After the destruction of Rabaul Town by the volcanic eruptions in 1994, Kokopo is now the main administrative, commercial and educational centre for PNG’s East New Britain province and the New Guinea Islands region. It has grown rapidly over the last 13 years from a small district town to becoming the fourth largest city in the country. It has a population of approximately 23,000 people (both urban and rural). The relocation to Kokopo saw a boom in the construction industry and together with the restoration program funded by the World Bank; investment has surpassed what had originally been in Rabaul.
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Located approximately 120 Kilometers east of Rabaul, Kokopo township was formally the District Headquarters for Kokopo. Until the administrative functions were relocated from Rabaul, Kokopo was a rural township serving the vast agriculture plantation sectors and the district.
The Catholic Church also had a major influence in the social and economic sector in Kokopo District before World War II and up until the present day. The church establishment at Vunapope continues to contribute a lot in health care and education in the province and the region. Most of educational institutions, particularly the Teachers colleges are concentrated in and around Kokopo District.
The famed ‘Queen Emma of the South Pacific’ and her ‘Empire’ had its historical roots in this part of PNG, particularly within the present day township of Kokopo. Among other local attractions, is the famous Bitapaka War Memorial Cemetery, also found in the Kokopo District.
After the devastation of the Rabaul by the volcano in 1994, the obvious choice for the alternative government centre was Kokopo because of two reasons; Firstly, it offers a safe location against future threats from the volcano and secondly, Kokopo already had urban infrastructure to accommodate people in case of emergencies.
Today Kokopo serves as both the Provincial Capital for East New Britain Province as well as the Regional Capital for the New Guinea Islands Region.
The Economic Situation
Business has flourished in Kokopo since Rabaul was destroyed by the volcano and all major industries, commerce and finance were relocated to Kokopo. In addition, the restoration work funded by the World Bank has attracted new businesses and investments.
The land between Tokua airport and Kokopo has become the new urban corridor for industrial and commercial development as well as the hospitality industries along the foreshore of the harbor. A new industrial estate at Takubar provides an ideal investment environment for a lot of companies engaged in the construction sector. Another industrial estate has been developed at Ulaveo by the Industrial Development Corporation which demands more companies.
The rate of development occurring at Kokopo has generated a lot of employment opportunities for the local population as well in the region. The service industries offer the largest share of the job market followed by the public sector.
The KULLG collects about 60% of its revenue potential. The main sources of internal revenue are garbage and sanitation, trading licenses and market fees, while government grants makes up 20% of its budget. An effective modern revenue collection system is needed for the council to benefit fully from its revenue potential. There is also the need to improve the image of the town in order to attract investment.
Law and Order
Law and Order problems have had their own contributing factors over the years affecting Kokopo’s image. Peace and good order is becoming a concern in all levels of the community especially the informal settlements. Residents are now becoming more cautious due to the increase in crime. There are reasons for the rise in crime including high youth unemployment rates, the erosion of cultural values, the huge gap between the “haves” and “have nots” and high consumption rate of alcohol and drugs.
Common crimes are armed robbery, vehicle theft, aggravated assault, and criminal damage. Gang rapes and murder are also increasing in number as the city continues to grow. Residents and visitors are more cautious in their movement around the city, especially after sunset. There are certain areas, which are dangerous after sunset, and the RPNGC and private security firms are responsible for patrolling the areas.
The RPNGC is responsible for law-enforcement. While this force has performed well in crisis situations in the past, it is perceived as undisciplined, corrupt and largely ineffective. There are many cases of excessive use of force, including police brutality. Poor housing conditions and deteriorating facilities coupled with low salaries have been given as reasons for poor police performance.
Due to the lack of confidence in the police force, private security companies are commonly used in parts of the city. This has made private security a thriving business while the police force is seen as highly un-productive. The judicial system is unreliable because the prosecution services and other related services are ineffective and unprofessional. Loss of files and evidence, nonappearance in court, and long delays of hearings are common occurrences in the city courts.
The effectiveness of the CIS, which is responsible for prisoners, is also in question because of the deteriorating facilities, overcrowding, undisciplined security force, and the frequent escapes from the Kerevat Jail.
The poor law and order situation receives adverse publicity over seas and this is a deterrent to foreign investors and potential tourists. The law enforcement and judicial systems in Kokopo need considerable strengthening and improvement.
Governance in Kokopo comprises of councilors (both rural and urban) that make up the Kokopo Urban Local Level Government (KULLG) as the authority in the city. It is responsible to the Ministry of Provincial and Local Level Government through the East New Britain Provincial Government (ENBPG). However, it has not been keeping pace with the rapid growth of the city and as a result it is ill-equiped to respond to urban challenges in a holistic way. It does not have sufficient financial and human capacities, and the organizational framework needs to be reviewed so it can effectively and efficiently respond to the city’s needs and make it more accountable to the urban population. The various Civl Society Organizations (CSOs) in Kokopo offer a good entry point for improving governance and require support and coordination by the council. This will improve communication and meaningful participation by the urban community.
About 60% of Kokopo’s population live in traditional villages located on the urban fringes of the city in rural like settings. They are characterized by lack of planning, high densities, poor infrastructure and a shortage of
basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity. Many settlement dwellers experience acute security and health problems, and are dependent on the informal sector for survival. The KULLG is unable to meet the increasing demand for urban infrastructure and services, and it does not have any pro-poor policies in place to combat the rising urban poverty. There is a need to recognise slum dwellers as a resource and include them in the urban decision-making processes. The council must also improve its planning capacity and incorporate slums into its development plans, while supporting the informal sector and harnessing the potential of broadbased partnerships to address slum upgrading.
Buses and utilities are the main form of motorized public transport. There is no taxi service, however cars for hire are available. The buses and utilities serve within the city and the rural hinterland. There is a need
to institutionalize an urban transport planning and management framework within the KULLG.
Sources of Energy
PNG Power provides electricity throughout PNG. In East New Britain province, the electricity supply is from a grid source at the Warongoi hydro scheme which needs monitoring by PNG Power. Most traditional rural villages and the informal settlements use paraffin lamps for lighting and firewood for cooking. The Provincial Government has a rural electrification programme and a number of traditional villages in Kokopo have benefited from this. This programme must be supported as electricity brings development to the rural population.
The most common diseases in Kokopo are malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. Some people still have difficulty accessing health services because of the cost of medical care and insufficient drugs and facilities, this exacerbates the existing health conditions. The town has a hospital which is run by the Catholic Church, an urban clinic, two private clinics, and two aid posts to cater for a total catchment population of more than 20,000 people. The middle and high-income groups rely on private clinics while the rest are forced to make do with sub-standard health facilities.
More improvement to existing health services, especially in regard to facilities and equipment, essential drugs and manpower, is needed in order to ensure better access to medical care.
Kokopo has a high student to teacher ratio in schools. Classrooms are overcrowded while some schools lack adequate facilities such as libraries, laboratories and teacher’s houses. School fees are partly subsidized by the National Government. However, some families still can not afford the fees and as a result most students are deprived of their right to education. Kokopo has 10 elementary schools, seven primary schools and only two secondary schools. In addition, there is one Business College, two vocational schools, one technical school, one teacher’s college, a University Open Campus, and four private schools. The existing educational facilities are inadequate for the increasing population, and there are great inequalities in teaching standards and services between government-run and private schools. There is a need to upgrade the existing educational facilities and improve accessibility to education.