LAST year I was invited to join the Sepik Region development discussion forum on Facebook.
Over the past few months we have discussed many topics and I have had many wonderful reunions with past school students or with their children or their surviving relatives.
A subject of recent robust discussion has been the proposed oil palm scheme in Yangoru-Saussia, an area I knew well when I was teaching there during 1971-74.
This area had produced hundreds of some of the cleverest people in PNG who left to work in all sorts of jobs over the past 40 years and helped Michael Somare establish an independent country.
It is disappointing that the local representative, Richard Maru, PNG’s Minister for Trade, Commerce and Industry, has not been participating. Sepik people from all over PNG and around the world have been joining in and discussing the oil palm project in a heated way.
I read that Richard Maru was fine to fly into the region on a helicopter with Peter O’Neill and “big time” it with all the locals, who turned out to watch in awe.
Many of these people live in the Yangoru area and have had only a limited education and, on an EM-TV news report of the visit, I noticed that when Maru announced his plans there seemed to be a limited amount of cheering.
The area Maru represents has plenty of problems including malnutrition and it needs revenue-producing activity, but is it a good idea to turn it into one of Wilmar’s huge oil palm plantations (it will be the largest in the world) and get these people to become labourers?
Maru and O’Neill seem to think so. But to many people, including myself, it appears to be one of those huge land grabs where innocent village people become landless peasants and who have their lives dominated by a large multinational company. Their entire village life ruined.
One of the forum participants, Margaret Vivili, who I knew as a child in Yangoru back in the 1970s and is studying education at Wellington University in New Zealand, has been discussing the matter with Benjamin Kedoga who has been working in the area for the NBC.
Benjamin had been reporting on the improvement in services that he had noted in the Yangoru area. Margaret and others felt Benjamin was trying to stand up for Maru.
At the moment Maru’s name is ‘mud’ to educated Sepiks, and there are plans to hold meetings in Port Moresby and Lae in the near future.
The Facebook forum is a most useful tool. The Sepiks are great debaters. I just pray that the government will listen to theme and act wisely in regard to what is to happen in the Yangoru-Saussia area.
If the government does not enter into dialogue with the educated elite of Yangoru-Saussia, there may not be a happy outcome.
There are other would-be politicians waiting in the wings to replace Maru and already some of his onetime supporters are secretly working against him.
It looks as those this conflict will escalate unless there is some sensible resolution.