KUNDIAWA - The call by Angore landowners in troubled Hela Province for a forum to discuss the problems surrounding the gas project could be the beginning of meaningful dialogue among landowners and other stakeholders leading to a peaceful solution to the royalties crisis disgruntled.
The issue has been exacerbated by lack of landowner and political leadership on the ground.
All members of parliament from Southern Highlands and Hela mostly operate out of Port Moresby. They have avoided face to face dialogue to address the grievances of the people.
Frustrated landowners resorted to violence to draw the attention of their political leaders, resource developers and the PNG government to their marginalisation.
The two-faced statement by finance minister James Marape from the comfort of his base in Port Moresby was a clear indication of a leader who has lost touch with his people.
Marape said his constituents should invite him to pursue their grievances with the government. This was a foolish call by a confused leader.
The people had already given him a mandate through the ballot paper to shoulder their interests. What else does he want? Was he really awaiting an invitation or did he just not want to front his own people?
Then, after appearing conciliatory, the threat by Marape to use the army and police to fight his own people was also an indication of a leader who had run out of ideas and lacked a clear strategy.
The people are fighting for what is rightfully theirs. Their land. They must be given what belongs to them, the royalties and other benefits legitimately and contractally agreed.
Ignoring Marape’s words, the vandalism of Exxon Mobil’s LNG assets continued last weekend.
Decisions to use the army and police against landowners without addressing the core issue will only add fuel to the fire. This what happened in Bougainville triggering a 10-year civil war. Leaders like James Marape should be mindful that missteps on their part could be responsible for another tragic outcome like this.
A possible breakthrough opportunity has been provided by the call by Angore landowners for stakeholders – including politicians and resource companies - to come together in a public forum to address grievances.
Instead of local politicians like James Marape making ridiculous statements from his comfortable enclave in Port Moresby and Michael Nali trying to flex his muscles on the floor of parliament, they must get back up into those mountains and wisely negotiate with their people.
This is the answer: dialogue to develop an amicable pathway to end the violence and pay landowners their promised benefits without further delay.