15 NOVEMBER 2020
The number of residential properties for sale in Port Moresby is growing, and fast. Not all of these structures are constructed according to laws and building standards though. Many of the houses are built on land that has not been legally acquired. Rather, quasi-legal land arrangements are executed in the shifting shadow of government, and the government does little to correct the situation. In this era its reach is limited. Political leaders tend not to fulfil past promises before opening their mouths to sweet-talk the people with new promises. These people are tired of too many unfulfilled promises, too much empty talk. Enforcing laws and standards has been a problem for all those who have ruled Papua and New Guinea. The Germans used a network of officers called kiaps, luluais and tultuls to administer their territory. The Australians used a revised version of the German system. From these colonial administrations, Papuans and New Guineans inherited a system in which power is exercised by legalised coercion within the modern western system of government.
The residential issues in Port Moresby cannot be contained or managed efficiently by the National Housing Corporation or the National Capital District (NCD) administrations. People need houses now, not in five to ten years’ time. Sub-standard houses are plentiful. I bought a sub-standard house in 2012 and renovated it up to standard, or at least to what I consider decent living conditions. My house is connected to water and electricity. However, I remain unsure, yet certain, that I do not own the land on which my house stands. My incomplete address – House # 583, Section 2219, Kela Mountain, Moitaka Ridge, 9 Mile, NCD, 121 – does not include an allotment number, which should form part of the legal title and is allocated after surveying. Powes Parkop, Governor of NCD, pledged to fix these problems, via his Settlement Upgrading Scheme, but that stalled a few years ago. One or two signs advertising the project are still up. As long as these signs remain, he will not forget his promise. Right? At the 2017 general election, the people returned Parkop to his seat. Things should pick up again now. Right? If the recent 14 Mile evictions are anything to go by, the good Governor is prioritizing so called “development” projects over the needs and rights of people to shelter and to owning homes.
The traditional landowners of 9 Mile are the Koiari. From the 1950s, people from the Gulf migrated to the area to work in the big quarry. In the 1980s, people from the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea came to settle as the settlement area grew. I bought my house from an old man from Simbu in the central highlands. He moved to Bush Wara, an emerging settlement in the 9 Mile area that is now competing for land with 9 Mile Cemetery, as both expand. The dead need land space as much as the living.
9 Mile is so named because it is 9 miles (14.5 kilometres) from downtown Port Moresby. The colonists measured out from the centre of town. In Lae is a settlement called 14 Mile. Goroka has a 4 Mile market. Madang has 7 Mile. You get the picture. At 8 Mile in Port Moresby, Kennedy Estate is being developed, one of a number of new legal “settlements” in the area. This estate is being built privately, not by the government. The developer organises building permits, occupancy certificates, land titles and all other necessary documentation for the first home buyer. The only problem with Kennedy Estate is that it is next to Jackson’s Airport and directly under the landing path for all incoming aircrafts. How did the developer get a permit to build there? Why didn’t the National Airports Corporation (NAC) contest the plans? It seems that city planners and relevant government agencies have not been communicating with each other. Although in the case of Kennedy Estate, the NAC may have taken for granted the fact that airports can now be built nearer to residential suburbs because of improvements in aircraft engine designs that make them less noisy than they used to be.
Is the increasing number of residential estates and the often comprising semi-legal, sub-standard residences, really a sign of development and progress? Yes and no, I would say. If the government cannot provide proper housing options for people in a timely fashion then how does it satisfy this basic human necessity? Settlements become a necessary appendage in a developing country when the government cannot cater for the population densities required of urban centers.