HEALTH AND EDUCATION services provided by the Catholic Church in Western Highlands and Jiwaka Provinces are facing an unprecedented level of interference from traditional landowners, says Archbishop Douglas Young (pictured), head of Catholic Education and Health for the Archdiocese of Mount Hagen.
Archbishop Young said landowners are threatening obstruction of access to these services unless they are paid large amounts of money by the State.
“These groups feel their concerns are not being listened to by Lands Department authorities and the only way for them to attract attention is to disrupt the provision of services, with consequent threats to the safety of those who have a right to make use of these services,” he said.
Landowners of the Andapang Karerem tribe in Jiwaka threaten to block access to all services in Fatima - primary, secondary and vocational schools, the Good Shepherd Seminary, Callan Services for the Disabled, the health clinic and also the church.
They estimate the value of what the church is providing in Fatima at K13 million and believe the State should “compensate” them for this amount.
Archbishop Young expressed regret that these long-standing matters have not yet been resolved.
“These services, and those who need them, appear to be caught in a struggle between the high expectations of the landowners and the incapacity of the State to deal with the burgeoning compensation industry,” he said.
He reaffirmed the desire of the Archdiocese to honour its side of the original covenant made with the landowners who gifted their land to the church.
“We want to continue to do our best to preach the gospel through our religious, educational, and health activities,” Archbishop Young said.
“If it becomes unsafe to do so in an environment of threat and intimidation by a minority group that the majority is unable to control, then these services will have to be closed until such time as the threat is removed.
“While understanding the frustration of landowners who spend large amounts of money in pursuit of an elusive dream, I regret that innocent students, mothers and children are being used as bargaining chips in a dispute that does not concern them.”