Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Potential Wewak

The potential Wewak has in terms of its location between the Asia Pacific market are often under-estimated. Arriving in Wewak airport on Air Niugini flight from Port Moresby via Madang I noticed that the plane was three quarters full even though this was the peak period for travel. The Air Niugini Foker 100 was Captain J Matane during the December 27, 2013.

The township has never grown much, except for a few expansions in merchant monopolies by Tang Mou and Garamut enterprises.  The new Town Market and Police Station and cark-park exhibit significant improvement. Other than that the population visiting Wewak everyday has increased to a point where there is little space left to pass another person without touching them. A good recipe for profit when you have many people milling around the main shopping area, some would say.

I’d like to see it the other way. Where there are more unemployed people on the street that is a sign that economic incentives to keep people occupied are missing. 

Wewak has so much potential terms of land resources and human capital that is undeveloped. As a nexus between Asia and the Pacific Wewak can serve as a port of entry with shorted flights from Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Hawaii (USA) and the rest of the Pacific.  Wewak airport and seaport should expand before such a dream can become a reality. Flight time between the destinations listed above to Wewak is shorter than to Port Moresby.

The in-flow of goods from the Asia via Jayapura is signified by the growth of informal markets in Wewak. Small to medium enterprises are beginning to emerge in Wewak, but only at a snail’s pace.  More Asian and Pacific meets can help move Wewak to the forefront in terms of capital investments and trade.

What I think might help grease the situation a bit is to address the sharp increase in law and order situation in the province. All over Wewak people are living in fear of being victims of unsuspecting youths gathering along settlement roads to those who wield screw-drivers, one-metre knives, and gas lighters to burn down houses.  Along Wariman and Yawasoro road there are signs of unnecessary arson on private property in recent times.

In theory massive injection of funds to strategically address the situation should be the first step to take in 2014. People are already frustrated with no attention to the law and order situation in Wewak.

Another suggestion that might help bring back confidence in people to move around freely without intimation and fear of being held up is for the government to strengthen its police operations in Wewak. Instead of having two police stations such as it has now in Wewak Town Market and Kreer Heights it must have sub-stations in various locations in Wewak.  This will help with surveillance as well as in bringing confidence back to the communities that want to address the law and order situations without experiencing negative repercussions.

Some community leaders have shared with me some of these concerns.  Wewak has so much to offer in terms of economic development. There is so much potential in tourism in the province, but with the law and order problem no one will visit Wewak or the province for that matter. Tourism can only grow if the issue of safety is guaranteed. Right now one can hardly see any sign of tourists making Wewak their centre of attraction.

For those of us who have thoughts of returning home to start small businesses the reality on the ground is that there are more risks to deal with than elsewhere. Law and order problem being the main risk discourages our Sepik elites to return home to start their own small businesses. Unless such a situation improves most successful elites of the province would rather start their businesses elsewhere and develop other provinces.

Many Sepiks operate at the national level, but with the difficult situation in Wewak many will consider returning home unnecessary. It is more comfortable and safe to operate at the national level or in other provinces than in the Sepik.

Every year the performance in education drops in the East Sepik province. Over the years I noticed that few school leavers from the East Sepik Province enter the University of Papua New Guinea. Most of the Sepiks who enter the University of PNG come from other provinces. The reasons for this situation are many, but one can only speculate that part of the problem has to do with break down in law and order in our communities.  Children are no longer focused on their studies, but are getting caught up in the influence of those doing drugs such as marijuana and drinking ‘steam’ or ‘bucket’, which lead them to holding the communities at ransom. These terrible nightmares must be cleaned up before our children can remain focused on their education.

In the interests of our people in the East Sepik province, especially our capital Wewak I am writing this article with so much ambivalence for the way things are now. There is a need for concerted efforts from leaders at the national, provincial, and local level to work together to find ways to minimize these risks to developmental initiatives and economic growth in the province.  

It reassuring to the see the work that the Member for Yangoru Sausia, Honorable Richard Maru, is doing to the electorate, but the situation in Wewak can also affect the good work done in that electorate and others as well.

There is more Wewak can offer in terms of its location, natural beauty, arts, culture, agriculture, fisheries, mining, and with good seaport and airport. All that is needed is to consider socio-economic development together with the risks management issues. One cannot have socio-economic development without considering the law and order issues as the main risks and impediments to growth.

Without attending to the problems highlighted here I can predict that Wewak will continue with the downward spiral it has already begun.


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