WHEN the Communist Bloc started to crumble in the latter part of the 1980s, these climactic events were said to have been triggered by a “wind of change” blowing across the USSR and Eastern Europe at that time.
In the same sense Papua New Guinea’s development and economic progress in the last decade or so can be said to be the result of a similar phenomenon of rapid transformation.
Favourable international economic conditions have enabled Port Moresby to transform into a thriving city, a symbol of what prime minister Peter O’Neill recently said was an endeavor to transform PNG into the “most powerful nation in the Pacific”.
National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop has described these enormous developments as the result of the “wind of change” blowing through PNG.
While such statements may provide a glimpse of the future of the national capital and PNG at large, unfortunately they are far removed from the reality on the ground.
The wind of change may well be blowing but for most folks in remote villages and urban settlements they mean little. Most people view the government with suspicion and distrust.
Whilst things may look positive on the outside, on the inside many people are confused and anxious about the future. For too long they have been tricked into believing in policies that brought no tangible change to their lives.
Perhaps we can hope that these recent developments are signs of better things to come. Perhaps.
Like every law abiding and patriotic citizen, I hope that the massive infrastructure development in Port Moresby will instill a sense of responsibility and pride in the minds of our people.
In saying that, I am mindful that for most people the daily struggle poses a major barrier to change. The sight of mothers and youths selling their meagre possessions under the sparkling new flyover bridge is a daily occurrence.
Not far away from PNG’s first flyover is a small messy area recently taken over as a market. It is buzzing with betel nut vendors. This filthy place has already drawn the attention of city authorities and, as the Pacific Games kicked off, the sound of teargas canisters thundering into the locale could be heard for miles around.
It was a reminder that, for most of our people, change is not so personally transformational.
While the government has injected massive amount of money into building world class sporting facilities for the Pacific Games, the main source of energy, electricity, is still a big problem for most settlements and villages in PNG.
This important marker of modernisation is not accessible by most Papua New Guineans. Access to it is so difficult and costly where I live that most settlers resort to illegal connections.
Power poles built to cater for one or two lines can be seen bending low as they support multitudes of wires that crisscross each other in tangled disorder. As you would expect, this has significantly affected the flow of electricity. Battery powered torches and candles are common.
Access to clean water in most Port Moresby settlements is a major concern. I have previously documented Erima’s experience where the government has resorted to setting up “common taps” at strategic points to allow settlers access to water.
It is hardly a viable means of addressing water issues. Over the years lack of community ownership and leadership have allowed these facilities to be at the mercy of vandalism, which is a constant problem.
Roads in other parts of PNG need the same attention those in Port Moresby have been given recently. Many of our roads are often impassable for vehicles yet we see the government spending money on city roads costing taxpayers billions of kina.
This is most unfair given that much of PNG suffers from poor road conditions and broken bridges which are crucial for providing market access and bringing in basic services such as education and health.
Papua New Guineans often complain that they are spectators in their own country. I wonder if the government is the great pretender giving the outside world a flowery outlook of our country’s socio-economic prospects when the reality is the opposite.
Transforming Port Moresby into a modern city is commendable, however its development has come at a high price for other provinces. It has also resulted in an influx of migrants from rural areas. We are experiencing rapid rural-urban migration such as we never saw before.
As Port Moresby’s population heads towards one million, I wonder how the city authorities will be able to provide the necessary amenities and municipal services.
Already settlements at Erima Arts Centre, Paga Hill, 2 Mile and parts of 8 and 9 Mile have been removed to make way for road construction. Such relocation seems likely to continue as Port Moresby caters for an inflow of investors. The government will have to make more trade-offs between protecting its citizens’ rights and entertaining foreign interests.
Sure, we are witnessing something transformational and it may well mean that a favourable wind of change will blow across Port Moresby to the other provinces.
But, if we are not careful, it may develop into an ill wind - a cyclone that will displace very many people and severely affect their livelihoods. It seems the writing is on the wall. Let’s hope someone reads it and acts before the majority of our people lose what little they have now.