Since the Banab bridge broke earlier this year, both travelers and locals have been severely inconvenienced. Every trip for those headed for Bogia and East Sepik, costs them a lot to travel.
They pay a toll to get across the bridge built by the locals. They pay for transport. And the local people have had to put up with conflicts triggered by the rising lawlessness.
Earlier this year, a contractor was killed at the bridge. The killing further delayed progress. The bridge parts have been lying idle at the location. For now, the locals say they are fed up with the delays.
In September, I went to the 70th anniversary celebrations of my old high school in Popondetta. I had not been back for 26 years. The place had drastically changed in many respects. Along the way on the Bishop’s 10-seater, we passed so many young men drunk on steam being pulled off the road by their friends.
The place had indeed changed.
When we arrived at the school, the crowd was bigger. More young men drunk at the school entrance. Some came from the village. Many others were students. It bothered me a lot. You don’t realize how big the problem is until you go outside of Lae City.
In Popondetta, the police have lost control. I bumped into a senior officer who was in the school yard while we were shooting pictures.
“We arrested two students,” he said. They arrested two and let the others roam wild and free.
Many Papua New Guineans see the alcohol crisis in isolation when we shouldn’t. Alcohol abuse is affecting everything around us yet we refuse to accept that we are experiencing a crisis that is destroying us as a country.
Every one of us knows a relative or a neighbor who beats up his wife every Friday. ‘He came home drunk.’ The verbal abuse, the rapes, the public harassment… Nearly every major accident is caused by someone under the influence. You can go to the accidents and emergency section of any major hospital and ask the emergency physician and they will show you the stats.
Last year, Dr. Alex Peawi, who heads the A & E section at Angau Hospital told me that eight out of every 10 cases brought in to the hospital after 10pm is alcohol related. These are women beaten by their partners, youths stabbed during a fight in a block and so many other cases. I bet you a hundred bucks, the stats have not changed.
In 2012, when I returned to Lae, clashes between ethnic groups were very common. Root cause? Some drunk idiot harasses members of the community, he gets beaten up them mobilizes his wantoks. Boom! Ethnic clash! People displaced.
Police are sick of it. They’ve seen enough of it.
In Lae, acts of being drunk and disorderly have become largely subdued. The police are able to pounce quickly and remove the culprits before they cause harm to the community.
With Lae’s police toll free number, citizens feeling threatened can call in anonymously, provide details and the drunk is removed quickly. Again, almost always, clashes involving different ethnic groups start from a single drunk or a group of them. Police have since been nipping the problem in the bud.
I see relative success in Lae City. But I see a steady decline in other smaller centers.
The police systems are weak and the community is afraid to take ownership of the problem simply because they don’t have back up from the law.
I say again that it is a CRISIS in every sense of the word. It’s not just the ‘drug bodies’ who are part of the crisis. Every week, someone in Papua New Guinea is disciplined and sacked for abusing the company vehicle while drunk. It’s become a common excuse.
“Sorry, em no mekim wok hariap…em kisim wara liklik lo nait na em silip.”
“Em spak na bamim kar.”
Every day, some drunk cop physically abuses a member of the public. Kids finishing off their grade 8 exams feel they need to ‘celebrate’ because everyone is doing it. I think we’ve gone wrong somewhere.
It’s a crisis that needs an acknowledgement by us as a people. We have to admit that we have a problem and get help.
To the west of Telefomin District of the Sandaun Province, is Oksapmin sub-district, as the colonials called it. It used to be well connected with an old limestone track built by the kiaps. But this trek has deteriorated over the years.
We were dropped off at a higher elevation at an airstrip called Bak and from there were trekked for two days toward a Baptist mission station called Tekin. The trek was long and muddy.
When we arrived at a school along the way we met a teacher named, Finn Ruhup. He was a veteran of many years and being a local, he knew his district like the back of his hand. In a place like Oksapmin, the challenges are many. School supplies are difficult to get, teachers didn’t want to come to Oksapmin to work and the maintenance of buildings depended entirely on the willingness of communities to fork out scarce resources to fix government assets.
I asked about rates of maternal and infant mortality. Mr. Ruhup smiled and shook his bearded face.
“It’s bad. But people accept it as a way of life.”
Another teacher sitting next to him joined in the conversation.
“Over here along the track we are able to keep track of how many women and children die. But there are hamlets in places that are difficult to get to. There is no easy way to get there and record how many died. But they die every week and remain unrecorded.”
Oksapmin is extremely mountainous. People live on the ridges of the mountains. The places that appear deceptively close on a map can take anything between six and 12 hours to reach on foot.
“When a child dies, the father takes the baby, wraps the tiny body in ‘skin diwai’ (tree bark) and buries him or her behind the hut,” the teacher said.
There is no ceremony, no ‘haus krai.’ Nobody cries for an infant who dies before his or her first birthday. It’s all too common and people have normalized the trauma of infant death. When a woman faces birth complications, she is carried in a stretcher made from a ‘laplap’ and bamboo poles to the nearest aid post.
It takes many hours. Sometimes it takes days. Many women die along the way.
As we headed to Tekin the next day, a group of men passed us carrying a young mum in the same fashion. They walked hurriedly through the knee deep mud as they passed us. The greetings were hurried and polite. They didn’t stop to shake hands as many of the other people did.
I didn’t find out if the woman lived or died.
Every birth is risk. If a woman continues to bleed after giving birth, getting her to a hospital is really difficult. In Oksapmin, you are at the mercy of the weather. After 12 pm, the clouds cover the mountaintops and rain begins to fall. Visibility for aircrafts drops to zero.
In 2014 and 2015, I was following the development of the Rural Airstrips Authority. At every opportunity, I asked then Minister for Civil Aviation, Steven Davis, about when rural airstrips would be given priority.
At one occasion, at Nadzab airport, he said to me: “Scott, you are always asking me about rural airstrips. Now, I want to ask you: Why you keep asking me about rural airstrips?
I had a long answer for him. But I kept it short. “I grew up in Menyamya and growing up I saw how important rural airstrips were for rural communities. We don’t have that level of commitment anymore from government and operators. I am hoping you will change that.”
These days, I have no patience for consultants and heads of departments who make powerpoint presentations and show fancy statistics to packed coffee sipping audiences in air conditioned conference rooms.
I’ve had enough of that rubbish. Many have never seen the true human face of infant and maternal mortality. Many have never walked those tracks to understand what families feel when they can’t get the youngest child to a hospital.
I think our people deserve better than this crap that we are being fed.
Our public health systems are failing. I’m not making this up. Ask the doctors and nurses. The private pharmacies profit from the ill-health of our people. The medicine they should be getting free from the public health system is being sold to them at exorbitant prices.
We need just K10 million to get the National Cancer Unit in Lae up and running at full capacity. Dr. Ludwig Nanawar at Laloki needs another K10 million to refurbish the Laloki mental hospital.
Enough said! I’m not saying anything about Maseratis.
PNG’s Trade Union Congress has not recognized calls by politicians in the Opposition for a nationwide stop work next week Thursday and Friday.
PNGTUC General Secretary Clemence Kanau explained that strike actions are mandated responsibilities of industrial organizations and can only be called for by Trade Unions and not politicians.
“Strikes are called for by Trade Unions and strikes are synonymous to trade unions.”
Mr Kanau said TUC has been observing what is transpiring up till today and has not resolved or decided on the proposed strike action.
He said until today, “there is no process and procedure been followed to sanction a nationwide strike so any calls by politicians will not be recognized by TUC because they did not enter into any agreement or understanding with the politicians to call for a strike action.”
“I believe the terminology is wrong, maybe the intent by politicians is right but “strike” is not the right terminology to be used,” said Kanau.
Secretary Kanau said when it comes to industrial actions, all processes and procedures under the Industrial Organisations Act of this country are to be followed and the process is simply.
“Notices must go out and union members must vote to give mandate to the leadership to call for a strike action.”
He said “politicians don’t call for strikes, trade union leaders and its membership does.”
My family have been suffering for four pay days now.
I am dumbstruck as to why my pay has been cut by half. Education salaries officers are also not able to clearly explain to me why this has happened. I have not been able to support my family with certain necessities.
My teenage daughters have suffered mentally because their needs have not been appropriately met. I have to re-use disposable shaving machines together with old razor blades. Sometimes I ask my neighbors to use their shaving blades.
I am also suffering from toothache as I am not able to afford standard toothpaste to brush my teeth. All this is part of my “code of ethics” to at least look presentable at work.
I cannot leave work to go to education salaries office to follow up on the pay cut explanations because my school is 50km away. It will take me a whole day and my students will be left unattended.
It will cost me K12 per day.
I will also need to feed my family just to list a few. I thank the opposition for calling for the strike. You have heard our silent cry. All teachers must stand hand to support this worthy cause.
We have our code of ethics… but don’t you agree with me that we the teachers have been the ones who have been the honest custodian of it compared to the our superiors?
Stand up and shake this system that has been making us suffer. Do this for yourselves and for our future teachers and most importantly for our families.
– Edward Tenakanai is a teacher serving at Boisen in East New Britain. This story was shared with his permission.
“This is simply because we as teachers have a code of ethics and a responsibility to the children of this nation.”
A total of 133,745 Grade 8 students in 3,078 Primary Schools will sit for their Certificate of Basic Education Examination from Monday 22nd October-Thursday 25th October 2018.
Our teachers will not stop work out of their duty to these students and the rest of those in schools nationwide.
Mr Mowana added that while it is true teachers may have their own issues; they are in dialogue with the PNG Teachers Service Commission and the National Department of Education and will adhere to that process.
“We are committed to talking with employers because we want a resolution to the teachers’ pay issues but we will adhere to our communications and follow process.”
Mr Mowana further stated, “This proposed boycott is expected to take place during the National Grade 8 examinations and our first and foremost duty is to the children of PNG hence we will not stop work, despite our own issues.”