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By Phoebe Gwangilo in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s Education Department headquarters in Waigani, National Capital District (NCD), will be locked by 5pm on Monday if the state fails to pay K39 million (NZ$19 million) in unpaid rent.

The arrears — accumulating since 2017 — are owed to Grand Columbia Limited, owner of Fincorp Haus.

The landlord’s action means 1049 staff of the Education Department and Teaching Services Commission will not be able to access their workplace from Tuesday.

This will have severe repercussions — the most immediate being fortnightly salaries for almost 60,000 teachers nationwide.

A lockout will mean these hardworking men and women will go without their pay, at least for a fortnight or two, depending on how fast the department scrambles technical staff and equipment.

Next-up will be the selection of successful students to attend higher schools and institutions next year.

The process is time-barred and any delay will only affect the timely commencement of the scheduled academic year in 2023.

Not opening gates
The state reportedly paid K3 million (NZ$1.5 million) to GCL on Wednesday to offset some of what it owes but GCL insists it will not open its gates until all arrears are paid.

In a desperate move, the department’s top management convened a special meeting yesterday to start allocating space for all its workers.

Most staff will be housed at the Papua New Guinea Education Institute.

And the ministry is also looking at a number of secondary and technical schools in NCD to help with space.

The staff have begun packing important work documents to start the exodus.

TSC chairman Samson Wangihomie said their staff would be operating at either Wardstrip Primary, Gordon Secondary School or PNGEI.

This news comes on the back of news that public servants will receive a 3 percent pay increase and the final K158 million (NZ$77 million) GTFS was disbursed this week to schools.

Referred to Finance
Education Secretary Dr Uke Kombra referred the Post-Courier to the Department of Finance, saying the Department of Education does not manage its rentals.

“We wish this was given to the departments to manage,” he said.

“At the moment it’s all centralised by DoF.”

Education Minister Jimmy Uguro expressed serious concern at the threat of a lockout.

He said: “Of course the closure of Fincorp Haus will affect operations of Education services in the country.

Teachers pays, examinations, inspections and general education services will be affected.

“I call on the government through the office sector to see and assist the issue as a matter of urgency.

BOLT arrangements
Over the years the ministry and the department have been negotiating to have a Build, Own Lease and Transfer (BOLT) arrangement with development partners, but this is not happening.

“We would like to invite those who can offer the best BOLT arrangement so that the office allocation authority can assist to implement the plan.

“Despite such a disruption, the Education Department is keen and will continue to provide services needed by our schools and citizens.”

Grand Columbia Limited in its notice of closure said the building would close at 5pm on Monday, October 31, due to failure by the state to honour its contracted obligations to pay rent.

It stated that rental payments allowed the landlord to maintain the place, look after the workforce and other expenses.

The GCL is adamant, it will not open its gates after Monday.

It stated that of 24 months, only two months’ rent has been received with significant rent outstanding dating back to 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The Education Department and TSC have been housed by the Fincorp Haus since the establishment of these two offices in the late 1980s.

Phoebe Gwangilo is a PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.

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