Monday, September 3, 2012

Leadership failures impede progress in Western Province

Above: Chairman of OTML and PNGSDP, Prof Ross Garnaut makes a point to Ati Wobiro, Governor of Western Province, on board the Fly Explorer yesterday.

Yesterday, I was in Kiunga. I flew there from Tabubil in the morning to witness the launching of the Fly Explorer. The vessel was built in Malaysia at a cost of around USD 2.3 million using dividend funds from the various Ok Tedi related Trusts.

As I reported earlier, it will be leased by the Ok Tedi Development Foundation to Ok Tedi mine, to be used as a scientific research vessel to monitor the environment.

Apart from a few words from Managing Director of Ok Tedi, Mr Nigel Parker and the Governor of Western Province, basically reiterating their commitment to work together the opening remarks by one of the commounmity leaders struck me the most.

Nick Bun is the President of the Ok Tedi Mine Impact Area Association (OTMIAA). He spoke of the lack of capacity of leaders within various Trust Communities. Nick himself illustrated how much he lacked in his understanding of the machinations of Ok Tedi related community development activities. He seemed very stressed about the exhaustion of Trust Funds to purchase three vessels, the Fly Hope and the Fly Explorer as well as the bulk carrier, the Fly Warrior.

What he did not seem to understand was that although Trust Funds were exhausted in purchasing these vessels, they would be leased to Ok Tedi Mine, thus generating income.

Having said that, I am also concerned of a possible conflict of interest by Ok Tedi Mine and it's community development vehicle the Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF), in creating a scenario like that especially at a time when the Mine Lease Extension was being negotiated with affected communities and the 10th Supplementary Agreement regarding Ok Tedi Mine is up for negotiations.

This issue, highlights the lack of leadership in Western Province. Despite the questionable motive of investment, the fact of the matter is that the State, the Fly River Provincial Government and the Provincial Administration have failed in their fiduciary duty to the Trust Communities. The failure of Government Agencies to deliver much need services to Mine affected communities has compelled the miner Ok Tedi Mining Ltd to take a leading role, particularly in the North Fly region.

There was money meant for development projects in communities, just sitting in the bank while communities suffered the effects of the world's third largest environmental disaster. Clearly, someone had to do something, and the Ok Tedi Development Foundation was set up by the miner as an implementing agency for projects in Mine affected communities.

So I found myself sitting on the Fly Explorer nibbling finger food and wondering if the people along the Fly River have a development story they have to tell, or are they like the Western Province deer caught in the headlights of development and wondering what to do.

The master of ceremony for the Fly Explorer launching had died the night before the the day of launching. He was a broken man lost to alcoholism. His death highlighted the problem of alcoholism and incompetence amongst many Provincial leaders in politics and civil service.

According to Ian Middleton, the CEO of OTDF, 60 % of Western Province's Children do not complete grade 8 and the Province's education standards are regarded as the second lowest in the country. Health indicators are poor as well and health experts quietly express concern that province has the highest incidence of Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis in the World.

It is now up to the leaders of Western Province to create their own development agenda and work towards achieving it. The prospects look gloomy however. Having signed an Agreement with PNGSDP, Governor Wobiro is now keen on signing MOAs written by Ok Tedi and OTDF. The problem with this is that the Governor is essentially allowing these parties to dictate the development agenda as opposed to his administration.

The Governor and his advisory team (if any) must take this opportunity to dictate the terms to OTML, OTDF and PNGSDP, and not the other way around. It is critical, that Western Province's political elite, particularly the Members of Parliament, take the lead on developmental matters in order to ensure that there is a sense of ownership of the development agenda.

A sense of ownership, ensure sustainability of developmental activities. If there is no sense of initiative and therefore ownership: a project will fail, however well intentioned it may have been. It is up to the people of Western Province to develop their province: not Ok Tedi or PNGSDP. If they depend upon these entities to dictate the terms of development, they will never be masters of their own destiny.