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Corrupt & selfish politics: How billions are lost on trashed projects

Abandoned Murip rice project in Kandep
The twisted remains of the abortive Murip high altitude rice project initiated by ex MP Jimson Sauk

DANIEL KUMBON

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.

People sell produce at roadside with the derelict framework behind
People sell produce by the roadside, the framework of the abandoned market in the background

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?

Chicken factory at Pawas
The proposed K22 million chicken factory at Pawas - from transformational project to useless relic

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.

Sam Abal meeting leaders at Lakolam
Then deputy prime minister Sam Abal meets leaders at Lakolam where a new government station was meant to be built - peace came but prosperity didn't

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.

Comments

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Max Phin

This is stunning! The regulatory machinery of the Government and the Provincial Government has failed the people of Enga?

By the look of things, all these stolen monies are being invested in and indirectly developing other centres outside of Enga which is very sad indeed.


Daniel Kumbon

Fr Roche, Mr Homingu is indeed a good college administrator. He came when Enga Teacher's College started and he's been here since.

But it's the students who are to blame. They should be honest if they are to become good teachers in the field. They can't cheat the system and expect to promote quality education in the country.

183 students, that's half the student population, were terminated outright when they enrolled themselves with stamped BSP bank deposit slips showing their full K2,500 tuition fees fully paid.

A fish starts to stink from its head. The students are at the tail end.

Garry Roche

Daniel, sorry to hear about the trouble at Enga Teachers College. The Principal there, Mr. Michael Homingu, I remember as a good and dedicated staff and acting principal at HTTC (Hagen) teachers college years ago. We hope there were no serious injuries.

Daniel Kumbon

A 'Good News Week' is a good idea. My cuttings file is thick with negative stories. I don't like it.

But I can't write a positive story. Right now there is turmoil at the new Enga Teachers College. Police had to be rushed over to stop a fight between staff and students.

College property was destroyed and some staff and students were injured. How serious, I am not sure. Its raining now and I can't go there to find out.

The Provincial Education Board terminated many students after they had cheated the system to enrol themselves by providing fake deposit slips. The principal found out when there was an imbalance in the accounts in relation to the number of students enrolled.

Some were final year students. This practice may have been going on for the last couple of years. Police were called in last week to investigate. The fight started today when the termination notices were given.

So there you have it Paul, how do you think I can write a positive story when I seem to be operating in hell? Maybe there are positive stories in other parts of this beautiful nation or region.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The massive scale of wastage by failed politicians in Enga, as reported by friend and trusted veteran journalist, Daniel Kumbon, is simply stunning.

If similar wastage has occurred in the other province, and there’s no reason to believe it hasn’t, just imagine how catastrophic this has been for Papua New Guinea.

And yet, as Daniel reports, nobody seems to care, least of all the successive governments that provided the funds in the first place.

Shaking my head at these unbelievable revelations I then watched a theatrical press conference held by lawyer Paul Paraka, to announce his plan to sue his way through a slew of politicians and public servants for an incredible amount of money ostensibly for the loss of reputation and income caused by questionable government legal practises.

While my opinion of lawyers and politicians has plumbed new depths I couldn’t help but feel for the ordinary people of Papua New Guinea.

Those ordinary people taught me a lot when I was a kiap and in the years afterwards. One of those things was the abhorrence of greed and unnecessary wastage.

As a young kiap conducting patrols into remote areas I often saw people carrying away the bottles, jars and tin cans that we discarded. To them these were still valuable and useful items too good to waste.

Since then I’ve had extreme difficulty throwing away such things. I religiously clean glass jars to use for other purposes, storing screws and nails in my shed or off to the local craft shop for the ladies to use for their jams, pickles and relishes.

I even wash out tin cans before I put them in the recycling bin along with the newspapers and cardboard I have collected.

From my experience as a child in the 1950s, but more so after seeing life in the squatter settlements and on the streets of Port Moresby and other Papua New Guinean towns, I also abhor the wastage of food.

When I take my grandchildren out to eat I find myself either finishing off their casually abandoned meals or carrying them away for the dogs and chooks to eat. I religiously eat everything on my own plate and if I can’t I take that away with me too.

Despite the looks I get from waiters and other diners I don’t think I’m mean or miserly, it’s just that life has taught me the value of certain things, how lucky I am and how unlucky are so many other people.

It is ironic, I think, that I learned these valuable lessons largely in Papua New Guinea, a place where greed and wastage on a grand scale now seems to go unnoticed.

Paul Oates

Francis, I recently heard of a quote by Margaret Thatcher.

'Why is it people in public life these days don't want to do something but only want to be someone?'

Einstein is famously quoted as saying that continuing to do what has been effectively demonstrated as not working is the definition of stupidity.

Until PNG evolves a true leader that can lead the nation out of these depths of despair, nothing will change.

Keith and readers: Perhaps we need some really good examples of where PNG has succeeded and some reports and articles of good leadership as examples for others to follow?

How about a 'Good News Week?'

Francis Nii

The problem Daniel has reported is not only happening in Enga but many parts of PNG and highlands region.

It appears to be worse here because of the fanatical highlands' bigman rivalry and jealousy.

Philip Fitzpatrick

What a ghastly mess Mr O'Neill.

Paul Oates

Excellent piece Daniel, you have effectively described the problem.

The next step is to define the solution.

The nub of the problem is easy to understand if one takes a helicopter look at the process of government.

The missing link is the process of government. Politicians and the political process were never designed to actually run the process of governing a nation. Their role is to decide what is to be done but not to be in charge of actually doing it.

A politician's role is to be responsible to the people who elected them and to ensure the Public Service, who are supposed to be the ongoing authority not disrupted by having to be elected, to be held accountable for completing within budget what the government has decided to do. The the project has to be maintained by ongoing budgetary allocations.

Therein lies the rub. It ain't much fun not being able to be directly responsible for what you initially boast about doing.

To hold the public service responsible for what they are supposed to do isn't much fun either when you may have promoted your sycophants and wantoks into responsible positions they are not either qualified to do or interested in being held accountable for doing it.

So what's the answer?

It's not a new problem. The ancient Roman's 2,000 years ago effectively enunciated it.

"Who will watch the watchers?"

Is there sufficient education and awareness within the PNG community at large to understand what is lacking and what is needed to be done to fix the problem?

If not as it currently seems, then what has to be done first to set up an effective methodology to rectify where the current process is not working?

That's the real question.

Public Auditors and non government groups like Transparency International seem to be completely ignored when they point out the real problem.

Is there anyone prepared to act to fix this deficiency?

That's another poignant question that apparently is still waiting to be answered.

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