PNG HARD PRESSED WITHOUT RELIABLE ELECTRICITY

Editorial

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 17) – Yesterday, there was a plaintive protest from Helen Seeto, an embattled businesswoman in distant Namatani.

Ms Seeto told The National that the town has been without power for some weeks.

Rose-coloured glasses are not needed to state one undeniable fact - in colonial times, Namatanai had power.

Further, Ms Seeto claims that if funds are not found to rectify the situation immediately, it could continue at least until December, then the New Year period, and possibly beyond.

How is the business community supposed to rise to the bait of "an export driven economic revival" when small struggling townships like Namatanai are literally left in the dark? 

Rather than a township that hums along on agricultural exports from the rich hinterland, it is far more likely that many a business will simply shut up shop and retreat to greener pastures elsewhere.

It is a grim scenario.

Not only is there no power, but small businesses are beset with unrealistic tax demands and constant criticism over their prices. 

Nobody bothers to calculate how much these businesses in turn pay in transport costs, and suppliers charges for the goods they sell.

Far from the massive profits of fantasy, imagined by most of the population, many of these out of the way businesses are barely able to keep their doors open.

Decaying infrastructure - appalling roads, unkempt airfields and collapsed bridges, for example - make trading in these situations a nightmare, and a thankless and profitless task.

And because of the continually increasing level of transport charges, whether by road, sea or air, profit margins have been whittled to almost nothing.

Yesterday in Madang, the power to the seaside resort was cut four times before 1.30pm.

Our attempts to find out why, by ringing the Madang Power Station, were met initially with silence followed by the phone being slammed down. 

It seems that Power PNG feels no sense of responsibility towards the paying customer, and no concern whatever for the impossible situation businesses in the town encounter on a daily basis.

Glib remarks that every business should run a generator are hollow consolation for a small businessman, generally a Papua New Guinean, who quite simply cannot afford to buy one.

It is nothing short of disgraceful that here in the capital, consumers are invariably kept in the picture by paid advertisements from the power people, explaining the cause of the latest outage.

In addition, as we have commented upon before, a most courteous staff mans the after hours telephone, and is always prepared to estimate when power will be restored, and give the reasons for the outage.

Not so in the styx.

People in any of this nation's provincial towns who happen to suffer a major power shortage are treated with contemptuous silence, and no attempt is made to justify the frequent blackouts.

We wonder if Power PNG has ever tried to work with a computer while the power flashes on and off, or if the management has had to foot the bill for a wrecked water pump, an exploded washing machine, a blacked-out television, a ruined music-deck, a burned-out fan switch and a replacement for a cooked modem, all in the space of three weeks.

We have.

At 8.20pm last night, and at this point during the writing of this editorial, the power once again went off, and did not come back until 9.03pm.

That was the seventh power failure for the day.

Ms Seeto is right to question how the national government can find an estimated K150,000 to investigate a ridiculous hoax, but not find one toea to connect a viable and long-standing town, its residents and business people to a reliable source of power.

Namatanai is a long way indeed from being the only small town in PNG that suffers from endemic power failures.

Madang, as we have noted, is another, and many a Highlands and Sepik town has been without power for weeks, and in some cases years.

Power PNG cannot pose as the reliable and monopolistic supplier of energy to this country if it cannot come up with the goods.

The national government should intervene and exercise leadership in this deplorable situation.

October 17, 2003

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

 

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