They were the $600,000 worth of Australian taxpayer-funded projects that were supposed to change the lives of poor villagers living along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea.
But according to veteran Kokoda Track trekking company operator Charlie Lynn, the Sustainable Livelihoods aid projects appear to have vanished into the Kokoda mists without providing any major benefit to villagers.
The suspect programs were revealed this week as PNG has been earmarked to receive a $420 million boost to the already half a billion dollars in aid funding it receives from Australia and as Mr Lynn called for the Veterans’ Affairs Department to take over Kokoda Track’s management from the federal Environment Department.
”It’s a damn disgrace,” said Mr Lynn who is a Vietnam veteran andNSW Liberal MP. ”It was a program that was conceived in Canberra without any consultation with anybody in PNG and it was a program that was destined to fail.”
The livelihood projects were established in 2010 to help communities in the Kokoda Track region build businesses that would provide sustainable income generation, particularly related to selling produce and services to trekkers.
After a taxpayer-funded $58,303 ”scoping study” in 2010, the track villages of Naoro 1, Naoro 2, Isurava, Alola and Abuari were earmarked for the projects with special emphasis on Naoro after residents had suffered from a decision to block a proposed copper mine project nearby.
For the next three years a total of $545,300 flowed to the PNG government’s Kokoda Track Authority for the projects which according to Mr Lynn included purpose-built massage huts and massage training for villagers, sales of produce from goats and poultry, vegetable gardens, rice from a paddy operation, a fish farm and drying rooms so drenched hikers could dry their clothes overnight.
But what happened to the programs appears to be a mystery. When Fairfax Media asked the Environment Department this week what happened, a spokeswoman said the Kokoda Track Authority was in the process of procuring an external review of the project to assess the ”level of success and sustainability”.
She declined to comment on Mr Lynn’s criticisms.
Mr Lynn, however, says he already knows what happened after receiving reports from his trekking company’s staff and associates which found:
At Nauro 1, no rice was produced after apparently no harvesting advice was received or milling equipment provided. A proposed fish farm failed after villagers dug a pond but were not given any fish.
At Nauro 2, the village was supplied with vegetable seeds, goats and poultry but no advice was given as to how villagers could sell to trekkers – a scenario which led to goats being disposed of or eaten along with the poultry. The vegetable patch ceased to exist.
At Isurava, poultry was provided but did not produce any eggs as they were all eaten, and at Alola funds were provided for a garden which produced one crop that was sold to trekkers but was abandoned after one crop.
He said the drying rooms could not be found while a project to provide physiotherapy or massage skills appears to have resulted in no massages being offered.
Mr Lynn said cultural issues meant PNG nationals were reluctant to touch strangers.
He said one massage hut was removed after it was found to have been built on a battle site.
Efforts to contact the Kokoda Track Authority management were unsuccessful on Friday.
Last financial year Australia gave Papua New Guinea about $500 million in aid.
Earlier this month, the federal government announced it would increase aid to PNG by $420 million over four years, plus an additional $18 million for law and order.