Trekkers heap praise on outgoing chief

The following article was published in the PNG National newspaper on Friday, 15 June 2012:

OUTGOING Kokoda Tracking Authority chief executive officer Rod Hillman has been described as a visionary leader and a man of infinite wisdom.

Kokoda local level government president John Kivo said Hillman had done a lot for the authority and villages along the track.

Authority chairman Reuben Maleva said the organisation had gone through tough times for the past three years. But the government had shown confidence in the organisation after Hillman took over as CEO.

He said Hillman’s leadership had achieved many things including setting up the TPA constitution, setting up ward allocation fees and helping in enhancing tourism and conservation programmes.

Hillman, who will leave at the end of the month, said he was satisfied with his work in the country and he had to move on.

He said during his time as CEO, the authority had made over a million kina and invested back into the communities along the track.

Hillman, 52, from Canberra, Australia, said in the past, money had never being given back to the local people.

He said they had 80 licensed tourism operators affiliated with them and more than 3,000 tourists walked the track every year.

He urged the new management to continue the good work.


  1. The praise heaped on the outgoing chief of the Kokoda Track Authority, Rod Hillman, in the PNG National newspaper is not justified by the facts.

    The KTA was established in 2004 and Warren Bartlett was appointed CEO. During his tenure the number of trekkers grew from 1561 to 5621.

    Rod Hillman was appointed under an agreement with the Australian government in 2009. Over the next four years the number of staff in the KTA increased almost ten-fold and millions of kina has been provided in aid. Despite this the number of trekkers declined from 5621 to 2914.

    This year, despite the significance of the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign, the number of trekkers continues to decline. This indicates that something is terribly wrong with the marketing and management of the Kokoda trekking industry.

    After more than three years under Rod Hillman’s tenure there is no master plan to reflect, protect and develop the military heritage of the Kokoda Trail; there is no legislation to protect local guides and carriers from exploitation; there is no campsite booking system; there is no audit system to ensure the ‘code of conduct’ is complied with; trek operator statistics are no longer published; there has never been a survey of trekkers to evaluate their experiences; secret deals have been made with rogue operators who did not pay the full amount of trek fees owing; dodgy trek operators have been licensed without proper due diligence checks to ensure they have Public Liability Insurance; and a veritable gravy train has emerged for Australian consultants and NGOs.

    Hillman’s statement that ‘money had never being given back to the local people’ is grossly misleading. During the period 2004 – 2007 the KTA (under Warren Bartlett’s leadership and guidance) paid school fees and college subsidies for Koiari and Orokaiva students to the tune of around K60,000 per annum. Village pit latrines were improved with plastic thunderboxes; funds were provided for track, road and bridge maintenance; village reticulated water supplies were repaired; funeral assistance payments of K500.00 were approved and paid for numerous family claims from villagers; medical supplies and diesel fuel were purchased and supplied to the Kokoda Hospital and village Aid Posts along the trail; school supplies were distributed from donations via the Kokoda Track Foundation, Rotary, and Adventure Kokoda; funding was provided for the maintenance of the Kokoda airstrip; a KTA office was established in the Kokoda Council Post Office building as an operational base, etc.etc.

    There was no physical, financial or moral support provided by the Australian Government during this period despite numerous requests.

    The KTA, under Rod Hillman’s watch since 2009, has become largely irrelevant for legitimate trek operators, campsite owners, and local guides. It is now more of a quasi Aid agency than a management authority. His tenure is therefore not considered worthy of the praise heaped upon him in the National newspaper article on July 15.

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