KUNDIAWA - While Papua New Guinea is focusing on the imminent vote of no confidence in prime minister Peter O’Neill, in the the Simbu Province’s remote Salt Nomane region, the struggle to connect the Karimui area to the outside world is a never ending venture.
The strive to connect Karimui by road has spanned more than three decades and cost many millions of kina with no success.
But wok mas go het yet courtesy of a local MP. The big question now is whether Geoffrey Kama and his idea of a changed route from Gumine-Karimui to Kilau-Karimui can be a game changer?
Karimui is one of the three local level government administrative areas of Salt Nomane Karimui District and is situated at the extreme southern tip of Simbu Province bordering with Gulf, Eastern Highlands and Southern Highlands. The other two local governments are Salt and Nomane.
Karimui has a population of about 17,000 people who are represented by 27 ward councillors.
Unlike most parts of mountainous Simbu, Karimui is mostly flat with altitudes ranging from 800 – 1,500 meters above sea level.
Because of the unusual geography and climate, crops like cocoa, betel nut and coconuts normally found in coastal areas grow in Karimui as well as coffee, peanuts and rice. For this reason, Sir Michael Somare during one of his visits to Simbu described Karimui as the coast in the highlands.
Although coconut and betel nut haven’t performed well, cocoa has promise as a major cash crop to supplement coffee in Karimui and agronomic research began in the early 1990s to introduce it.
The agriculturalist who pioneered cocoa’s development was the late Kale Kua, described by former Simbu Administrator Joe Kunda Naur MBE as the pioneer developer of Karimui cocoa. With the involvement of agricultural scientist and cocoa cloning and hybrid expert Dr John Konam, research outcomes have been highly successful.
Many farmers in Karimui can now grow cocoa but are not producing beans due to lack of cocoa dryer and the high cost of freighting their produce to Goroka by air. Coffee and peanuts face the same challenges.
Farmers are discouraged by the low return for their sweat but the potential for large scale production remains. The big problem is getting the road that connects Karimui with the outside world.
Initially, with K3 million allocated by the Simbu provincial government under the premiership of Edward Aba Kawale, the National Department of Works undertook the construction of 22 km of road from Yoya to Yobadibol.
A further allocation of K20 million from the Somare national government was divided equally between a company owned by former member for Kerowagi Camillus Dangama and Sky Development, a company then owned by current Salt Nomane Karimui MP Geoffrey Kama.
Camillus was to fly his machines to Karimui and work north while Sky Development was to work south and they were to meet at the Wahgi River.
Sky covered 15 km from Yobadibol to One Creek with part of the money needed for settling land claims and improving and settling outstanding payments for previous construction work.
The third tranche of funding, another K10 million by the O’Neill government in 2016-17 took the road from Yobadibol to Talpakul, still some kilometers away from the Wahgi River.
And recently, there was another K10 million allocation from the national government from which Mr Kama secured K5 million and used it to construct a new route from Wara Mogerema near Kilau through the eastern side of the Golemole mountain to the head of Gai Nugu range and on to the Mahaui prairie to reach the mighty Wahgi River.
The work halted at Mahaui because the funds ran out.
I asked Mr Kama’s office why it had been decided to discontinue building the road from Gumine to Karimui in favour of a new route from Kilau to Karimui. Unfortunately, the executive officer did not respond but a source told me the main reason was that the distance from Kilau to the Waghi River and on to Karimui was much shorter.
The source said the distance from Kilau to the Waghi River is less than 40 km and so far 75% has been covered. It requires an additional K2-3 million to get to the Waghi River.
When the source was asked how confident the Mr Kama felt about getting the road to Karimui through the new route, he said the MP was determined to get the road connected during this term of parliament.
There are critics who describe the Karimui road as a milking cow for people with self-interest who use the money for themselves. It is said that progress is at snail pace and of poor quality.
While this may be true, no one has asked why, despite so much money pumped into the Gumine-Karimui route, the road has not even reached the Waghi River, let alone Karimui.
The answer may lie in the unforgiving and treacherous high mountains, deep gullies, leech-infested forest and many lowland swamps. Added to this are three big rivers to bridge and the lengthy distance itself.
Edwin Wem, a senior employee of the National Works Department at Kundiawa, says the Gumine-Karimui route is a near impossible task that will cost a lot of money to get through. The bridge alone across the Waghi River will require super trusses which the current road size and condition cannot accommodate. On top of that, there is no rock bed nearby on which to construct the bridge.
Mr Wem says Mr Kama has made the right decision by changing the route to Kilau-Karimui as the distance to the Waghi River is much shorter – only 36 kms. The proposed bridge site is shorter and the rock bed is good to host the bridge.
So Geoffrey Kama, with his vast experience in road construction and a thorough knowledge of the challenging south Simbu terrain, has decided to embark on the new Kilau-Karimui route instead of sinking money into the same hole.
Does he know more than his predecessors? Can his idea of changing the route to Kilau-Karimui be the game changer in connecting Karimui with the outside world?
Mr Kama has ample time ahead of him to accomplish his dream before the next election in 2022 but finance might be a major setback. He needs a major funding from the national government or donor agencies to get the road through.
Currently, Mr Kama is camping with the opposition team for the coming vote of no confidence in the prime minister.
If alternate prime minister James Marape and the opposition team are successful in changing the government, the best reward Marape can give to the people of Salt Nomane and Karimui is a full pledged sealed Kilau-Karimui road and expansion of the Karimui cocoa project.
Even if Peter O’Neill retains power, he could put politics aside, think of his people in Salt Nomane Karimui and put substantial funding to finish this road, a link that will address economic, health and education issues.