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Australia tends to make u-turn on Manus Island road renewal guarantee

Updated December 11, 2015 21:01:43

The Australian Government has renewed a pledge to fix Manus Island’s primary road following community leaders mentioned it tried to renege on the promise, portion of a package of incentives to host the asylum seeker processing centre.

The pledge to re-seal the 30-kilometre road from the Manus provincial capital Lorengau to Momote airport was made when the Papua New Guinea government agreed to permit Australia to reopen the centre in 2012.

Audio: Australian U-turn on Manus Island’s principal road (Pacific Beat)

The pledge was part of a $ 37 million dollar help package for Manus, efficiently a sign of appreciation from the Australian Government for the hosting of its asylum seekers and refugees.

Sixteen million dollars was committed to re-sealing the road and the rehabilitation of two bridges.

Manus Island officials told Pacific Beat that Australian officials lately informed them that cost blow-outs meant only part of the road would be re-sealed.

“They told us that it is only going to be sealed as far as Lolak Bridge, that would be just below two-fifths of the road,” stated Ronnie Knight, the MP for Manus Island.

But following inquiries by the ABC, the Australian Government has announced it will honour the pledge, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) releasing a statement saying “Australia is funding upkeep to the road, including a re-seal”.

Asked to clarify if the complete road would be resealed, a DFAT spokeswoman said it would, “in line with community expectations”.

DFAT stated the roadworks must be completed about the middle of next year.

The governor of Manus Island, Charlie Benjamin, has welcomed the modify of heart.

“Firstly, I consider they could see that the government of Manus and the folks of Manus are not content at all. And I also think that possibly you coming in, as Australian media, I believe that almost certainly helped,” he said.

“We have by no means been informed of this news [the renewed pledge to total the roadworks]. In reality two weeks ago we had been informed they will not continue,” he stated.

Cease-commence roadworks

The road from Lorengau to Momote airport is the island’s primary transport artery and is in quite undesirable condition.

In some places the potholes are 80 centimetres deep, so deep that even heavy trucks get bogged.

So when the Australian Government announced as part of the help package that it would re-seal the complete road, locals rejoiced.

But senior local officials told the ABC that Australian gvernment representatives announced the downgrade in the course of a meeting with officials about two months ago.

“Nobody’s content with it. I can’t speak for the governor but I know that senior bureaucrats walked out of the briefing, they did not finish it, they walked out in disgust,” Mr Knight mentioned.

“The nearby men and women are very upset about it because all the gravel has been extracted from the Mamote location, and these trucks that they’ve been employing to extract gravel from those blocks have been [additional] tearing-up the road.”

Governor Charlie Benjamin backs Mr Knight’s story that Australian officials told his bureaucrats that the complete road would no longer be sealed.

“That was for the duration of that meeting when all of the stakeholders met and we were advised that they can no longer construct to the airport,” he said.

“The explanation that was offered was that they had committed the 36 million kina ($ 16 million) to the road, but at the time of the assessment the road was in a great situation. But following the plan was on, then all of the large autos came and broken the road.”

Mr Benjamin stated the announcement outraged locals.

“The reaction of the provincial government was that this was just unacceptable. They just had to stand up and [get] out of the meeting. The folks are extremely upset.”

Topics: refugees, immigration, community-and-society, road-transport, international-help-and-trade, papua-new-guinea, pacific

1st posted December 11, 2015 20:58:04

Agen Sabung Ayam