Finding yourself
PNG bans Australians from travelling to Bougainville

PNG's settlements - beer, loud music, drugs & gambling


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.


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Busa Jeremiah Wenogo

Bomai, I agree with your assertion that children who grew up in these sorts of environments will end up becoming a problem to their parents.

It is something I see happening to other kids within the area that I live in and other settlements throughout Port Moresby and other parts of the country.

In a place like Port Moresby, where land and housing are a major problem, citizens who wished to escape from these sort of socially challenging environments do not have the flexibility to do so.

It is sad to see that very little is done to address the plight of genuine law abiding residents/citizens who are often at the mercy of lawless and no-care community.

Bomai D Witne

Jeremiah, most current MPs think, talk and possess cheap behavior. They are scared of making unpopular decisions that will make them even more unpopular then they were before entering Politics. Parkop's Betelnut ban policy is an unpopular policy that makes Parkop unpopular among betel nut growers and sellers but he didn't care. We need more Parkops to join him to clean NCD.

From another front, your children are growing up in the midst of the situations you described in your article and they will be influenced by them in a big way. This is where children of educated parents are influenced by the environment and peers to become notorious alcoholics and social nuisance. It is a challenge that all parents will have to deal with while raising children in urban and peri-urban centers.

Busa Jeremiah Wenogo

Francis, people in the settlement where I live have been progressing through life with or without the knowledge of the politicians.

In fact, for many years and even now, politicians are well aware of the problems but, typical of them, nothing has been forthcoming.

In fact the settlement is located close to the city and accessible by road that one cannot miss seeing the folks literally surviving on scraps. This is unfortunately the case in other settlements as well.

Recently, there have been efforts to organise the community into groups to try and negotiate for services to be brought into the community but results have been been mixed.

While there are signs of progress in terms of infrastructure, the social aspects of the problem are losing grip with reality (that we are living in the city).

There is also a need for politicians to be united in addressing issues relating to settlements in the cities. For instance, NCDC may have other plans for Erima Settlement compared to Hon Labi Amaiu, its political leader. Both need to say the same thing and that has to be conveyed to the people.

On the other hand there is a need for a concerted effort between the community and the govenrment to address most of the problems occurring with the settlements.

Both sides should clearly know their responsbilities and must work towards ensuring that settlements are peaceful for everyone to live in.

Phil, internal migration for the purpose of labour transfer to certain economically active regions of the city or country to address settlement issue is not a bad idea, although as you you've said it may come at a huge cost to the government.

However, times have also changed and I think it is time for the private sector to include housing as a condition of employment .

The government can support this effort by allocating titled land to these private firms. I believe the ongoing National Housing Program led by the Office of National Urbanisation may be a component in that.

Corney Korokan Alone

With the advent of the National Identity Card Project, the days of so-called block voting will become history as only legitimate voters gets their chance to cast their votes - and do this once unlike the multiple times they have been doing this for some extra cartons of beer and lamb flaps.

The "marimari or sometimes revenge capital" that the settlement people have banked on to mesh up the fair electoral process for aspiring and/or established politicians is cracking and its days are numbered.

Come 2017 the national elections, only voters with National ID Cards will vote.

Phil Fitzpatrick

The settlements are the 'elephant in the room' for Port Moresby.

Back in the 1960s and 70s the Australian administration had a 'turn back the boats' policy with regards to squatters but it didn't work because of the overwhelming tide.

The other method they used was resettlement. That is how some of the big oil palm projects on New Britain etc. got going.

It was a problem in most of the big towns back then too. Mt Hagen, Goroka and Lae especially had problems.

I suspect that resettlement might have to occur in Mosbi soon. Moving people out to new satellite suburbs.

That's expensive if it is to be done properly with good planning and the building of infrastructure like transport and facilities.

It probably needs to be done now before the problem gets out of hand.

It would be best done by local firms employing people out of the settlements rather than bringing in some big company like they are doing around Napa Napa.

Francis Nii

Busa, I suggest you don't wait for the politicians to come to you to solve your problems. Maybe they don't know your problems at Erima.

Get yourselves organised and go to them and let them know what your community at Erima wants. Bring to them your problems and desires for change. Then they might be able to help.

This simply means communicating and understanding each another and may entail tangible changes.

Most social problems like drunken brawls, gambling etc are created by man and it can be changed but needs community leaders with wisdom to take appropriate initial steps.

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