Life in many ways remains quiet and peaceful for us without too much action in our lives
Oxfam in Arawa, however, has a problem with a former casual employee and occasional provider of transport services wanting to hijack their solitary vehicle to settle a grievance he feels he has with the organisation. He apparently has a large disputed unpaid invoice that has been through a dispute resolution process more than a year ago that was settled and signed off as “full and final”. Word got out that his anger had re-emerged and that he was planning to take Oxfam’s vehicle in compensation for the unpaid bill.
This is not an unusual problem in Arawa and constitutes a real threat to their vehicle. UNICEF in Arawa have recently lost theirs to another person who claims to have an on-going grievance against that organisation and UNICEF is having a devil of a job getting it back – apparently the third that they have lost in this way. Most locals are remarkably tolerant of this sort of action – taking a stand in such a situation can get you into a lot of trouble if the “aggrieved party” finds a reason to transfer his grievances to you. The police are unfortunately relatively toothless and can posture and bluster a bit but do not have the resources to tackle such crimes full-on – after all they are unarmed in a post conflict zone not short of weapons, and risk personally becoming the surrogate victims of someone’s anger, without proper support to be able to resist such pressures.
In some situations the “aggrieved party” has a “legitimate cause” – locally employed power workers recently took a PNG Power vehicle until they were paid quite a few weeks unpaid wages. Employers can be remarkably casual about things like paying wages or settling bills.
In other cases it’s a pretext for simple theft – presenting the face that the thief has a legitimate grievance against some organisation with vehicles – often NGO’s doing humanitarian work in the area are seen as soft targets who don’t have the benefit of a large extended family who are quite prepared to retaliate violently in support of their “wantok”, if someone’s “grievance” gets too out of hand.
Sometime it is someone who feels aggrieved by an organisation for which he worked – and who maybe lost his job as a result of some offence he did. Somehow the fact that his actions precipitated the sacking doesn’t seem to enter the equation and anger at losing his job is directed at the former employer. If the man chooses to brood on the “affront” of losing his job , he may look for a way at getting back at the organisation. This could include making new claims for payments for work or expenses incurred while employed. Fuelled by anger, maybe some post traumatic stress from the recent civil war and with the passage of time, the gap between fact and fiction becomes blurred and the “aggrieved party” can end up truly believing that he has a legitimate claim for compensation – and if it is not settled then he is quite entitled to claim the vehicle as a simple way of recovering the employer’s debt to him. This type of situation is very hard to counter – the aggrieved party is really angry and he tells everyone so and the reason (imagined or real) for his anger. Most people in the face of it accept what has happened as the easy way out, ignore the theft and get on with life. Unless the organisation can swing a large portion of the community in behind it there is not much they can do. Achieving this support can be difficult to achieve for a foreign NGO.
Oxfam is going to have to come up with a strategy to prevent the theft of their only vehicle, which is crucial to the delivery of the WASH programmes (health training, toilets and water supplies) to the villages , or, if stolen, to get it returned quickly, or they may quite legitimately choose to withdraw from Bougainville, probably leaving a dozen or more locals jobless, a string of incomplete systems and missed opportunities for further community health and lifestyle improvements. They could choose to pay – but that would very likely result in on-going “grievance ” claims from all sorts of opportunists for easy money. I don’t suppose the donors would be too happy about that!
Anyway Oxfam clearly has a problem and those with the inclination might choose to include the situation in their prayers.
All I can say is thank goodness it’s not my or VSA’s problem – however a successful “transfer of ownership” could have implications for all other NGO’s in the area if others decide this looks like an easy way to acquire a nice Landcruiser! A meeting is scheduled to take place next week between Oxfam and the claimant in the presence of the Senior Branch Police Officer and other interested parties. While I have been helping Oxfam with their WASH programme , which has meant my being around their office quite a lot, including when the man lodged his complaint and met with local Oxfam staff and the police at the Oxfam office, the local Oxfam staff have handed the problem on to their senior colleagues in Port Moresby to deal with. There is little point in involving a VSA person in the dispute and potentially draw the VSA organisation in Arawa into a conflict that has nothing to do with it. However we can watch with interest ( and some concern) as things develop over the next week or so!
Roadworks in PNG
When I arrived home on Friday evening I was met by the following scene. Some organisation has been repairing the streets in Arawa, (no-one is quite sure who is doing it and who is paying) adding gravel and reshaping and compacting the often rugged streets. It was the turn for our street on Friday afternoon
Unfortunately going home time came after the gravel had been dumped on the road – so the street has to wait all weekend before the heaps are flattened and the road reshape so the houses to the right can get vehicle access. Interestingly enough they also started in the middle of the street rather at the further end! Some brave souls have taken to the swampy shoulder in their four wheel drive vehicles but I can see at three o’clock on Monday morning the PMVs will be lining up outside our front gate and hooting to alert fares further down the street of their presence, for the daily trip to Buka! If someone is not ready and waiting we won’t be getting much sleep!
At just after nine last night (Friday) two masked and armed men (with firearms) baled up two staff ( man and woman) at the Oxfam depot. After trying to persuade them at gun point to hand over the keys that they did not have, they threw a brick through the vehicle window, hot wired the starter & drove it away, hitting the metal fence and gate posts on the way out. One traumatized woman is on her way back to the mainland and Oxfam now has no truck. It will be up to the wider Arawa community to do something now and get it back or Oxfam will probably shut up shop in Arawa, with a considerable loss to the local community. Very sad.
Watch this space!