BUSA JEREMIAH WENOGO
PORT MORESBY - The much talked about refurbished Gordons Market was officially opened on the 31 October at a cost of K30 million, most of the funds coming from the New Zealand Government and the National Capital Development Commission.
The market is said to be the biggest fresh produce market in the Pacific and will cater for up to 1,500 vendors.
Its spectacular design promises to transform Gordons and Port Moresby, beginning a new chapter in markets.
But, looking beyond the fanfare of the grand opening, there are challenging issues.
A the opening, John Kaupa MP, whose Moresby North East electorate hosts Gordons Market, made a speech challenging City Manager Bernard Kipit’s branding of Gordons Market as a “provincial market”.
Kaupa argued that people living within his electorate should be given priority when it comes to the allocation of market space.
Another concern of greater importance relates to the upkeep of the market and the revenue generated from market fees.
This money will be critical to rehabilitating other run-down markets in Port Moresby, maintaining Gordons Market and investing in other public works for the benefit of the residents of the Moresby North East Electorate.
This is the biggest electorate in the National Capital District and the majority of constituents live in informal settlements, most of which are in dire need of essential infrastructure such as electricity, water and sewerage and sanitation services.
And these settlers are expected to form a significant proportion of the 1,500 vendors who will ply their trade in the new Gordons Market.
The poor state of the old Gordons Market was a reflection of governments at national and provincial level lacking foresight to supporting markets and the informal economy in general as tools for economic empowerment.
This negligence can be reflected by the simple fact that if NCDC and UN Women had not intervened to rehabilitate its ailing infrastructure, Gordons Market would still be in a diabolical state. Most market infrastructure in PNG suffers from the governments’ gross neglect.
The proper upkeep and new image of Gordons Market is crucial to attracting tourists and residents alike. For many people, the market has been a “no go zone”.
The real challenge for Gordons Market will revolve around how it is managed by the authority. The Mt Hagen City Market, funded by the Australian government through its Incentive Fund Program, is a sobering reminder of what can go awry if the authority concerned does not take ownership.
Today Mt Hagen Market is nowhere near what it was when it was re-opened in 2012 after a major facelift. Most of its infrastructure needs urgent maintenance and around the market hordes of pickpockets and drunkards wreak havoc on shoppers and passers-by.
The poor state of markets throughout PNG raises an important policy question regarding the ownership and management of market infrastructure.
The general view in PNG is that provincial government, local level government and urban authorities are responsible for establishing and managing markets.
The Organic Law on the Provincial and Local Level Government (OLPLLG) is not explicit on this. There is nothing specific on whether the powers given to provincial and local governments under the law cover aspects relating to building and maintaining market facilities.
Despite this in the national government’s 2009 manual, ‘Determination assigning service delivery functions and responsibilities to provincial and local level governments’, it states that the Department of Community Development & Religion, through what is now the Informal Economy Section, is responsible for “declaring market areas” and “arranging gazettal of informal sector inspectors” at the LLG level.
When we analyse enabling legislation, we encounter a similar problem. There is no clarity about how these tiers of government should deal with markets.
At the provincial level, the NCDC Act 2001 is the only exception, clearly stating that the commission has responsibilities over markets within NCDC. That said, it took NCDC 11 years to establish its Market Division. However, not all major markets within Port Moresby fall under the auspices of NCDC.
For instance, markets like the Sabama and Koki are managed by the Moresby South Market Management Board, set up by the Member for Moresby South, Justin Tkatchenko, who is chairman of that board.
The Board also manages other markets including Kipo market (Chinatown East Boroko) and the new Saraga market. Saraga Market is interesting as it is located directly opposite Kaupa’s residence and can be easily mistaken as a market in the Moresby North East Electorate.
Other markets in Port Moresby operate in the absence of formal or proper management and control, Tokarara Market and the former Manu-Autoport Market being examples. In both markets it was reported that market fees were collected by individual claiming to be market custodians.
In the case of Tokarara Market the failure of NCDC to provide proper management and security rendered the market ownership to certain individuals. Aside from collecting market fees these so-called market custodians provide security as well as impose and enforce their own rules.
In considering market ownership, it is important to note that, since the reform of provincial and local level government, crucial funding arrangements such as Town and Urban Service Grants have not been forthcoming from the national government to assist maintain services.
Even when these grants were made, provincial governments did not reliably distribute funds to local level governments.
Where funding was made available, the misapplication of grants resulted in the deterioration of key facilities over the years and with it the entire image of town and urban centres.
For instance, in many districts DSIP [improvement] funds were used to pay wages and allowances which were supposed to have been taken care of in recurrent budgets.
Aside from grants, sub-national governments can be blamed for the poor state of markets with many of them not utilising powers provided under law that enable them to generate revenues; like imposing fees on the use of market facilities, mobile trading and land taxes.
Furthermore, the majority of sub-national governments have not operationalised the function of managing markets into their structures. NCDC is an exception after establishing a Market Division in 2012 and staffing it with qualified officers to carry out its functions.
One way of overcoming this widespread and chronic neglect of markets would be for the national government to designate markets as national, provincial, district or local and put in place a mechanism to deal with managing national markets.
Other markets can be the responsibility of the respective tiers of government.
The government can initially provide budgetary support to national markets which, over time, will become self-reliant through market fees and renting market space to banks, mobile phone providers and similar services. The National Roads Authority model is worth exploring in this context.
Furthermore, public private partnership should be explored to bring in private sector investment as well as encourage counterpart funding with sub-national governments to improve the physical infrastructure and management skills of markets.
Despite the challenges, the government has to be commended for recognising the importance of markets in plans such as Vision 2050. In addition, the government continues to include markets as critical infrastructure. It is also encouraging to note that certain Members of Parliament are spending money to build and renovate markets in their electorates.
Yet many markets have not been properly managed, allowing chaos to thrive and rapid deterioration of facilities. Furthermore, harassment is widely reported making most of the markets unsafe for women.
Initiatives like the Safe Cities Market Project of UN Women and NCDC are noble efforts but these markets will not improve their image for many years to come if appropriate mechanisms are not set-up to strengthen market ownership and upkeep.
The Gordons Market has just been given a new lease of life, however it’s about to get its litmus test as it opens for business.
Will it become a beacon of hope and a symbol of progress or sink once more into chaos and anarchy?