The signing took place today at the PNGDF Headquarters at Murray Barracks, Commander Brigadier General Albert Toropo signed on behalf of the force, whilst PNGDF Secretary Hari John Akipe signed on behalf of the Government and the Hela Provincial Administrator William Bando signed representing the Hela Provincial Government. Hela Governor Philip Undialu and Minister for Defence Saki Soloma witnessed the signing.
The Minister when giving his speech thanked PNGDF Commander for pushing through this project that will see the establishment of the FOB and eventually a third battalion based in Hela.
“Hela and Southern Highlands provinces host PNG LNG project and other major mineral resources that drives the economy of this nation and it is fitting to have PNGDF base in the province.” The Minister said.
“Many times we have soldiers being called out for state of emergencies in the Highlands provinces and the cost is very high. Therefore, this historic signing will help manage the cost and provide confidence for investors in terms of security,” said Soloma.
The Minister added that the establishment of the FOB would also bring peace and security for the provinces plagued by tribal disputes.
Hela Governor Philip Undialu on the other hand said the agreement brings together two parties involving the PNGDF Council and the Hela Provincial Executive Council.
He clarified that the plan of establishing the FOB and the third battalion of PNGDF was captured in the Millenium Term Development Plan 3 (MTDP3) launched in 2019; and endorsed by the Hela Provincial Government with the commitment to fund the establishment with the PNGDF.
Undialu added that the Hela PEC will provide five million kina for a period of 10 years to set up the battalion.
“The first step of the MoU is to establish the Forward Base in Tari and Hela Provincial Government has made available Hela Technical institution to be used as the military base with a funding of K300,000 for refurbishment of the properties. Going forward, we will have more than 1000 PNGDF personnel deployed to Hela for the third battalion” the Governor said.
The FOB will have 100 PNGDF personnel for immediate start.
Apart from all the PNGDF barracks around the country the proposed third battalion in Hela will be the first established by the Government of PNG with the other battalions established by foreigners during the colonial era.
Meantime, PNGDF Commander Gilbert Toropo said as they prepare to increase PNGDF manpower to 10,000, the MoA now paves the way for the PNGDF to work on increasing the personnel going forward.
“It’s a deliberate plan that PNGDF has as part of the development and growth of the force as directed by our Government through the 2013 PNGDF White Paper.” the Commander said.
Toropo clarified that currently the Constitution only allows for 5,000 PNGDF personnel and this initiative to establish the third battalion in Hela is a strategic and deliberate move the PNGDF has taken in line with the Government’s vision and plans.