35 YEARS LATER, PAPUA NEW GUINEA STILL AT SQUARE ONE

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 15, 2010) - 9.30am, Sept 14: We are taking off in a south westerly direction from Jackson International Airport bound for Kagamuga in Western Highlands.

From here, we trek to Kerema in the Gulf before turning northeast and arrive at Kagamuga an hour from now.

The pilot expects the weather to be fine all the way but, at cruising altitude, we can expect some bumps.

The F28, with its pressurized cabin and speed, has made travel between our provinces a vastly comfortable experience to that of the old workhorses that were the DC3s in the days immediately prior to independence in 1975.

Then, it would take literally hours and the ride had more bumps and frights on the finest days than we are going to experience today, even if we were to fly into the eye of a hurricane.

In many ways, the people living on the land we are flying over just now – rural Central, Gulf, Southern Highlands, Enga and Western Highlands – continue to live in the age of the DC3.

Mothers die in labor, their child often dies with them or does not live past its fifth birthday; there is lack of medical services and, often, trained personnel to deliver them.

Government services are at a bare minimum.

Schools infrastructure are dilapidated and falling apart and the roads are in dire need of upgrading.

In another sense, the communities below us have been thrown into the age of the F100. Today, they can languish in the comfort of their homes and talk to their sons and daughters in distant parts of this land or any other place on earth in their own language. Modern telecommunications have ensured that.

Their sons and daughters now pilot the F100 we are flying in, and are engineers who fix this aircraft when it goes in for repairs. They even teach other nationalities to fly the latest commercial airliners coming on the market in distant parts of the globe.

They lecture at universities here and abroad and manage multinational corporations in distant lands.

We have changed governments often in the last 35 years, but never once at the point of a gun.

A difficult period in the nation’s journey was experienced between 1987 and 2001 in a civil strife on the island of Bougainville, which has seen much blood shed. We hope never to see this period repeated again.

That is behind us now and a new political creature, calling itself the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), has been created.

For now, it seems to have got off to a good start with a successful and peaceful election conducted early this year. What is to become of Bougainville and its 260,000 people is vested in the ABG. We entrust it to the wisdom of the men directing its destiny under the guiding hand of God to make decisions that will be in the best interest of the people of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.

While that tumultuous period is behind us, before us loom challenges of a different kind that will take the combined intellectual and managerial skills of our leadership to steer the ship of state. True, the future appears to have silver linings with a multitude of resource projects about to start up, led by the liquefied natural gas project.

There will be many billions of kina flowing into the country, but, will it be all good for the country?

Many other countries before us, and even our own experience since independence and all the other resource developments and the billions of kina in aid money, have shown us that big money, which is not managed properly, will not benefit the majority of our people.

The promise of new billions from the Liquefied Natural Gas and other projects currently in the offing must be viewed from this perspective. Unless properly managed, unless there is good governance and corruption is stymied, those billions might also over fly PNG.

Unless the money can be pumped to rejuvenate the rural industries such as agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry, and to value add to those projects through downstream processing, the bulk of the population might also lose out on the future billions as they have the past billions.

That is the challenge facing Papua New Guinea leaders and their people as we celebrate 35 years of independence tomorrow.

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