PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 31, 2008) - It’s getting to be a major worry for the Highlands and the nation’s economy, the way the major highway is getting disrupted so often.

Yet again, the Highlands (Okuk) Highway has been split. Travelers were stranded on both sides of a 30-meter collapse of the road between Kundiawa and Mount Hagen at the weekend.

The major trouble was at Tine Creek, about 20 kilometers from Kundiawa, but there was another problem with land falling away at Mindima, on the same side of Kundiawa.

All this happened only 24 hours after the visit of Works and Transport Minister Don Polye, who had made the effort to tour much of the highway with the aim of forming opinions on alternative routes of the road.

The engineer cum politician has taken some firm steps and has already spoken of aid money being ready to fund at least one alternative route, from Unggai to Chuave. A lot of locals and people in the transport industry would suggest the part of the highway between Kundiawa and Wahgi is just as pressing.

It is well known that the highway is built on terrain that is, geologically speaking, very young and unstable. It was not the best place to build a highway which is meant to support so much traffic and such great weights. Now we have major resource projects on the western end of the highway, relying on shipments of machinery and supplies to keep them going.

But the authorities cannot guarantee year-round safe traffic on the road. Let us hope that the politicians are given frank and solid opinions and estimates by the engineers and designers so that any major improvements are made to last. Our economy cannot stand the financial burdens imposed by loans, even if they are relatively cheap, if the jobs do not last for much longer periods than past efforts.

It doesn’t matter how much gold and oil is found in those mountains, if the supply line cannot be guaranteed, such ventures will have major question-marks hanging over them when hard-nosed financiers are putting together investment proposals.

From the grassroots point of view, the people of Papua New Guinea will want to know that our Budget money is being spent wisely. The choices of alternative routes must be assessed thoroughly and on non-political bases. We don’t want vote-catching quick fixes, we want permanent solutions.

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