An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IT’S another Friday evening and a short distance away from our house a bass speaker can be heard pumping music at force into the airwaves.
The screams of drunken ecstasy and sound of beer bottles smashing on the road send shivers along our spine as we sense that trouble is just around the corner.
Since we moved into Erima settlement, we have witnessed several alcohol related fights mostly instigated by youths who decided to get a cheap high by drinking coffee punch and smoking weed.
Normally when these fights break out, the sound can be heard miles away: iron roofs and fences rattling with pelted stones and the splinter of beer bottles smashing at random.
So on Friday our family knows that the coming weekend will be agonisingly long for us as we have to weather the nuisance that starts early in the morning, peaks in the evening and continues until Sunday.
Friday reluctantly welcomes the weekend most of which will be occupied by drunkards roaming the streets causing trouble.
At other times drunken men and women can be heard chanting in unison and dancing to the tune of traditional songs. The first night we moved into Erima we found it difficult to sleep because of the deafening sound coming from our next door neighbour.
We were drowning in insanity as music, cranked up to an unbearable level, crowded out every scrap of peace and calmness. Fortunately, as time went by, we got used to it and now we largely ignore it altogether. We somehow became sound proof.
When our ears are not battered by alcohol-inspired noise our eyes are made sore by the sight of idle settlers clustered at a certain hideous location to conduct their gambling. Bingo and card playing are most common.
Old, young, youths, mothers and fathers engage in these activities. I often wish these gamblers, especially the kids, would develop similar concentration when in school. We would see many more students making it to higher levels of education. Yet it is true that, lacking the required resources to support their children, parents in settlements cannot help but watch as their kids’ bright future gets dimmer by the day.
In the community where I currently live, I noticed that people’s backward mindset is central to the lack of development. As a result, water was disconnected several years ago and the electrical current arrives but sluggishly.
The lack of such vital services has primarily been due to the community not showing real ownership. Settlers in my community generally don’t like the idea of spending money in order to access utilities, convinced that they should be provided freely by the state.
So they go through their days thinking and acting as if they are still back in the village. This also means a blatant disregard for the rule of law and unnecessarily penalises honest and hardworking ratepayers.
Recently a water committee was set up to take care of a common water tap. Users were required to pay a minimum fee of K15 per month to allow them to fetch water from the tap. It can be as high as K30 a month depending on the size of the family.
Given that I have a pretty large family that consists of my wife and son, two younger siblings, my parents, my sister, her husband and her son, I normally pay K15-20 per month.
We pay but most of the settlers don’t, assuming the committee is collecting the rent for its own personal use. Yet when they need water, they resort to the tap. The money goes on beer, music, drugs and gambling.
The paradox of most PNG settlement is that, although they have become safe havens for social disorder, politicians don’t have the courage to make hard decisions to deal with the problems.
It has been shown time and again that settlements play a major part in determining the outcome of general elections in urban constituencies. So even though they are a problem to development, getting rid of them is a political challenge.
In future this will become more evident as rapid rural-urban migration, the housing crisis and lack of state-owned land will increase the number of squatter settlements in Port Moresby. And they are very troubled places. Most of the unemployed labour force indulges in non-productive activities that add little benefit to the fabric of our country.
As the pace of development increases in cities like Port Moresby and Lae attracting more rural people to the bright lights, more beer will be consumed, the music will get louder, more youths will have their brains fried by marijuana and more kandis (card playing) will divert the idle.
This will accumulate to more social problems yet it is unlikely our politicians will be prepared to take a tougher stance on cleaning up these issues.
Instead, in an attempt to protect their electoral base, they will play things safe and nothing will change.
What we have then is a developmental paradox that will not need fancy policies and complicated laws but simple straight forward steps that a settler knows best.