KUNDIAWA - Madang, a town once dubbed as ‘Beautiful Madang’ and in even earlier days ‘The Pearl of the Pacific’ because of its scenic beauty, has been experiencing serious civil unrest including murder and destruction of businesses and state property in recent times
This crime and disorder has disturbed the tranquil blue waters, large furry flying foxes, arrays of colourful crotons and hibiscus, pleasant hotel facilities and, perhaps most regrettably, the renowned friendliness of the local people.
The latest incident involved the death of three local youths believed to have been murdered by settlers, a tragedy that led to further public panic, civil unrest and disruption to the town’s water supply.
But, unlike major unrest in other years that continued for weeks, last week’s unrest was quelled in reasonable time with services and businesses quickly restored thanks to the presence and leadership of Bryan Kramer, the Member for Madang in the national parliament, along with police and other community leaders.
Bryan Kramer played a decisive role in restoring peace and reinstating the water supply, a vital utility in an urban area which had been damaged during the unrest.
Kramer went to the site of the water supply with police, PNG Water and PNG Power and assessed the damage to the water pump.
PNG Power went to collect parts to replace those that were damaged, but didn’t return.
Kramer didn’t leave. He stayed at the reservoir cajoling PNG Power personnel to return with the parts and get the pump fixed, only departing with the police after the water started flowing again.
I can’t think of another member of parliament in Papua New Guinea who has ever done that or who would do it.
But Kramer’s role did not stop there. He is now conducting meetings with the relevant stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the frequent civil unrest in the province and restore the town to its former glory as a tourist destination.
By contrast, similar civil strife that occurred in the resource rich Southern Highlands capital of Mendi some months ago escalated into full-blown warfare resulting in many people, including policemen, shot dead and millions of kina worth of property (including prime minister O’Neill’s Wildcat company property) destroyed.
In this case, there was absolutely no political leader, including Peter O’Neill, who is from the province, who dared to be on the ground to attend to the problem.
When the police failed to contain the fighting and arson, the provincial politicians were scared and confused not knowing what to do to quell the situation. This was evident by the total absence of political leadership in the province.
Had there been decisive political intervention after the unrest started, the problem could have been contained and lives and property saved.
Instead the Southern Highlands’ politicians and their families were cowering in Port Moresby enjoying the comfort of city life while their people were killing each other like animals.
Even when the unrest had subdued, none of these politicians bothered to travel to Mendi to address the problem.
Instead Peter O’Neill through the National Executive Council made former police fraud squad commander Thomas Eluh a scapegoat by sending him to Mendi as acting provincial administrator to meet the people and solve the problem for them.
Although this move seemed to bring life in Mendi to normalcy, the situation on the ground remained volatile until the devastating earthquake struck the province, effectively defusing any remnants of civil unrest.
As they turned to rebuilding their lives from the rubble and ashes, people had no time for warfare.
The test of true leadership is at times of crisis and hardship and not when everything is good and rosy.
Footnote: For the first time in the life of parliament, Bryan Kramer revealed the amount of his first sitting allowance - and donated it to his people as the member for Madang