The Okuk Highlands Highway is a disaster. It features horrific road conditions and very unfriendly bystanders.
There has been a population explosion over the past 2-3 decades and, to many rural youths (and seniors, for that matter), the highway is their only chance of income, i.e., looting vehicles, pot-hole creation gangs and deliberate sabotage by redirecting streams to cause landslides and blockages.
Since the announcement by the national government of its intention to have a Chinese loan finance a K6 billion remake, there has been a mad rush to erect stalls, trade stores, fences, gardens etc in an effort to get paid compensation.
And, if it is anything like the Simbu buy-back, the people will get paid if they agree to share some of the proceeds with the government officers making the pay-out.
It is time the PNG government showed some backbone and regained ownership of the Okuk Highway. The entire road from Lae wharf to the LNG project area should be declared a disaster zone with special police powers given to mobile squads to bring it back under control.
A national advertising campaign should be launched to inform anyone who builds within the 40 metre corridor (i.e., 20 metres either side of the centre line) is trespassing on government property and will be charged.
The owners of illegal gardens and buildings should be given 30 days’ notice to be remove them or they will be destroyed without compensation.
It is rather ironic the national government can boast about its intention to vapourise K1 billion for the 2015 South Pacific Games where the only real winners from this will be the usual clique of Moresby insiders.
The sad state of the Okuk Highway and the added costs of looting and other crime is being paid for daily by the millions of highlanders who depend on the road as their only source of goods and access to market for their produce.
Yes, the highway needs an urgent makeover, however some thought should be given to the locals along its length to be included in the spin-offs.
This could be done by giving them minor maintenance contracts (wok-mak) and also security contracts.
The volume of traffic along the highway has probably increased by more than 100%, however the highlands mummas are still washing their kaukau, pikininis and second-hand clothes in the gutters as the million kina rigs roar past.
The highway is a problem far too great for an NGO or any other "do good" organisation. We need a SWAT Squad.