An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IT has been raining in the last few days which has brought both blessings and curses with it.
Commuters along the Okuk Highway are negotiating potholes, overflows and landslips and relying on the skills and expertise of the driver to deliver them safely to their destinations.
Police have hidden from the rain so PMVs are not being randomly stopped and checked. A few drunken passengers thank the rain for keeping police off the road and raise their voices and talk in the PMV buses as if the person they converse with is deaf.
The rain has eaten many parts of the Okuk Highway, breaking apart the pavement. Highlands MPs who take time to travel along the highway may observe this. But probably not.
Preoccupied with thoughts of the luxury at the next hotel, they travel in hire cars and rarely pay attention to the deteriorating road.
PMV commuters don’t care whether the Okuk Highway deteriorates or not because no matter how bad the highway it is nothing compared to their own roads.
People are used to landslips and mudslides that tear away half the road. They travel on open-backed four wheel drives on the steep, slippery and muddy roads.
They almost peel the paint off the vehicles with their fingers attempting to gain a firm grip to avoid falling off the tray in those savage road conditions.
Regular road users grow blisters on their palms travelling regularly on such bad roads. An elderly driver from the Bari tribe in Kerowagi who drove me to town commented that the road had been in good shape but in recent days had deteriorated to a point where passengers had to take a hard grip to beat the uncontrollable twists and turns.
Some decided to jump off the back and walk, jumping on again when it was safe to travel.
Such is the everyday battle for rural road users. It seems district and provincial road authorities are extinct.
Local Level Government presidents and councillors don’t seem to know their duties. Their long absences from the ward makes people think their only duty statement is to hang around the provincial capital on borrowed money.
It all boils down to the rural populace not knowing who is responsible to fix their roads.
Some MPs have bought machines to construct and maintain existing roads in districts. However, we have not heard any success stories.
The electors don’t know where the machines have gone since the elections, in particular in electorates where MPs lost their seats.
There are also cases where money earmarked for construction and maintenance of roads has been redirected for political convenience and, even if work is done, it is substandard and no-one seems to care.
It is a blessing in disguise that money earmarked for construction of new roads has been redirected elsewhere because people have fewer expectations without a road. With a new road they would only watch it deteriorate.
There are some cases where people are asked to maintain the road themselves using spades, bushknives and crowbars and village based thieves, trusted by politicians of course, pay them some cash from bags.
The last government paid five times for the people in my ward to maintain the road and each time the thief took a hefty cut for himself.
One or two people in the know branded him a thief and liar but were outnumbered by the overwhelmingly illiterate and unknowledgeable population.
The road they built has deteriorated to a point where it is now useful for a wheelbarrow.
The people have alienated themselves from the road passing through their tribal land to a point where they think maintaining it is the work of the government and they want to be paid to fix the government’s road.
They do not understand that the road links them to the rest of the world.