By ERIC PIET
MARTHA Kopi Aino was over the moon at the turn of this month when the women’s association that she heads as president got the backing of the Government. Her group was duly recognised as a conduit through which proceeds from the mine will be channeled to the women, including children and youth, who have left their homes 30 years ago for the gold-rich valley’s allure, with their offspring now calling Porgera home.
As pen went to paper on June 4, 2021, inking the blessing of the Department for Community Development and Religion on the association’s half-decade development plan (2020 – 2024), acting Secretary Jerry Ubase’s gesture had rendered president Aino speechless.During the interview for this piece she initially struggled to string words together as she was overcome by ecstasy. Her grim hope resulting from numerous turndowns by the previous regime had been lifted by this single encounter.
“Thank God for your foresight in approving and endorsing our association at the national level; unlike with the previous regime we were misunderstood and turned down on many occasions, but we just came to you yesterday and here we have the endorsement letter. God bless your leadership,” a joyous Aino acknowledged Secretary Ubase.
Aino’s tears of joy, which represented the euphoria of the 1,000-plus members of the Porgera Resident Women’s Association (PRWA) whose membership comprises 32 subgroups, with 30 belonging to a cluster led by its own leader. The occasion seemed to have signaled the end to the era of the infamous amateur illegal mining and a leap on a bandwagon of mutual conduct of legit business via a recognised mechanism – the association.
“The association comprises of an estimated 95 per cent non-local women. They have migrated to and lived in Porgera Valley for more than 20 or 30 years.
“It is mainly the non-Porgerans, the women, men, youth, and children that engage in illegal mining to make ends meet, with consequential social ills in the valley.
“We are concerned for the lives and welfare of these people who get into conflict with the law, thus, it is the aspiration of this association to get these people engaged in something more meaningful and worthwhile than illegal racketeering,” the president said. Her concern is mainly for the illegal miners, who are the majority in the association membership.
She added that her management team was determined to bring desired attitude change and implement honest ways of living and conducting business based on sheer hard work through the programmes and activities that they would soon be embarking on.
Although registered and incorporated with the PNG Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) in 2015 after its inception the year before by the Porgera resident women, the association was actually the brainchild of the Department for Community Development and Religion. The department helped the community-based association get the finer points articulated in a five-year development plan that provides a realistic forward-looking framework plan of action from 2020 – 2024 by utilising its Policy Planning and Monitoring officers as well as engaging an external consultant.
It was an encounter in 2016 during the National Women’s Forum in Port Moresby that paved the way for President Aino to get directions from the former department secretary Anna Bais leading to the drafting of a well-articulated and structured development plan, which for some reasons had not earned the endorsement of the then secretary, until recently.
The plans charted in the association’s development framework are both realistic and achievable, and most importantly are priority key result areas (KRAs) that stem from the Government’s existing policies and frameworks such as the Alotau Accord II, with alignments to the national constitution, the Enga Provincial Government’s plans, Vision 2050, DSP 2010-2030, and the Medium Term Development Plan (MTDP III), as well as the lower level government plans.
The 2020 – 2024 PRWA framework plan, developed with an overarching policy of “alleviating Porgera women’s poverty and restoring their dignity through economic empowerment” has six priority areas to get what it takes to realise in five years the above stated overall policy goal, which include, with their connection to the MTDP KRAs: Improve governance and development of PRWA (KRA 8); empower Porgera women in economic empowerment (KRA 1); encourage and strengthen partnership and networking (KRA 3); promote agricultural sustainability and management (KRA 3); promote economic development and sustainability – SME (KRA7); and strengthen and improve cross-cutting issues (KRA 8).
Aino believes that the association can become a major supplier of fresh produce, poultry, meat and fish products to the Porgera mine when it establishes its members in agricultural farming, livestock husbandry, and inland fish farming.
Trade stores and clothing shops are considered fast business in the golden valley mining township, as such some subgroups will be engaged in those areas.
PRWA only awaited the endorsement from the national level to kick start its operation as it has already solicited strong backing at the sub-national level from Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas and Lagaip-Porgera MP Tomait Kapili, both of whom have pledged their support as long as the association’s development plans harmonised with provincial and the district plans.
Speaking during the endorsement of PRWAI, Secretary Ubase said although the department did not hand out grants to such organisations except to churches through their head offices, he however, pledged a little assistance in his discretion to the PRWA for being a model association at the community level.
“We (department) will give a little funding to support you when funds are available. Although, we do not give grants to such organisations as this, I am convinced that your organisation exists to support women, children and youth so we will support you in a little way,” said Ubase.
“I encourage communities to organise like this at village level and request for assistance, and we will give if we have funds.
“Do not expect to receive from the Government when you are not organised, so help yourselves first by organising like PRWA and government will give necessary help.”
Should an invitation be made to the department in any wise for support, Ubase told Aino, it shall be extended to the sister agencies such as National Youth Development Authority, National Office of Child and Family Services, Office of Censorship, National Narcotics Bureau in order to render possible help.
On June 4, Prime Minister James Marape flew on a chopper to Porgera, Enga, to hand over the framework agreement for reopening of the mine to the landowners at the Paiam Oval.
On the same day in Port Moresby at the ‘Big Blue Sambra Haus’, the Department for Community Development and Religion acting Secretary Jerry Ubase put pen to paper endorsing at the national level the PRWA development plan.
As it stands, I am convinced that their keenness and drive to partake in mining and mine-related enterprises through the association in conjunction with the national and the Enga governments, is not only an answer to women and youth economic empowerment and poverty reduction, but can also eliminate the infamous illegal mining and law and order issues in the valley. For the organisation belongs to illegal miners.
And this gospel must reverberate to all corners of Papua New Guinea that ‘Golden Valley’ will never be the same again!
- Eric Piet works with the Department for Community Development and Religion.