NASFUND is PNG’s national superannuation fund. It publishes a monthly newsletter on economic conditions and related matters
The Lae gateway and the highlands highway is the lifeline for over 50% of PNG’s population. But something is seriously wrong.
The Lae of today suffers from neglect and lack of decisive political leadership. Never have we witnessed such a steady decline of a city. The heartbeat of industry hums, private sector endures, but the decline of infrastructure underlies a serious tale of woe.
Political leaders prefer the relatively more lucrative and workable capital of Waigani and, when in Lae, take refuge in the green zone – two or three comfortable establishments where, in air-conditioned comfort, their minders can praise them for their initiatives and tell them what they want to hear over glasses of red wine and cold beer.
Outside the green zone, a totally different world emerges that should shake the conscience of any one who cares for the city. Sex workers, desperate to etch out a living, bob up and down between the containers that overflow the old landing strip near town.
If not there, they can be found under the verandah of Nasfund Haus, directly across from the green zone, where lucrative pickings can be had from well-heeled hotel guests.
HIV is rife, as it is along the highway through to
Young schoolies, whose parents have little, skip classes to join the sex worker throng so they can buy basics like clothes, food and soap. Many do it just to ensure they can pay school fees. A sophisticated network through mobile phones coordinates the sex workers with clients, including truck drivers and maritime workers from the port.
Through mobile communication, client tastes can be ascertained - whether they use condoms or not, likes, dislikes, violent, kind, generous – as part of this highly visible trade.
Lae cannot absorb the inflow of the huge urban drift from the highlands, and settlements abound with all the associated ills. Crime -muggings to murder - is fuelled by home brew, grass and alcohol. The hospitals overflow from the rampage of disaffected, disengaged youths and communities who have worn the brunt of neglect for too long.
The road system is in collapse. Not a stretch of road in Lae can be found without potholes, some so deep as to make sections impassable. The two entrances to Lae look more like rural tracks.
And all this is compounded by the recent “gone missing” of millions allocated to repair part of the road system.
The poor state of the roads means drivers are easy pickings for criminals, and ensures security companies continuing work, even if it is just to ensure that access to the airport remains unimpeded
Over the last few months security of supplies of water and power have become serious issues. Water was recently unavailable for three weeks and power remains intermittent. Once again it begs the question how this has been allowed to develop in what is PNG's manufacturing hub and gateway.
But what is both depressing and beggar’s belief is the
cholera camp on the front lawns of
Forget the appalling condition of the hospital for a minute; forget the lack of facilities to treat what in the West would be basic matters; forget the run down wards; forget the desperation on the face of women trying to get treatment for breast and cervical cancer; forget the collapsing hospital infrastructure or the piles of surgical rubbish dumped on a makeshift bonfire to the left of the building.
Let’s just focus on the front lawns. A collection of makeshift latrines and tents, a few iron beds and untied black plastic which fails to hide the camp from roadside visibility and now flaps in the breeze.
Adults and children lying in tents getting treated for a disease that should not be in PNG and certainly not in our second largest city.
A government cheque for K3 million bounced and very little has occurred except through the assistance of AusAID and other donors.
The government has pledged K13 million to assist in the cholera outbreak, and to this day has not released anything. It is a national shame beyond comprehension.
In November, the national government announced its 2050 vision of a people happy and prosperous. One could not but support such an initiative. However, the long suffering people of Lae cannot wait 40 years to secure and share that vision. They need a plan for 2010.
A plan that delivers better roads, safer and secure water supplies, consistent electricity and major upgrades in the area of health and education. To continue to ignore Lae is a blight on the nation and corrosive to the collective soul.
Will someone please come forward?
Source: ‘Lae - A Story of Gross Neglect’, Editorial, Nasfund e-Newsletter, January 2010