PORT MORESBY - The fate of about 100 families residing in 64 units of National Housing Commission flats at Gordon in Port Moresby hangs in precarious balance as they face eviction from their homes of 20-30 years by a private property developer.
The matter is the subject of a bitter and protracted legal battle that has taken up the better part of the last 12 years and is still awaiting a final court decision.
But the political leadership of the National Capital District (NCD) must be lauded, and loudly, for standing up for the families who are agitated and distressed about the future.
Governor Powes Parkop and the MPs of Moresby South and North-East have made considerable efforts to address the adverse effects of physical developments on affected communities in and around the city.
Moresby North-East MP John Kaupa recently told the affected Gordon families that, if an eviction is compelled to happen by law, it will take place, but that it is incumbent upon leaders to ensure it occurs in a just, orderly and humane manner.
Essentially, the MP captured and amplified the collective view of local political leaders led by Governor Parkop.
In the last two years alone, there have been a number of NCD-sanctioned relocation of entire communities displaced by commercial developments.
A human rights lawyer prior to taking up politics, Governor Parkop consistently champions the cause of powerless people caught in the aggressive cross currents of progress and development.
That is certainly the sentiment of Francis Irai, an elderly man of about 70, living with his family in a makeshift home constructed of rusted metal sheet walls and canvas for a roof.
The squalor in which the family is living is shocking and degrading, but the family has no place else and the future is devoid of hope as far as Mr Irai can see, which unfortunately is not too far as he is losing his sight.
They are victims of progress taking the form of a brand new four-lane road linking Gerehu and 9 Mile, purportedly to reduce the traffic congestion on the nearby main highway.
Irai is a former employee of the National Capital District Commission. He was the 9 Mile market clerk from the late 1990s and tenanted a two bedroom house overlooking the market, which has now been overtaken by a ring round and a big roundabout island.
Irai provided a weighty file showing how he had submitted his intention to acquire the property and the land through the NCDC’s housing scheme in 2006 and made many representations to the Lands Department.
However, it was futile and he and his family returned home one afternoon in 2014 to find their home destroyed and partly buried under freshly bulldozed soil, rocks and trees.
His documents proved that the destruction had occurred just two days before the eviction notice deadline. The eviction notice had been issued just two weeks earlier.
Since then the old man has exhausted all avenues of appeal and his meagre savings seeking recourse, but all to no avail.
Irai’s first wife died during those turbulent times and his children, now teenagers, dropped out of school and also face bleak futures.
Irai is now a broken man without a job, without a home and without hope. He sought me out to air his story in his firm belief that Governor Parkop will heed his plea.
“Mi nogat hause, mi nogat wok na mi nogat hope stret. Mi nau lapun man pinis na ai blo mi tu laik pas so mi laik go back long ples blong mi long Simbu. Plis helpim mi na mi go bek wantaim femili blo mi,” he said.
[“I don’t have a house, I don’t have a job and I am without hope. I am getting too old and my sight is going so I want to go back to my village in Chimbu. Please help me to go back with my family.”]