’Neill intervened yesterday and asked landowners to open up the Highlands Highway after almost sevens days of blockage.
Mr O’Neill, who flew by helicopter from Mt Hagen to Walium station in Imbonggu in his capacity as Works Minister, stressed that the LNG project was important for the country and, therefore, landowners had to remove the roadblock.
The blockade started on Nov 26 after it was alleged Works secretary Joel Luma wrote a letter to landowners that they would be paid by that date and after no payment was received, landowners blocked the part of the highway.
The landowners then started cutting down trees and felled eight power pylons, removed four culvert bridges, leaving Mendi without electricity.
Mr O’Neill, who is also Ialibu-Pangia Member, was greeted on arrival with placards that read: “No payment, no road opening”, “Six years of empty promises after promises”, “Joel Luma, where is our money?” and “What did you do with what is rightfully ours?”
Kombras Puapena, a leader from the area said a delegation was sent to Port Moresby but failed in numerous attempts to meet with Mr Luma.
According to information received by landowners, K49.9 million was paid into a BSP Account Number: 100013398438 on Sept 30, which the people believed was earmarked for them.
However, when the money did not reach the people by Nov 26, they set up the blockade.
Mr O’Neill told the people that the National Government had approved K225 million for four different sections to be rehabilitated in Simbu, Western Highlands and Southern Highlands provinces.
He said the scope of the project from Ialibu junction to Angura Bridge was tendered at a cost of K54.5 million.
According to a brief by Works secretary properties within 40m road corridor (20m either side of the centreline of the road) were identified six years ago were valued by Office of Valuer-General.
Crops destroyed during the construction were counted by the Lands office.
The value of structural improvements is K9 million, value of crops destroyed is K18 million and because of the bad start of the programme in Simbu affected the verification in Western Highlands and Southern Highlands provinces.
Mr O’Neill told the people that no money had been released by the Finance Department for landowners as claimed by the people.
He said a team will be on the ground in an identification process of who had lost trees, houses, and gardens and urged people to cooperate and do the report within two weeks.
“The Government will not let you down, we will pay once verification is complete.” Mr O’Neill said.
He said the huge LNG project was coming that will bring much more benefit to the people of Southern Highlands and PNG.
Mr O’Neill than walked 100m to the Ialibu road junction, where he removed stones blocking the road and people immediately started clearing the road.