Constructing a New Narrative on Infrastructure Development in PNG .
Is Prime Minister Oneil , Treasurer Pruaitch & Minister Micah as leaders of the three biggest coalition partners in Government today capable of utilising the wealth generated from our extractive industries to provide cheap power, water & durable shelter for all our people on the scale achieved in Iraq and Libya before their destruction. [in what is now judged as the most serious blunder by the United States and Britain in the middle east] Is this Government capable of building new post independence national water and power projects on the scale achieved in Ghana on the Volta River under Dr.Nkrumah and on the Aswan on the Nile under Nasser of Egypt or in the magnitude of the three Gorge dam Project in China on the Yangzi River under the direction of Mao Tse Tung, all directed at lifting their people out of Poverty by providing affordable power and water to their growing cities & populations . Will this Government be able to harness the Power of the Purari or the Sepik River in a way that is environmentally sound and at the same time contribute in a positive way towards lifting our people out of poverty?
Can the highlands region be better served using river lock technology to move freights up the Purari to a new Hub in the highlands which can also serve as site for a new mega city in the Highlands and at the same time ease the pressure on the use of the highlands highway? Does the country need a new power grid that can bring power generated from the Sepik River and transported into the Ramu Grid and at the same time also generate electricity for Projects such as Frieda? Importantly can that new power Grid support the development of Rail services into key centres in the country?
The time is now right when there is a lot of cheap money in the world chasing investment opportunities for PNG to tap into by entering into strategic partnership with companies with hydro power experience in Australia and China in particular to build mega infrastructures projects that must in the long term stand as testament to the good use of income derived from our non renewable extractive sector. Three days ago the Chair of the World Agenda Council on Infrastructure at the recently concluded World Economic Forum at Dovos Switzerland Mr. Gordon Brown [The former British Prime Minister ] announced a road map for the World Financial Institutions to invest in infrastructure projects in Third world countries to help generate growth and address poverty .
Mr. Gordon Brown is now calling on third world nations to consider investing in infrastructure projects in hydro power and rail in particular as projects with the real potential of being game changers in the war against Poverty and is now leading a worldwide panel of experts to mobilise US$1,Trillion to invest in over 1,000 Billion Dollar+ Infrastructure projects in the Developing world to address poverty. PNG must put its hand up now to be counted as among the early country in the developing world that wants to address its chronic Water and Power issues and must partner China and Australia in Particular to assist develop Bankable Infrastructure Projects that the Gordon Brown led Infrastructure Investment team can consider Funding in association with our Government and the Government of China and Australia .
First some sobering Statistics on PNG and the MDG
It is now official , 40% of our Population live on less then $1.25 a day ranking us 147 out of 189 of the worlds poorest nations and it is now confirmed that by all accounts PNG will failed to meet the world target in reducing poverty as definite in the Millennium Development Goal by end of September,2015 when the MDG ends. While the United Nations 2014 report on Human Development on the state of poverty in PNG has played down the issue of poverty in PNG , the CIA 2014 Fact Book on PNG on the other hand has been brutal in its country risk assessment on PNG describing our law and order situation as ‘ chronic’ with the potential of pushing the country off the edge and that the worsening law and order situation in the country is directly linked to poverty.
There is an urgent need for us in PNG to look seriously again at policy failures over the last 15year and to audit our policies in poverty alleviation particularly in our PIP infrastructure funding initiatives over that period and to not only investigate and bring to justice those that have misappropriated funds under these various failed PIP programs but to develop a new narrative on how to address poverty through the narrative of providing durable shelter, Clean running water and electricity for all our People both Urban and rural. Many PIP infrastructure projects appear in the development budget books but are never implemented . One PIP infrastructure project that stands out is the building of key arterial routes termed the missing link in our national road programs by the PNGDF with allocations of over 40million over a four year cycle with no roads to show for. Recently more funds have been given to the Army.
It is now time for the PNGDF to account for these funds and to ensure that these roads are built and that the army is further mobilised into building micro power projects ,water supply projects and help construct durable shelter for our village communities through out PNG with new strategic Partners to assist support the Army and to further harness the power of our youths and women organisations to reach this objective. The use of the Army to be involved in civic action must be developed and supported at the highest level so that it can contribute effectively to National Development in the way that Flt. Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings has been able to do in Ghana and Captain Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso before he was assassinated. Equally important is the need for the government to also audit infrastructure work carried out under the Tax Credit schemes managed by our extractive industry participants and to ask what more can be done in that area. One thing obvious in the fight again Poverty in our country is to develop a twin strategy focusing on both urban and rural PNG and to develop a new narrative on how we can deliver clean running water, clean Power and Durable shelter for all our people , 87% of which live in Rural PNG .
This new narrative should spell out in a clear program with a realignments of current resources to achieve this goal particularly in terms of the use of DSIP resources and with the participations of District Authorities, Politicians , and Local level and Provincial Governments and other societal interest groups to address this issue on a Nation scale with renewed purpose. PNG must not give up on itself ,its leaders must inspire and give confidence to the Nation and importantly to engage and mobilise the youth and women of this nation in a national movement to ensure clean water, durable housing and electricity is provided to all our People and at the same time deal with the issue of violence against our women, uncontrolled pregnancies and in developing cortege industries that can use the power of important trading platform such as the internet and Alibaba to unleash the potential in our people to sell their products directly to the world which in turn will enable them to live dignified and sustainable life in our village environments.
It is important that this Government starts planning for the generation of children born in the year 2000 in the year of the MDG who are now 15 years old and to project the future we wish to create for them to inherit. We must also retool our post independence generation and redirect national efforts to give this generation gainful employment and hope. Again our future as a agriculture nation cannot be downplayed but must be enhanced to its full potential . There is a urgency for the state to visit the SABL concept and for the State this time to enter into Business directly with its citizens and to engage them as equity partners in developing their land which in the long term will provide employment for the multitude of Children coming out of schools under our current education policy.
Government Departments also must re align with the specific creation of a Department that can deal with the Provision for Supplying clean running Water, Clean Power and Durable housing for all our people . It is now obvious that to expect Eda Ruru ,PNG Power or National Real Estate Ltd as SOEs to delivery cheap electricity, clean running water and durable shelter for all will not happen as these SOE’s by their very nature a more urban focused in their mandate leaving no clear government agency or department responsible in addressing the issue of cheap power, clean running water and durable housing for all.
It has been my view over thirty five years as a partitioner and observer of Politics in PNG that PNG can reduce Poverty by effectively addressing the provision of Clean running water ,electricity and durable Shelter for all and it can do that by thinking and applying solutions outside of the box in terms of its Development Matrix by following some of the countries that have achieved a higher standard of living for their people in recent times. I speak of Iraq and Libya which I had the privilege to visit as a young man before their destruction and of China who continue to impress the world in its unrelenting drive to bring one Billion of its Population out of poverty. Can this miracles in China be repeated in PNG? ,the answer is a resounding Yes and forums such as the one in Davos have identified the path in which nations like ours can follow to break the cycle of poverty .
Some of the key policy tools that have come out of Davos in recent time to attack poverty are in the area of Governance and Transparency where it has been argued that nations like ours must first ensure Legitimacy of Political Leadership and the political process in order for leaders to drive the good governance agenda and to apply specific policy tools to address poverty that may be although painful will be supported by the masses when they know that leaders are honest and transparent and mean the best for their well being. Enacting Laws on Vagrancy and the imposition of head tax for instance to ensure a productive populace may be bitter but in the long run will contribute greatly in addressing our chronic law and order problems .Transparency and good governance are attained by first ensuring legitimacy of Political Leadership through the polls through fair & honest elections which is the only way forward in address corruption. In this respect a electronic Election in real time in 2107 must be demanded by all to reduce cynicism among the young which are all too common in the pages of Bogs such as this one.
Secondly the issue of universal education for all in our country is an important policy tool in addressing poverty and health and in this respect the Government of Peter Oneil , Ben Micah and Patrick Pruaitch must be acknowledged for their role in meeting one of the important pillar on the MDG which is universal primary education. It is now also accepted that the quality of our graduates can be greatly improved with quality teacher training and PNG needs to recruit teachers again from the Philippines and Australia back into all facets of our Education system to improve the overall quality of our education system.
Finally, PNG must make that paradigm shift in remodelling our economy so that it works for us and not against us. While Davos prescribes the Washington model which champions the important role of private capital in lifting nations out of Poverty our experience of that model particularly in the last forty year in the extractive industry sector has sadly entrapped us in a chronic cycle of Poverty and one disastrous civil war due to the enclave nature of this projects with no linkages to the rest of the economy. There is now an urgent need for central planning in the extractive Industry sector in the way that Indonesia has successfully achieved with its resources since 1964. Only this week Free Port was directed by the Indonesian Government to build a copper smelter within Indonesia or lose its licence to mine in that country.
On the narrative on Infrastructure , I submit that the building of a project such as the Purari Dam must be revisited and that the government must now work towards building a consensus among all stake holders affected by this project to find the best way forward to ensure this project is build within this Decade and that this project not only meets the industrial need of the nation but importantly is used to modernising our Villages and our village way of life and social cohesion and to ensure that our villages remain attractive to live in with provisions for cheap electricity and clean running water and durable shelter.
Let us not hold out to the belief that because of our Geography we are destined to remain poor , we can harness nature to give us the best outcome and it requires Political Will to carry out this programs. I know that the political will is there and that Oneil, Micha and Pruaitch for all their human frailty represent the top 3% of the nations intellect that always rise to the top in their field in any society and that they remain the best choice for our Nation at this period of our History and it will be counterproductive to see them fall. Those that harbour a desire to see them go must face them and their people at a fair and opened and transparent election in 2017 and importantly become participants in the political process to make a difference
GABRIEL RAMOI is a former MP and Lawyer/Businessman, he is a regular contributor to PNGBlogs.