Radio Days: The Canberra connection
Believe me, there’s a darn lot in a word

Our systems worked, so what happened?

Rubber stationSCOTT WAIDE
| My Land, My Country

LAE - We have to get this right if we are to thrive in this country.

The quality of transport infrastructure – especially roads and bridges – determines the price of food.

Apart from consumption, this single factor influences the rate of supply and demand to a large extent.

Economists can argue about the theory.  But if you ask any kaukau and broccoli  seller in Lae or Madang where produce from the highlands ends up, they will tell you why their prices are high in many instances.

If a road section is damaged (which happens a lot), the bags of food have to be shouldered to the other side of the road where another vehicle has to be found. The carriers have to be paid and the vegetable dealer pays twice for transport.

Where does he pass on the cost? To the consumer in Madang or Lae.

The process is repeated if there is one damaged road section in the highlands and another along the Watarais–Madang section of the highway. The cost doubles.

Papua New Guinea’s food security challenge has to be confronted on multiple fronts.

At the top of the list of priorities should be local production and food security followed by the country’s food distribution network – roads and bridges.

Food production and research hubs - if that’s what you want to call them - have to be reestablished.  I say reestablished because we had them in the 1970s and 1980s. They were called DPI (Department of Primary Industry) stations.

Those stations were located in strategic locations around the country. They were nuclei for research, agricultural support and seed distribution. 

Government workers lived and worked at those stations. Some still do, but without the support they used to get.

Those stations were connected by well-maintained road networks managed by the Works Department, which had a similar system of works camps along highways and feeder roads.

The DPI stations supported farmers by providing advice, managing disease outbreaks and attending to the impacts of natural disasters. All this was done by the government of Papua New Guinea.

We seem to be suffering from generational amnesia. It is baffling that we keep trying to reinvent the wheel when we already had systems that worked for our people. Why can’t we bring them back?

At the turn of the century, when the United Nations was discussing climate change and deforestation, very few people remembered the forestry stations throughout PNG where government officers actively encouraged village communities to plant trees.

Remnants of those activities can still be found in the highlands. We need to get our kids to love planting trees every day. Not only on one day of the year because foreign organisations say we should.

Today, we complain about the cost of curative health care. We talk about the cost of cancer treatment overseas. We battle lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes.  Where is the preventative health care message?

Thirty years ago, it was mandatory for schools to teach preventative health.

‘Eat heathy foods’ That was on a poster in my classroom. Other posters discouraged drinking fizzy drinks and eating sweets.

These posters had Papua New Guinean faces and were produced by, wait for it, the government of Papua New Guinea.

On matchboxes, companies had messages of self-reliance and independence. “Grow your own taro.” “Grow your own sugarcane.”

Have we lost the sense of independence and the self-reliance we had for over 60,000 years?

The bottom line is, we had systems in place. Systems that worked.

We listened to wrong advice in the 1990s and look where it got us.


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Lindsay F Bond

Better systems will evolve when truth and respect come armed with the will shown by Washington mayor Muriel Bowser who has renamed a street leading to the White House.

'Black Lives Matter Plaza' is its new monicker - painted in huge yellow letters on the road surface.


Let's hope more will walk that way.

John Greenshields

Until Independence, the system worked like this, as I recall:

1. DC’s put in budget bids based on local knowledge and needs.

2. Konedobu and Canberra assessed all bids, and took advice from Departments.

3. A budget was prepared, and sent to House of Assembly for consideration.

4. An approved budget was given to Departments of Works, Forests, Health etc to prepare tenders for works and supply.

5. An impartial and transparent tender board assessed and made recommendations to departments.

6. Works and supply contracts were let, and administered by District Works managers.

Since that time, large funds have been given to MP’s to administer. This has led to corruption, nepotism, wantokism and often resulted in poor, overpriced construction and supply.

Tender boards have reportedly been corrupted. MP’s should be given funds for office management and transport only.

Charles Abel when Treasurer tried to wind back DSIP funds, but was overruled by O'Neill, who saw it as a way to influence MP’s.

The normal process in democracies is for local MP’s to inform a budget, which is passed by the legislature, for public servants to deliver.

In my time, this was devolved to District Works managers who supervised contracts. We also used local contractors for smaller projects at negotiated rates, to assist in localisation.

This depended on having incorruptible public servants, who were answerable to departmental heads, and the force of law.

I read that the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (DIRD) is recently responsible for disbursement of funds, based on provincial budgets and five year plans.

This is a promising sign, subject to provincial governments' technical capacities. They likely need assistance in remote provinces, and this is where Australia could perhaps help if asked.

One final comment. Maintenance of assets is boring but essential work. An MP would rather open a new wharf for his electorate than repair a building or fill potholes.

If you get the basic infrastructure right, commerce and agriculture can power PNG.

Michael Dom


There's a fair understanding of what needs to be done for supply chain management of fresh foods.

It's not impossible to resolve.

Alele Freshfoods and NKW are good examples.

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