| My Land, My Country | Edited
LAE - His voice was as dynamic as it was the first time I met him, but he had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t doing well.
Levi Kurakipa was a man my reporting team and I came across while covering the evictions of longtime National Housing Corporation tenants in Lae.
He was a public servant – a Sheriff of the Court - who had served the people of Morobe Province for more than 30 years.
For 20 of those years, he and fellow public servant Amos Tarali rented a National Housing Corporation duplex in Eriku, a suburb of Lae.
In 2018 they were both at work when their families called to alert them they were being evicted from their home.
A group of men armed with knives chased the women and children off the property and dumped all their belongings outside near the road.
A relative, who tried to fend off the armed men, had one of his fingers chopped off.
The eviction was conducted under the watchful eyes of a man claiming to have bought the property from the National Housing Corporation for K400,000.
Immediately Kurakipa and Tarali moved to obtain a stay order. They were successful and they moved back into the house.
But the battle to remain as legal tenants was far from over.
Kurakipa, in his late fifties, had children in university, a family to feed and a court battle on his plate.
The court battle with a Chinese company and the National Housing Corporation went on for three years and cost the family more than K100,000.
The financial stress was immense, Kurakipa was frequently sick and the family worried about his health.
Eventually the case was dismissed for want of a Section 5 notice, a notice making a claim against the State.
Kurakipa’s desire was to pursue the case and appeal, but his family advised against it because of his medical condition – and, anyway, there were no funds.
So they moved to a block at Kamkumung, and this is where I next called in on them to update the story.
I remembered Kurakipa as a big man, and tall. However, when we arrived, the man who greeted us was smaller than we recalled.
He stood to greet us, his face alight with joy, and we urged him to stay seated as he wasn’t physically strong. But his voice was still dynamic.
After their case was dismissed in court, the families planned to file a human rights suit citing their inhumane treatment. After the previous court battle, their funds were exhausted and so were they.
Kurakipa’s wife Grace said she and the children had spoken with their father about letting the case go because of the toll it was taking on him.
“Em tingim haus, na em tingim family na, pikinini go lo skul na mekim igo nau em kisim heart attack ya…mipla tok em orait yu heart patient na go moa yet em ba wanem so yu lusim na yumi move out….still mipla kam lo block tu em still affectim mipla yet.”
[He was worried about the house, the family, the kids in school, and he got a heart attack. We told him it’s OK, you are a heart patient so let’s just leave it and move on. Even after we moved to the block, it was still affecting us.]
When we spoke to Kurakipa, he became emotional. He couldn’t hold back the tears as he talked about how unfairly they had been treated.
“Mi respectim decision blo ol na mi just give in bicos lo ol health issue blo mi.”
[I respected my family’s decision and gave in because of my health issues.]
Despite being sick he still hoped that justice would prevail for his family and others who had gone through the same battle.
He was vocal about a system whose integrity had been tarnished and manipulated by money.
“Ol igat moni, mipla just simpla layman mipla stap tasol lo fortnight igat skul fee loan na ol kainkain go kam na ol net blo mipla ino inap lo baim legal fees blo mipla.”
[We are just simple laymen who live on fortnightly wages with school fee loans and other commitments. Our net pay couldn’t cater for our legal fees.]
His hope was that the laws of Papua New Guinea would serve everyone equally despite the colour of their skin, social standing and affiliations.
Last month, we got word that Levi Kurakipa had passed on.
He died without seeing the justice he had hoped for and without filing the human rights case that he and Amos Tarali hoped to pursue but couldn’t because they had no funds.
His story resonated with many other Papua New Guineans who had experienced being kicked out of their homes unlawfully- especially from National Housing Corporation properties.
How many more will have to through the same treatment?
How many more are legal tenants but are kicked out because money is a bigger motive than the welfare of a person and a family?
How many more have to let cases go because they don’t have the money to pursue costly legal battles?
How many more will fall ill under the stress of fighting a system that’s supposed to be fair?
How many more will leave this life not knowing if the system will ever be taken back for the good of the people?
Levi Kurakipa was vocal against the corrupt system. He didn’t mince his words and he was unafraid.
I hope his words were not in vain, and that the government will indeed take stock of how National Housing Corporation business has been carried out through the years.
I hope, for the sake of those who have gone from us without seeing change, that the government will do what they preach – to take back PNG.