NOOSA – Papua New Guinea finance minister James Marape has pleaded with the people in his Hela Province to “cease the use of threats, intimidations and guns as a means of getting your grievances heard and settled”.
This follows a period of arson, looting and road blocks on the fringes of the Angore and Hides gas fields last week.
“I ask you all to remove blockages and we work through the normal channels of dialogue again,” Marape said in a press statement issued in Port Moresby, which offered irony to his subsequent metaphor that “the O’Neill Abel government is not far from you landowners.”
One of the problems driving the elevated state of violence and disruption in the south-western Highlands provinces which are rich in resources has been the disregard of genuine landowner and other grievances and the absence of elected leaders from situations where they might have been able to exercise some influence.
These days, many of PNG’s elected leaders prefer to hole up in comfortable hotels and apartments in Port Moresby and visit their electorates as infrequently as possible.
Marape claimed that the O’Neill administration was “the most fulfilling government in the history of our nation in terms delivering to outstanding commitments and signature policies.”
But he was forced to admit that the people of the Angore, Hides and Komo areas within his Tari-Pori electorate have genuine claims for royalties, grants and other funds which the national government has failed to deliver.
He conceded that the people of Angore township alone were owed K32 million for claims that dated back as far as seven years, a situation he attributed to court action by “one of their own tribesmen”’
“Has Tari ever seen a sealed road?” Marape asked rhetorically. “No, but it started to happen after 2012 and from what I am told the Halimbu sealing to Nogoli was to see its first laying of bitumen yesterday but the uprising of Angore forced its closure. This project was awarded in 2015 but lawlessness continues to hamper work.
“I appeal to our local leaders [to] use myself and my two colleagues MPs [Petrus Thomas and Manasseh Makiba] and our provincial governor [Philip Undialu] to be your middle men in a peaceful way to get your grievances out to the national government.
“So far I have received no invitation personally to hear your issues and relay to government, how then can you say government has not been responsive hence your resort to lawlessness. Our government is in office hence why are you evading us?”
This was disingenuous as the issues in his electorate have been on the boil for years and it is ludicrous to think the finance minister needed an invitation to exercise some kind of intervention.
Marape then threatened armed tribesmen that “one day soon your guns will be rendered useless, mark my word, as the hand of government is much longer than what many of you think.”
“I ask you all to be fair to the government, assist us getting the clan vetting complete and then we can start to get your entitlements out to you all.”
He stated that he expects his office to facilitate a meeting between concerned leaders of project areas to air issues of common concern and collectively map a way forward.