The turnoff at Depo, leading to Ower’s Corner, has been blocked with empty drums and a banner announcing the closure.
The blockade, placed on Sunday (February 4), follows the lack of response from the Government in relation to grievances raised via an advertisement in one of the dailies last month (January 24, pp26).
In the advertisement, the Kokoda Track Landowners’ Task Force Committee said they have been “economically suppressed, oppressed and exploited under the Kokoda Initiative Program for the last 10 years”.
In one of the issues raised, the LOs said: “PNG Government allocated well over K21 million to the Kokoda track communities since 2009 till July 2014, without the knowledge of the communities and landowners, and without the proper approval of the Kokoda track communities and landowners, the funds were managed by the Kokoda Initiative Secretariat, established by the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA).”
The committee’s complaints outlined lack of accountability and benefits for the Kokoda Trail communities.
The advertisement bore the signatures of 19 landowners, including James Enage, the chairman of the Kokoda Task Force Committee.
However, Enage is also the CEO of the Kokoda Track Authority, a special purpose authority commissioned to promote and manage the Kokoda Trail for tourists while improving the way of life for communities living along the track.
Veteran trekking company operator, Charlie Lynn, told Loop PNG: “This is an untenable conflict of interest as he is paid by the Government and the Kokoda trekking industry to keep the trail open.
“The KTA collects more than K1 million a year in trek fees but nothing has been distributed to local village communities.”
Lynn pointed out that though they are only 8 weeks away from the start of the trekking season, infrastructure and facilities are still in disrepair.
“Some of the bridges built last year have collapsed and sections of the trail are dangerously unsafe. The Ranger system has collapsed. No action has been taken to protect the welfare of local guides and porters.
“No investigation has been launched into the death of a porter late last year. No management protocols are in place and the viability of PNG’s most iconic and popular tourism destination is threatened.
“The CEO has not produced an annual report for a number of years. His office has not produced a monthly newsletter for more almost four years. So nobody knows what is going on or where the money is going.”
Unfortunately, numerous attempts to reach Enage and the KTA for comments have been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, a team from the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority (PNGTPA) visited the site on Monday, confirming reports of the blockade.
"The blockage was manned by several landowners, mostly from the Sogeri area," reported PNGTPA.
Trek operators were advised by PNGTPA CEO, Jerry Agus, that though the LOs were aware of the negative implications of their actions, they still wanted a response to the issues they have raised.
Agus gave the assurance that he would get in touch with the relevant Government departments to find a way to quickly resolve the issue.
(The sign at Depo on the road to Owers’ Corner)