LEONARD FONG ROKA | Supported by the Jeff Febi Writing Fellowship
Neatly lined on either side of the road are swaying mango trees and areca nut palms that catch my breath, because I am a chewer.
I bumped into this place on a recent wet Friday with other Year 3 course mates from Divine Word University.
We were there to search for the peoples’ perceptions and experiences of community development and their willingness to undertake development.
For more than 30 years we have being independent, they said, so the government should bring development to us.
Our driver brought us to the section of the ward they call Baur village. I learned later that Ward 17 LLG was made up of two villages, Baur and Bilbil (the latter newcomers to the area so they don’t own much customary land).
The ward has its own primary school and a steady supply of electricity, but to connect a household needs the money to pay the bills to PNG Pawa.
We were ushered by a leader into a semi-permanent house of low standard. Surrounding it, at almost hand’s reach, were sago-thatched huts, a poorly constructed poultry pen on a muddy lawn and a lone skinny woman who kept an eye on me from one of the Stone Age shelters, her unkempt child regularly interrupting her concentration on the dialogue.
The gathered elders all complained that, apart from the feeder road, the primary school and the electricity grid line stretching through their midst, there was no government service for them.
“The government proposes development projects here but they do not execute those promises,” one leader said.
“NGOs you know of in Madang are also like the government, they come to Baur to show off and tell us of projects like water and off they go. We run after them but they will not be bothered by our presence in their office.”
I concluded from this discussion that, despite the said economic boom of Madang, the provincial administration lacks efficiency and effectiveness in it service delivery.
“Madang district administration has only a single car,” another leader said, confirming my thought, “and that is a problem when it wants to broaden its reach to the whole of Madang.”
When our team questioned him further, he added: “In Madang, we hear of money being delivered to the province but we do not know where that money ends up.”
Community development always involves self-help but the Baur people did not seem to have the have a vision to strive towards nor the will to advance their standard of living or initiate development.
To them, from youth to leaders, development is the government’s business. The government has the money and thus has to help them. The government has to build toilets, water supplies, houses, even maintain their run-down schools and churches. These were government responsibilities because they had voted them in just for that.
My eyes ached as they searched for the truth of why the indigenous people here could not attain advancement on their own land. The family houses were of bush materials; some with cartons for walls; others with blue canvass; many were deteriorated.
A younger man told me, “As natives of Madang, we do not have the freedom to claim ownership of any development in this province.”
He pointed out that between them and Madang town there are strange settlers from the Sepik and the Highlands and many others that prevail. They feel their freedom is suppressed and that their minds cannot be broadened.
I thought of the belittlement, relegation and exploitation that have come into play in this province that hosts a few of PNG’s mining boom stories.
Since arriving here in 2011, I have seen the Madang people as some of highly affected by the influx of people from other provinces.
The businesses in the filthy Madang town are controlled by outsiders and, topping the list and also increasing in dominance, are Asians. Every shop I walk into in Madang is owned by an Asian whilst the locals are the shop assistants.
I laughed last year when I saw an Asian company building DWU dormitories with Asian sub-contractors. The gods might have escaped from Madang.
The locals live in poverty often subject to the mercy of outsiders. Just last month I walked into an Asian restaurant outside DWU and there, as I peeped behind the counter, I glimpsed an Asian man caressing a local girl’s thigh. When he saw me, the Asian man jumped up to serve me.
I concluded the girl had no choice but to succumb, since you are a nobody when your world has been conquered by aliens.
The Baur people are not sick people but it is the PNG version of democracy that is killing them from being innovative.
In PNG’s democracy there sprouts a corruption that will is killing PNG.
This requires the government to rethink and reshape what democracy should be in PNG.
My people of Bougainville were the only people that used the barrel of the gun to walk out of this dirty PNG democratic culture.
As a result we have more control over our land and we have the right to decide our future.