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Too much ‘politics’ on the continuous deteriorating of Okuk highway

Commentary by Peter Kinjap 

Before going to the polls during 2012 elections, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Works Minister Francis Awasa announced a K6 billion
concessional loan from Exim Bank of China to rebuild the highlands highway. This announcement made an Australian company whom had its
own plans to rebuild the highway pull off when the Government had intentions to allow a Chinese company to maintain the highway.
At the 2012 election campaign, the Prime Minister and Works Ministers did a lot of rounds in the media outlets repeatedly announcing they
secured a 30-year K6-billion loan that will put all the problems on the highlands highway to rest.
But five (5) years have gone by and the Okuk highlands highway that nurtures the country’s economy is deteriorating and there is no sign
of what has been preached 5 years ago. Where is the media propaganda of 30-year loan to fix the highway during 2012 elections?
After winning the 2012 elections with the media propaganda, the O’Neill Government continued to promote the loan, with Awasa promising
on the 28th September 2012 that it would be finalized within a month and funds would be available six months later then.
The promised six months lapsed without any tangible development on the highlands highway. Suspiciously, other projects that were to be funded
by the loan mushroomed to include a hydro-power scheme, urbanization in Port Moresby and Lae, and even the upgrading of State-owned
enterprises. Meanwhile, what seems to Government’s nominee contractor China Railway International (CRI) announced on its website a contract
worth of K419.35 million (US$132 million) for engineering, procurement and construction of the Lae-Nadzab road was accorded.
Graeme Smith from Australia’s Policy Development Centre reported on its blog that the six billion kina loan was superseded when a K3.18
billion (US$1 billion) was announced by Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in November 2013. But unfortunately, this remains linked only to the
upgrading of the Lae-Nadzab section by CRI and a 20km road between Togoba and Kisenopoi Junction, built by China Machinery Engineering
Corporation. To date, nothing is tangible on these sections of the highway and CRI faced ‘axe’ with the contract.
According to the 2015 National budget, the only documented use of the China Exim Bank loan was a road upgrading with K183.5 million for Port
Moresby streets.
As the then Treasury Minister Don Polye admitted, “I have not signed any loan contracts so I don’t know where all this information is
coming from. The Treasurer signs loans. I have not signed anything.” According to Graeme Smith’s analysis of information from the Works and
Transport Department, it became clear that the Government Ministers and the Chinese Companies were the driving forces behind the “loan”
which many PNG citizens still don’t know where the actual K6 billion loan gone to.
Here Peter O’Neill and Francis Awasa, five years ago promised a clean sweep rebuilding of the highlands highway, now making the same sort of
announcements of a comprehensive policy framework to strengthen national road networks including the highlands highway. They even gone
further to talk about strengthening ties with ADB for possible funding of the highlands highway.
Without any feeling of remorse of the “lies” and the K6-billion media propaganda on the highlands highway, the Prime Minister again says he
is planning to upgrade the highlands highway to “international standard” with ADB partnership. Is this another propaganda for
election campaigns?
Too much preaching about the highlands highway and no tangible development has taken place to date.
Landowners demanding for compensation along the highlands highway has been a long time issue. It’s not only the highlands highway but many
other roads in the country too.
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