by Paul Amatio

There have been a lot of talks recently on social media asking the Prime Minister a very simple question: “IF YOU CAN NOT TAKE BACK TARI, HOW WILL YOU TAKE BACK PNG?”

This is a very valid question. While he may have been PM of PNG for only a few years, he has been a member of the Tari/Pori Open for over a decade. In his term of parliament, we have witnessed the development of the Hides Gas project from its infancy to its current stage where it is making billions for ExxonMobil and ZERO for Hela and Tari.

If we kept proper statistics in this country, we will see that since his ascension to the PM's chair, we have seen a huge increase in migration from Tari out to other urban centers throughout PNG. And with this migration, come the problems they bring with them out of Tari to the towns and cities of once relatively peaceful places. One could be forgiven for mistaking Port Moresby for Tari town! It there were any statistical correlations to be drawn, one may safely (if possibly wrongly) infer that the increase in the murders, ethnic riots, and serious violence outside of armed robberies that we see in the major towns can be directly attributed to this huge influx of people out of Tari to other centers.

What has James Marape, as Member for Tari Pori and now Prime Minister done to address this serious flaw in his vision – or more accurately, a pipe dream? NOTHING! And he will continue to do nothing because Marape thinks about his political survival more than the well-being of his people or his country. In this regard, he is not far from Peter O'Neil from whom he learned the art of the glib.

So will he ever take back PNG? Not in this lifetime. Will he ever take back Tari Pori? Unlikely.

You may ask why I am so pessimistic about this. It is simple. The man cannot seem to understand that in order to build a house, you must have form foundations. The Hides Gas project was supposed to be a transformational project for PNG. Instead, we seem to have so many obstacles and reasons why simple and basic things cannot be done to alleviate the hardships Tari Pori and PNG are going through.

There is no township to speak of in Tari, the capital of Hela. There is nothing stopping the development of a township expanding on the existing area and moving outward in all directions. There is nothing stopping the building of shopping plazas and accommodation complexes to house the LNG workers in Tari or Komo or Hides itself instead of having them barricaded behind locked camps after all these years. The simple reason is fear of the locals. 

That fear is generated by the fact that the shares and benefits from this mega project are not being seen within Hela. In contrast, Bougainville Copper ensured that it developed Panguna and Arawa and created a standard of living there that was highly envied. OK, Tedi did the same for Kiunga. Why is Hides or Komo different? Because of the level of greed within ExxonMobil and our own government that refused to give to the resource owners what was rightfully theirs.

That fear level can be clearly seen with the deployment of the police SSD and PNGDF troops into the province to secure these rip-off sites when there is no need to. There should be no need to if the right thing had been done. And clearly, ExxonMobil and the State both know they have not done the right thing so they sacrifice the lives of our police and soldiers to ensure their money-making operations are allowed to continue at their expense and that of the people of Hela.

James Marape needs to walk the talk now before more lives are lost. Let us not forget also that the more this is allowed to progress without any action taken on the loss of this life, the emboldened others will become and soon, the pipeline and plant and campsites might all go up in flames. This is only a matter of time. And the death of this poor policeman might just be the tip of the iceberg.

It is high time ExxonMobil is called to task and account to ensure Hela gets its fair share of development from the proceeds of their resource. They should also be made to have the proceeds of all income from the resources extracted from PNG remitted back to PNG in US dollars to provide us with the foreign exchange we need to develop. Resource developers must also pay all foreign workers in PNG Kina locally in our banks. Workers can remit their earnings back to their home countries if they want to. Resource developers must be made to build and upgrade roads, bridges, and infrastructure as they are required to under our current laws. How many roads have ExxonMobil built-in Hela for all the oil and gas they have extracted? Has the Tari to Komo/Hides road been sealed yet? How much money does Exxon actually retain in PNG? These are critical questions and they go towards empowering the Take Back PNG vision – if it is a true vision and not a feel-good pipedream political grandstanding statement.

The arrangement between the State and ExxonMobil for the use and deployment of police and soldiers at their project site must now be reviewed and ceased in the face of the significant ongoing law and order problems throughout the country. We just do not have enough police officers in this country to afford to have 100 or so of them being used as security guards for resource thieves and plunderers. Perhaps Commissioner Manning needs to relook at this and consider other alternatives like a permanent police station, more barracks, and other options instead of having SSD members there 24/7/365. And like BCL did for Panguna, ExxonMobil should bear the cost of all this. 

Marape and Maru have invited the Japanese to the SEZ sites in PNG. Have they considered one for Tari so that the town has an economic base and industrial base to power local development? If not, they should. It will stop rural-urban migration, provide jobs, support the gas site, and encourage local participation in the economic development of Hela. So start by taking back Tari now instead of preaching and grandstanding.

Time to wake up from dreamland and start walking the talk.


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