Catholic Church report released Church skeptical about progress on Madang Pacific Marine Industrial Zone
By Patrick Matbob
A recent report on the development of the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ) in Madang has highlighted insufficient preparation for the project. The report was compiled after a research by Fr. Philip Gibbs of the Catholic Church and two research students from Divine Word University at end of last year. It was funded by Caritas of Australia for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands.
The Church needed the report because the PMIZ project is being developed on a plantation land formerly owned by the Catholic Mission and the majority of the people affected by the project are Catholics. The Catholic Archdiocese of Madang also provides most of the basic services which include a major health centre at Alexishafen, thirty-minute drive north of Madang, two primary schools, two vocational schools and a seminary in the same area.
The report recommended that a group, which should include a Church representative, study the experience of Special Economic Zones in other countries to understand their strengths and weaknesses. This would help PNG to avoid or minimize any problems associated with the project.
The report also found that a proper social impact assessment of the project had not been done and recommended one to be carried out including a social mapping of the impact area communities. The PNG government was also asked to clarify with stakeholders why it was carrying out an underwater sea lease survey and release the results to the public. The underwater survey is a contentious issue that is causing apprehension amongst the residents in the area. The report also recommended that any further agreements on the project should be signed locally in Madang with the knowledge of the local people and not in Port Moresby. Stakeholders should also arrange meetings with a trusted facilitator in order to find a way forward together, since the fragmentation of local communities in the project area is allowing a few to take unfair advantage of the situation.
The basic needs of the local people were also highlighted in the report, which recommended that women and young people be given a voice in meetings. The national and provincial governments have also been asked to consult with the Catholic education and health authorities to plan how to extend existing facilities in areas affected by the project. Special recommendations were made for the Church’s St Benedict’s Vocational School to be used to provide general life skills training and up-skilling so that the local people can access the labour market. Similarly Church and civil authorities were asked to support the initiative of the St. Therese Sisters at Alexishafen in their work with training and providing safe space for women and children at risk. The Church was also asked to work in conjunction with other NGOs to develop a series of community-based encounters to discuss and address social issues identified by the communities. This should include the social teaching of the Church concerning human dignity and a just living wage.
Furthermore, the report also sought a subsidy scheme through the project for all students in the affected area over and above any school fees paid by the government and any present arrangements with the already established RD Tuna company. Other portions of land owned by the Church near the project area should also be carefully planned and developed to provide an opportunity for local people to use the land legitimately and to avoid the spread of unplanned settlements.