PORT MORESBY, PNG—–A new study of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG)rural population has revealed agriculture dominates the lives of most Papua New Guineans, but it is undervalued and misunderstood. ‘Food and Agriculture in Papua New Guinea’, a new book published by the Australian National University Press, says for most people in PNG, agriculture is an important part of their lives – physically, culturally, economically, socially and nutritionally. Co-author Michael Bourke, from ANU, has told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program, that while 81 per cent of PNG’s population live in rural areas, the power lies with those in urban areas. And, he says, those in urban areas are responsible for many myths that define the country. “For example, there’s a myth that Papua New Guineans live on rice. Well these urban people do live on rice. But in fact the rural majority do not live on rice, they live on sweet potatoes, bananas, sago and other root crops,” Dr Bourke said. Only four other countries in the world have a greater proportion of their populations’ living in rural areas than PNG. Dr Bourke said while the government in the capital Port Moresby doesn’t ignore the role of rural PNG, agriculture does “tick away in the background.” “Certainly subsistence agriculture and food production is generally is out of sight,” Dr Bourke said. “Basically the huge number of people – we’re talking about over a million households in the rural area – who produce food, they produce most of their own food, and it quietly happens… and most of this is not marketed, a very tiny proportion of this goes through the formal markets, we’re talking about one or two per cent. “So it happens in the background, so I think because it’s invisible it tends to be undervalued.” Dr Bourke says in his research he also discovered that barriers to land access are also a myth. “When I listen to people (in rural PNG) talk about the constraints they talk about transport, they talk about security, sometimes they talk about credit, they talk about availability… but you never, ever hear people talk about not having access to land in the customary land situation,” he said.
The Falcon 900 EX aircraft estimated to be worth about K120 million arrives amidst criticism from the Opposition and the public that it is a waste of money.
The Opposition has attacked the Government, describing the deal as an unnecessary luxury and squandering of millions of kina in public funds.
“The Prime Minister and his government are rich enough to buy a Falcon jet for their use but not rich enough to pay nurses, teachers and policemen. Not rich enough to pay school fees. Not rich enough to pay for medicine in rural clinics and provide schools with provisions,” Opposition Leader Sir Mekere Morauta said in a statement in April when news of the jet purchase broke out.
The Opposition is expected to pursue the issue in its 2010 Budget reply in Parliament today
The Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare defended the purchase in a statement the same month, saying the Government had K40 million allocated in the budget to Air Niugini for the purchase of the jet to cater for the growing needs in the mineral sector.
“Our economy has grown considerably and our budget increased significantly since the deficit years prior to 2003. We are therefore not taking out any of our service sectors to give to Air Niugini to purchase the aircraft. As a government we have increased allocations to all our sectors since 2003,” he said.
Treasury and Finance Minister Patrick Pruaitch has also confirmed in his 2010 budget speech last Tuesday at Parliament of the funding of an additional K30 million for an aircraft.
“The Government will provide K30 million for the procurement of the aircraft by Air Niugini. The same level of funding was provided in 2009 for Air Niugini to meet costs associated with refleeting and other operational issues,” Mr Pruaitch said.
Sources from the Opposition at the weekend were questioning the component of funding of the jet. They assert that K40 million is not enough to purchase an executive jet as such. They claim that there is component funding to the purchase of the jet, where part funding is from a foreign government.
The Post-Courier asked Air Niugini’s chief executive officer Wasantha Kumarasiri to comment on the cost of the jet and details of its purchase.
Mr Kumarasiri said questions regarding the purchase and costs were confidential issues under Air Niugini’s commercial agreements.
In the first leg of this exercise, Indonesian Air Force C130 aircraft uplifted a total of 142 men, women and
children out of Wewak’s Boram Airport last Thursday to Indonesia.
Those boarded the Aircraft were from Manus, Bulolo, Goroka, Lae, Madang and Wewak. The second trip out of Port Moresby saw another 170 Papuans from the Southern Region and Lae leaving on Sunday.
Four older people flew from Lae to add the numbers to the group that flew out of Port Moresby, as they were unable to travel by road to Madang, then by ship to Wewak.
Others that travelled out from Port Moresby were from Kiunga and Daru, while the rest were from the NCD and Central province.
PNG Foreign Affairs officials, who were in Wewak to coordinate the exercise, said the West Papuans volunteered to be repatriated. They said more than 700 were listed for the exercise, however, only 312 decided to leave while others decided to remain in PNG.
The programme, funded by the Indonesian government, was to repatriate West Papuans who were willing to return to their country of origin where they would enjoy an improved standard of living.
Roby Merauje, a West Papuan, said he was willing to go home but was still uncertain about his future. He said they volunteered to return to Jayapura because of the better living conditions.
Small to medium enterprises (SMEs), which are set to mushroom during the construction phase and during the project life, will continue to be run by foreigners. Jobs will also be dominated by skilled foreigners.
These concerns were raised by the parliamentary bipartisan committee investigating the anti-Asian riots in May.
Committee members conducting the inquiry yesterday included chairman Jamie Maxtone-Graham, Lagaip-Porgera MP Philip Kikala, Sohe MP Anthony Nene and Wosera-Gawi MP Ronald Asik
Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) officials, in giving evidence, admitted that PNG was not ready in terms of taking up opportunities in SMEs.
SBDC, an organisation that comes under the Commerce and Industry Department, has been tasked to promote and empower Papua New Guineans in small business opportunities.
SBDC acting executive officer Kila Oli and caretaker managing director Diri Kobla made submissions that capacity and staffing issues had been an ongoing problem for them.
Mr Oli told the inquiry that SBDC lacked the capacity to carry out surveys on the number of SMEs in NCD and other centres. He said although there was no data on the number of SMEs, it is common knowledge that Asians have taken over kai bars, tyre service and small businesses once reserved for Papua New Guineans.
He said the reserve activities list, which was done away with in 2004, should be reinstalled to protect Papua New Guineans in small business.
Mr Kikala raised the issue that the LNG project was coming on stream and SMEs would mushroom and asked whether SBDC was aware of this.
Mr Oli, in response, said the organisation was aware of the LNG project but did not have the funding, capacity and manpower to run with it.
He said Papua New Guinean small businesses were limited and the organisation was encouraging landowner companies into joint venture with foreign companies. “We are not ready to work on our own, we have to work in joint venture with multi-nations.”
Mr Maxtone-Graham said State entities and Government departments had revealed that they also faced similar problems. “Our people will continue to miss out and I believe priority should be given to your organisation (SBDC) to empower Papua New Guineans to grab the small business opportunities,” he said.
And local commercial banks will have difficulties meeting their requirements for capital funding, Paul Cooper, director of Australia’s Chartered Practicing Accountants, said.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has seen that “that is a big issue for this region and they see the amount of money needed is not just for the project leader but also for the other contractors around it … it is possible that they are going to be short of capital,” Mr Cooper said.
“The banks here need to have their fund capital freed up to allow those contractors and sub-contractors to finance their way into those projects.
“That is going to be the biggest challenge … the size of the project is one thing, but it’s how the banks are going to fund all the other businesses around it,” he said when he addressed about 830 participants at this year’s joint CPAPNG/CPAAustralia conference in Port Moresby.
Mr Cooper made this observation as a reaction to a question from a participant on the effect of the LNG project on the country’s economy.
“So unless the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and anyone else with developmental funding come to the rescue, then I just cannot see how some of the companies surrounding it (project) would be able to pursue their business with LNG,” Mr Cooper said.
The conference was themed “surviving turbulent times” and reportedly was also attended by Fijian participants.
James Kruse, the national president for CPA Australia’s PNG branch also raised the same issues.
“This project woulld create its own issues and challenges for the businesses and institutions within this country, and of course the accountants and financial controllers within each of those entities,” he said.
And since PNG did not fully feel the impact of the global financial crisis (GFC), he noted: “Whilst PNG survived the GFC, we will nonetheless face our own turbulent times particularly as our economy extends massively with the potential LNG project about to kick off.”
Mr Kruse told the participants that the theme “surviving the turbulent times” was appropriate to the events of the past 11 months