PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Feb. 17) – What is going on with the Papua New Guinea Works Department when we have major closures of the Highlands Highway routinely?

The latest example is the flooding of the highway at Aviamp, a major tea and coffee growing area of the Western Highlands, less than half an hour drive from Mount Hagen.

On Wednesday, there was a sign of the problem, a ditch about 20 metres long stretching from one side of the road to the other with big depressions full of water. Cars and trucks could pass through, but only in low gear and moving gently.

Overnight, rain fell steadily though not tumultuously. At some stage during the night, the highway flooded and an area about 100 meters long was covered in water.

The result?

Semi-trailers, fuel tankers, four-wheel-drives, PMV buses and village utilities were all stranded out there.

The rain had stopped by the morning, but the water was not receding quickly. Traffic banked up on both sides and the major economic artery for the Highlands and Lae was blocked. The police were there, controlling traffic.

Yet there was no sign of the department that is supposed to keep that and other roads open, the Works Department.

Stranded travellers say such disruptions, through landslips and flooding, are common to the extent of happening almost every week or fortnight.

One side-effect is that some of the local people in these areas are benefiting in criminal ways. Some demand money from people to pass through.

Others victimise the truckers and steal their cargo. If we continue to let this sort of thing happen, we are just letting the young people of these areas think that they can make a living from other people’s misfortune.

They will have one more reason to abandon their parents’ occupation of growing crops for their own and cash use. Why work hard when we can sit beside the road and hijack stranded people’s cargo?

The Works Department is headed by a man from the Highlands, Alphonse Niggins. We would like to hear what he has to say about the apparent absence of his department’s staff from this disaster scene at Aviamp yesterday.

We would also like to hear his thoughts on what has happened to his department’s proud tradition of being on the scene of such infrastructure collapses with men and machines to quickly solve the problems.

Why have people along the Highlands Highway become so accustomed to such road troubles and to the fact that they are not quickly fixed by the Works Department. Questions that beg answers.

February 20, 2006

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier: www.postcourier.com.pg/

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