KUNDIAWA – “Can someone please get this message to the Australian High Commission or DFAT?”
This is the plaintive cry from Simbu to a country which is not up to listening to plaintive cries from anywhere but its elite.
The 400,000 Simbu people, jammed into the middle of the Papua New Guinea highlands in a province with few resources other than their intelligence and energy, have been calling for a road into the rich Karimui area and its 40,000 people for half a century.
It was a call renewed earlier this year when the European Union committed K340 million for the rehabilitation of cocoa in the cocoa pod borer-devastated province of East Sepik.
Unlike most of Simbu, Karimui is a generally flat region at an altitude of 800-1,500 meters with a climate of moderate to high humidity.
Crops like cocoa, coffee, betel nut, coconuts and others normally associated with coastal areas grow there prolifically. But there is no road linking it to anywhere.
“Forty-three years after independence, many Karimuis have not seen a motor vehicle in their life,” says the prominent Simbu author Francis Nii, a paraplegic who is leading the push to construct a road from the Salt Nomane are to Karimui.
“Can the Australian government, through its aid program, build the road?” he asks.
“Simbu has six districts and five are connected to the outside world by road. Karimui is accessible only by air and most Karimuis cannot afford the exorbitant K300-K400 for a one-way ticket.”
Nii, an economist before he was badly injured in a vehicle accident, says the agricultural of Karimui is great. Indeed, not less a figure than former prime minister Sir Michael Somare characterised the region as “the coast in the highlands”.
“Karimui can become the industrial heart and food bowl of Simbu,” says Nii. “The only obstacle is the road.”
He appealed to Australian representatives in PNG to travel to Karimui to see for themselves the benign topography, rich agricultural potential and the continuing research, particularly into hybrid cocoa cloning.
“This will be the greatest gift Australia can give to the people of Simbu,” he said.
Fellow Simbu, Bomai Witne, a university lecturer, said on the Facebook that the MP for Salt-Karimui should engage a consultant to prepare a detailed proposal and ask the provincial government to convey it to the National Planning and Monitoring Office for funding and counter-funding from the Australian government.
Nii replied: “I know the formalities and the red tape and the 10% cut for corrupt PNG officials.
“I want the Australian government through the DFAT to take on this project from feasibility study to construction without or with little input from the corrupt PNG government.
“If it is going to be a gift, only very stupid or totally insane person can stop it.”
To which Witne responded, “That is our desire but I don't think funding road construction is DFAT's priority now.”
Nii said that the Australian government had recently delivered a high quality sealed road in East Sepik. “That got me coveting and jealous, hence prompted my request.
“It is heartening to see Australia beginning to diversify its aid objective from manpower development and good governance to other needy sectors,” he said.
“This road can be the greatest gift from the people and government of Australia to the people of Karimui and Simbu.”