Port Moresby transformation raises interesting issues

ANYONE who has not been to Port Moresby for some years will quickly be aware that things are really stirring. By Wantok

Construction activity underway might remind some of the boom times in some Asian cities, keeping in mind Port Moresby's much smaller size and its population of only half a million people.

Despite soaring petrol prices and significant improvements to some main roads, traffic in the capital city is at a level few would have imagined possible five years ago.

After 10-15 years of little or no activity, significant building work is underway in most parts of the city.

A large building is taking shape at Erima, as one drives out of Jackson Airport. There is more activity a little further down in the Boroko area.

Several projects are underway in the long dormant Harbour City area, a stone's throw from the Yacht Club as well as downtown, where traffic flow is becoming unmanageable.

Site works have begun at the top end of Champion Parade, just across from the distinctive Bank of South Pacific head office, on a 20-storey headquarters for Steamships.

In a week's time a ground-breaking ceremony will be held on a large area fronted by Sir John Guise and Waigani Drive, on a K1 billion commercial complex, "Vision City", being undertaken by Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group.

Much of this work will be nearing completion as the nation's first LNG project - its K40 billion cost is equivalent to six or seven PNG Government annual budgets - begins to take shape.

The gas pipeline from the Southern Highlands for this project will act as an energy backbone for other possible developments, particularly for new power projects.

Many long-time observers are already pondering how the city will cope with the influx of some 7000 expatriate skilled workers and professionals needed for the immense LNG construction task. This should get underway in earnest from about 2010.

Several hotel projects are anticipated to be under construction within the next couple of years but are unlikely anyway to have enough rooms to handle such a big influx of foreign workers.

The project operator, ExxonMobil, might have to consider building some temporary facilities closer to the plant site.

Since last year tourism has also been growing in excess of 30% annually.

But hotel and premium apartment accommodation aside, it appears likely there will be significant overcapacity in retail and office space and some other areas for many years to come. The alternative would be the most incredible boom imaginable.

The Government has announced an innovative scheme for provision of housing for public servants in conjunction with Bank South Pacific.

This project, given the way things are implemented in PNG, is likely to be slow off the ground.

Housing in general, especially at the lower-cost end, is severely deficient and the demand is unlikely to be met in coming years.

The authorities may already have missed the boat in this regard as a result of rising inflation and interest rates that may soon put housing loans out of reach for most people.

But the way the construction sector is moving, and the opportunities created by completed projects, it seems highly probably the 9% annual jobs growth rate of the past couple of years will soon move into double digit figures.


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