Surreal PNG

THERE is something terribly surreal about Papua New Guinea today – an air of unreality that at heart does not augur well for the immediate future. By Wantok

The nation is on the cusp of its greatest resources boom with the nation's first LNG project already firing up its commissioning phase in readiness for exports starting in the second half of next year.

Sales of 6.9 million tonnes of LNG annually to customers in Japan, China and Taiwan is going to provide such a massive fillip to the economy it is anticipated to make an unprecedented surge to propel growth next year and bring possibly around 20% more in 2015.

This single project is about to provide a boost to the PNG economy that will outmatch the tremendous surge in the early 1990s that led to the start of one of the most exciting gold projects the world has seen at Porgera, starting in 1990, followed by the Kutubu oil project.

The 1990s was also PNG's lost decade. Despite the big bucks flowing in from resource exports the governments of the day nevertheless went into a borrowing splurge because of unhappiness over the how slowly prosperity was being spread among the populace.

Some would see parallels today with the record budget deficit planned in the current year and more deficits to come in the ensuing four years before significant corporate taxes from LNG are expected to start kicking in.

Despite the emerging boom the nation is transfixed on issues related to its robust mining sector - from the expropriation of the PNG Sustainable Development Program's 63.4% stake in the Ok Tedi mine to quietly burgeoning opposition to the deep sea mining project of the Canadian- listed Nautilus Minerals.

Amazingly the national media dredged up a 2006 report commissioned by Ok Tedi to help landowners and impacted villagers hold informed negotiations on the levels of compensation they required for the horrific environmental damage caused by tailings to the Fly River system.

With the new times ready to roll the national capital, Port Moresby, has had an incredible facelift after a ban placed on sale of betel nut affected the psyche of residents in the city to establish new levels of cleanliness.

The scene, nevertheless, remains surreal.

In recent times local police have assaulted members of the public on a number of occasions; soldiers raided and badly damaged parts of the University of Papua New Guinea in some kind of retaliatory attack; and there was a K6 million bank heist by security guards supposedly guarding the money.

A front page media report suggested there had been a mass killing in a tribal clash during which an explosive similar to a hand grenade had been used for the first time.

A day later police in Mt Hagen, the Western Highlands capital, had a shootout with rascals out to rob some companies.

Meantime, cabinet ministers and other political leaders are making unprecedented trips abroad despite the excessive costs of flying from PNG.

One of the great travellers is Public Enterprises Minister Ben Micah, who has signed memorandums of understanding - literally paper of little or no value - in countries as distant as China and Israel.

Micah wants PNG to own a satellite by 2018 and expects his Israeli connection to help fix the nation's electricity woes. The department that reports to him, the Independent Public Business Corporation, recently signed an agreement to fix the electricity transmission network in Port Moresby with an Israeli company that has never undertaken such a task in the past.

One of the great achievements of the present government has been the proclamation of free primary and secondary education but the Post Courier this past week has written about the woes of headmaster Eddie Morea, in a remote primary school in Gulf Province, who has been dismayed that none of the education funds have to his school.

Morea has to be one of the greatest heroes of PNG's education system. His school in Kikori district, not far from the provincial capital. He was reported to be singlehandedly teaching 143 students who are in grades 3 to 7. The Guinness Book of Records has probably not heard about him.

What is even more surreal about this situation is that no politician, such as the Gulf MPs, or anyone in the education department has even promised to look into the matter, much less fix it.

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