ENGA - Papua New Guinea wastes unaccounted for billions of kina when projects are abandoned after the members of parliament who initiated them lose their seats in elections.
This is not to mention projects that are completely destroyed or abandoned due to tribal warfare, criminal activity or excessive compensation demands.
Another burner of public funds are contractors paid at inflated rates who abandon projects midway and abscond with the money.
After each election the newly-elected leaders selfishly join in when they ignore the incomplete projects left behind by their predecessors as if they were latrine pits in the backyard.
They don’t give a damn about the millions of kina in public funds used to start the projects. After all, the projects were not their idea.
The new mob go ahead to start their own projects, hoping to claim credit for themselves, paving the way for the vicious cycle of waste to continue.
Nobody in Waigani seems to care, no questions in parliament, nor in the bureaucracy, nor in the media….
There is no shortage of abandoned projects scattered right across Papua New Guinea. Enga Province has its share of incomplete structures left to decay.
Kandep Rural Police Station at Lakis village on the turn-off to Wage is a rejected project started by Jimson Sauk and left to decay when he was defeated by Don Polye in the 2002 national elections.
The people of Lakis can be excused for making use of the eight permanent buildings intended for police. They have used them as their private homes for the last 16 years.
Jimson Sauk also initiated the nearby Murip high altitude rice project with help from the Chinese government. It was destroyed during more recent election violence between Don Polye and Alfred Manasseh supporters. Only skeletons of machines and twisted iron posts remain.
Another rural police station which stands abandoned is at Mapumanda village in Laiagam District. It was one of many multimillion kina projects Philip Kikala initiated soon after he defeated Opis Papo in 2002.
When Kikala lost to Dickson Mangape in 2012, many of his projects are now desolate - the Rural Development Bank building in Laiagam town, Correctional Institution staff houses, Mamale Technical Institute, Laiagam Hydro Power Project and the chicken factory at Aiyak village are just some.
In 2017, Kikala contested the Lagaip Porgera seat again hoping to revive the projects but his luck was still bad. Not long after, he was jailed for seven years after the national court found him guilty of misappropriating public funds.
One wonders if this punishment would have been dished out if he had won the 2012 and the 2017 elections. It raises the question of just how many leaders cover their tracks and pretend they were always operating in the public interest – until they’re caught?
Many examples of incomplete projects abound in Wabag District since Sam Abal lost the seat in 2012. Some of the most notable are the state-of-the-art Wabag Town Market, a vegetable marketing depot and a multi-million kina chicken factory aimed at putting money into the pockets of village people.
The chicken factory was established at a cost of over K23 million. The construction was supervised by experts from New Zealand company McAlpine that was supplying freezers capable of holding 80,000 tonnes of product.
The factory was going to process 1,000 chickens an hour, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year. The freezer room was capable of holding 20,000 processed chickens.
Up to 6,000 people were registered with the Investment Promotion Authority to farm chickens as a business. Bank accounts were opened for all of them.
The chicken factory was entirely dependent on a good road network. So K7 million was set aside to build trunk and feeder roads to enable farmers in outlying villages to get their chickens to the factory.
A further K3 million was spent on the Maramuni road to enable people to bring low altitude fruit, vegetables and spices to sell at the vegetable marketing depot.
A new government station was being built at Lakolam, where beginning in the 1970s a tribal war had scattered the people. Construction of a new police station, Department of Primary Industry office and health centre were underway. The people began to resettle there and continue to live in peace today.
But the Lakolam government station and all the other projects started by Sam Abal remain incomplete. Abandoned and rejected for five years and still counting.
For many years Sam Abal was at the very top of government – for a time as acting prime minister. He saw that village people were ignored and trampled on by politicians who he said only aimed for resource projects to grab what they could to enrich themselves.
He warned in 2012 that it was time to rescue PNG from greed and widespread corruption. The projects he initiated were aimed to ensure that grassroots people had money in their pockets earned through their own hard work. He wanted to see the people enjoy life and eradicate poverty through the projects he initiated.
He had accumulated the funds to build the Wabag projects from national and district support grants, some of which he said were very hard to establish. He encountered many obstacles, mostly bureaucratic red tape to get them off the ground.
He realised that prosperity and happiness would come only if there was peace. So he introduced his popular ‘Lusim Gun, Holim Sapol’ [drop the gun, grab the spade] policy. At the time, there were 18 clans engaged in tribal warfare in Wabag alone. Hundreds of people had died and property worth millions of kina had been destroyed.
Peace returned and people enjoyed harmony for seven years during which they took ownership of the law and order policy and embraced it tightly.
This unprecedented period without warfare also ensured uninterrupted classes in Wabag schools, which remained open all year round. This led to other great benefits. Some 3,000 students from 21 primary schools participated freely in the popular schools soccer tournament.
All aid posts, health centres and hospitals in Wabag were open and the people had easy access to services and medicine.
Abal predicted that when the natural gas project began production in 2014, the economy of PNG would explode and so would prices. As a result people who were not prepared would be forced below the poverty line. To avoid this, Abal wanted them to raise chickens and plant vegetables so they would benefit from the boom.
“That’s why I am slowly but surely building Wabag with steel and concrete laying a solid economic foundation that is firm and secure based on education and agriculture for the sustenance of future generations,” he said at the time.
However, he must have sensed that he might lose his seat when he added: “If elections can be won based on performance, respect, honesty and personal character I would be returned to parliament unopposed like the people of Wabag did to my late father in 1968.”
The late Sir Tei Abal, one of the founding fathers of PNG was sent to parliament by a Wabag local government council resolution. He was re-elected twice more with an absolute majority until he died of a stroke in 1994.
Sam Abal, former acting prime minister, realised that the era in which his father had been in politics was different. Back then, people selected quality leaders. Anyway, despite his efforts, Abal lost the seat to Robert Ganim. He unsuccessfully recontested it in 2017.
And so the multi-million kina projects he and others initiated continue to stand silently like the mysterious moai figures of Easter Island.
But, unlike the moai, these relics remind us each day of what might have been.