Connect PNG has a five-year plan to establish a single, unbroken highway network for Papua New Guinea. David Wereh, Secretary of the Department of Works and Implementation, takes Business Advantage PNG through the challenges.
The government’s Connect PNG project seeks to distil the 20-year National Road Network Strategy into a series of five-year projects that will result in a more connected island nation. David Wereh, Secretary of the Department of Works and Implementation, has been tasked with identifying which roads need improvement and what new economic corridors can be opened up by some well-placed bitumen.
‘In the first five years we are looking at the Trans-Island Highway, that is the number one priority,’ says Wereh. ‘This would come across the country, it starts from Nine Mile Junction in Lae and finishes in Malalaua in the Gulf Province so you have to upgrade the existing roads to standard two lanes as well as opening up 302 kilometres of new road.’
The ambitious project would mean that you could drive between Lae and Port Moresby for the first time. Wereh adds that this main road artery would also serve as a lifeline for other infrastructure ‘enabling power and energy, as well as internet, to share the same multi-function corridors’.
‘It is a huge investment program and it is not possible to simultaneously roll it out.’
In a country with no shortage of infrastructure needs, Connect PNG’s role has meant the government can focus on more bite-sized chunks of its infrastructure issues, which is important for a cash-strapped nation still seeing off a global pandemic.
‘The cost involved means you have to prioritise,’ Wereh says. ‘It is a huge investment program and it is not possible to simultaneously roll it out. Connect PNG has phased these programs into a series of five-year projects and now we are starting with the first main regional highway that will connect our country for the first time.’
Funding the roads
Wereh says that the preferred model is concessional loan funding from bodies such as the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) both of which have recently ramped up their interest in PNG infrastructure.
‘We have Cabinet approval to go ahead with different donors and development partners who have shown a lot of confidence in this important government policy,’ Wereh says. ‘The key highways will consist of almost 4200 kilometres of land and we want to approach this differently than we have in the past. We need to consider maintenance and in the new plans we have been making enough funds available. But at this stage we have a huge backlog of rehabilitation.’
‘In line with the government’s agenda of building locally we are now working with some targets so that there is enough allowance made to building local industry.’
To assist with economic growth in a post-COVID landscape, Connect PNG is also seeking to make sure that local contractors get a fair slice of the infrastructure pie. ‘In line with the government’s agenda of building locally we are now working with some targets so that there is enough allowance made to building local industry. We would like to see fair and equal participation from our local contractors,’ he says. ‘Under the major [international] players we bring on board there is room for building our local contractors.’
Wereh sees roads as integral to the future of PNG, strengthening not only the economy but national unity. ‘What we need is the commitment to roads, because they are the predominant mode of transport in PNG,’ he says. ‘And it is my belief that now these economic lifeline roads have been identified it is important that government gives priority to them and makes it happen.’
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