Social Concerns Notes – January 2020

Centuries-long Hela war gets deadlier

08 January 2020

Tribal fighting in the last 30 years has become more akin to conventional warfare on the battlefields of the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa than the pitched battles using the bows and arrows that characterised pre-colonial confrontations in the Highlands. In the last 30 years, modern weapons, along with other accoutrements of modern technology, have made their way into Papua New Guinea. They have disrupted the traditional rules of tribal fighting that had historically limited the effects and consequences of the fighting and restrained fighters from going too far.

While in the past a decision to go to war with an opposing clan or tribe would have been taken collectively, now young and disillusioned men with access to modern weapons can unleash devastation on their enemies and their own communities almost single-handedly.

The presence of these modern weapons and their destructive firepower has also meant that the number of casualties is much higher, making it harder for opposing sides to reconcile (and the traditional exchange of compensation prohibitive) and leading to completely unprecedented tribal fighting dynamics.

Instead of pre-arranged battles between warriors in designated areas as in the past, villages are now attacked under cover of darkness as part of a scorched earth policy to kill and destroy with abandon. And while previously fighting was restricted to the geography of the tribes involved, targeted killings can now occur against random members of either side almost anywhere.

Schools and clinics are frequently attacked and destroyed, and most recently in Hela pregnant women and children were killed and some burnt alive. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been present in PNG since 2007 and opened its offices in Mount Hagen and Bougainville in 2012. Since then, we have progressively grown our presence. Today, most ICRC staff and resources are focused on protecting and assisting people affected by the tribal fighting in the provinces of Enga, Hela and the Southern Highlands….

More Doom and Gloom – Ken Fairweather

The Reserve Bank of PNG has run out of money, that is, foreign exchange, and that has been the case for some years. This has happened because they’re using the country’s cash reserves to prop up a small currency that is not really recognised internationally — for no apparent reason other than to protect the imports of rice and other products people want, although there are clear alternatives around like sweet potato. Rice is easy although there is an abundance of local vegetables that could take its place. This propping-up of the Kina also protects the interests of Chinese importers, who delight in this half-hard currency because they use it to run their own black market. And no-one else is onto that but the Chinese. So, you’ve got the PNG Reserve Bank protecting people that shouldn’t be protected.

So, there is that and, internally you have this extraordinary system where, if you ask the bank for an overdraft, they will charge you 15%. If you have 2 million Kina to put in the bank on a fixed deposit, they will give you 1%. Such a spread of rates is fraudulent. And the finance companies, although they pay more for their money, probably around 5%, lend it out at 17%. That needs to be investigated….

There are also the massive charges made by the banks when sending money overseas. In Australia it is around quarter of a point of 1%, in PNG it might be as high as 8%. It’s just fraud, and this needs to be investigated.

Cash crunch as debt repayment soars

13 January 2020


Papua New Guinea’s annual debt repayments to China are forecast to increase 25% by 2023, new budget figures show, at the same time as the Pacific nation falls to its largest ever deficit.

The resource-rich country, which is at the centre of a diplomatic tussle between China and the United States, has blamed extravagant spending by the previous administration for its souring finances, which will require the government to borrow even more to pay the bills. Balancing its books has been made more difficult by recalculations to the country’s outstanding debt. It has soared 10% since the last annual budget to 42% of gross domestic product, above the legal limit of 35%. “You have some of those loans clicking in; the repayments are going to be a problem,” said Paul Barker, executive director of Port Moresby-based think tank the Institute of National Affairs.

PNG’s total expenditure in the 2020 budget is forecast to reach a record K18.7 billion against an anticipated K14.1 billion in revenue, creating the largest deficit it has ever faced, according to budget documents.

Sarawak loggers deforest PNG

12 January 2020


KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian companies from Sarawak are allegedly trespassing while carrying out logging activities in Papua New Guinea and contributing towards deforestation in the island nation, says Sarawak Report. The online investigative portal accused Sibu-based Rimbunan Hijau Group (RHG) and WTK Group as well as Amanab 56 Timber Investments Limited as among those stripping the resources of PNG.

It then claimed that the biggest player in PNGs logging industry is RHG, headed by tycoon Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King. It claimed that local environmentalists were outraged when Tiong was awarded an honorary knighthood in 2009 for “services to commerce, the community and charitable organisations in PNG” and demanded that he be stripped of the title. “In 2016, The Oakland Institute published a report on the financial records of 30 RHG subsidiaries involved in various activities and services related to logging or agri-business in PNG. “According to the financial records of 16 of the companies they scrutinised, RHG has been working at a loss for over a decade. The report questioned how the largest logging operator in PNG had managed to operate at a loss for such a long period yet remained in business. “The report also exposed ‘massive tax evasion and financial misreporting’ allegedly resulting in the non-payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes by the group.

The expose also pointed out that the extent of RHG’s investments in PNG — including a 12-page list of companies it owned that are operating there.  “Evidence of such bad practices were also exposed in the 2016 documentary ‘Bikpela Bagarap’ (‘Big Damage’) by French director, David Fedele.

Ordeal of sorcery survivors

LAST Wednesday, the bodies of two women and a man were found by the banks of Mendi River in Southern Highlands. Police believed the dead were victims of sorcery-related mass killings whose remains were carried downstream from Karintz. The bodies were recovered on Dec 31, Jan 4 and 5.
Western End police commander Asst Comm (ACP) Kaiglo Ambane had urged villagers to help keep a lookout for possibly more bodies floating downstream. The National reproduces below a FLASHBACK of sorcery-related violence survivors reported by ABC and a latest court proceeding of a sorcery-related violence conviction in PNG. One woman survivor of sorcery-related violence, who requested anonymity, was accused of sorcery following the death of a child in her community.
“When the child died, they went to where I was riding back from the garden and they bashed me up on the way,” she said through an interpreter. “After beating me up, they took me to see the child lying dead. They told me I was the one who killed the child, and people were saying I am not from around here, I have no people to protect me — so kill me.” But the woman, who did not hail from the local area, was rescued by a bystander who took her to hospital to receive treatment for her wounds.
A male survivor of sorcery-related violence said he was exiled by his family following the death of a cousin in his community.
“My relatives got together and they said I was the one who used the sorcery on my family member to kill him,” he said through an interpreter. Community leaders in PNG said they are at a loss to explain a recent upsurge in sorcery-related violence that most often targets women, in some parts of the country.
Key points:

  • ATTACKS on women accused of sorcery usually take place in remote areas;
  • SIX women have been killed over witchcraft allegations in the more densely-populated Enga province since September (2017); and
  • CHURCH leaders have raised concerns over a lack of resources and education to tackle the problem

Attacks and murders of people accused of practising witchcraft have spread from remote areas in the country’s highlands to large towns and cities, alarming policy makers trying to address the problem.
Anton Lutz, a Lutheran missionary in PNG’s Enga province, said there had been seven attacks on women accused of witchcraft — known locally as sanguma — in the province since late September.
Six of those were fatal. “In each of these cases, they were precipitated by an unexplained death or illness in the community, and the community then turned on the local scapegoat and started torturing her,” Lutz told the ABC’s Pacific Beat. “And under torture, the women are saying things that incriminate themselves and reinforce these beliefs. “One of the things that people believe about these so-called witches or sanguma is when they’re not being tortured they’ll lie, and if they are being tortured, they’ll tell the truth.”

Mori Reassures that Madang Waters are Safe

Post Courier, Jan 15, 2020

Residents of Madang Province, especially those living along the coastline can now eat fish and use the sea. Minister for Environment and Conservation Wera Mori gave the clearance following the investigation done by the Office of Conservation and Environment Protection Authority.  This was after the slurry spillage from the Ramu Nickel Mine at Basamuk Bay last year. Since that time all fish markets have been closed in the Madang area.

Tribal Conflict Threatens Porgera Mine

January 13, 2020

PORGERA Gold Mine in Enga Province is under a serious threat as law and order problems escalate dramatically at present due to the spin off effects of a half-a-decade old severe tribal conflict emanating from the neighbouring Hela Province. The tribal rivalry between two known warlords in Tagali LLG in Tari, Hela has resulted in killing close to 100 people and raged about 90% of the volatile area that once enjoyed peace and prosperity. Now, the effects of the conflict has slowly creeped into Porgera, which hosts a world-class mineral resource project that significantly contributes to the national government coffers…
The principal motive behind every tribal fight is to kill an enemy, to kill men. So when Pujaro, Ekanda and Paijaka areas in Tari are literally deserted with no men living there, what is the point in staging a guerilla style warfare there. The tribal warlords are now following the human trails, they are smelling the fresh bloods, and eventually entering Porgera where there are subjects to be slaughtered as sacrificial lambs….

Under Marape, rights getting worse – report

16 January 2020

Human Rights Watch’s annual report reveals rates of violence, domestic abuse, corruption and foreign debt haven’t improved over the past year, where weak enforcement and a lack of accountability fostered a culture of impunity and lawlessness. Its deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, said despite a change in prime minister, progress was still slow and the key findings were dire.

“We are talking about a very desperately poor country. One where there is a lot of violence that’s committed with impunity … where women are particularly affected, as well as children.

“Forty percent of the population still lives in poverty, and this is a very resource-rich country. Twenty five percent of the children are not in school, and our estimate is that one in 13 have died of preventable disease.” The report found more than two-thirds of women and girls were subjected to domestic violence, while 75 percent of children surveyed across 30 communities experienced violence at home. “PNG has an underfunded health system and children are particularly vulnerable to disease. An estimated one in thirteen children die each year from preventable diseases, and large numbers of children experienced malnutrition resulting in stunted growth,” it said. There was little chance of redressing it with the culture of corruption and impunity that had been fostered, the report said, with corruption convictions rare and prosecutions for brutality at the hands of the state and military few and far between.

PNG must change its spending systems

19 January 2020

Allan Bird. Governor, East Sepik Province.

WEWAK – Our country is overrun with corruption because we do not have effective checks on power. There is a complete lack of checks and balances in the system. In fact I would say that there aren’t any checks and balances at all. We negotiate for an opportunity to spend money. Everyone spends public money, from the prime minister all the way to the local level government presidents, ward members and public servants.

Who checks on the provincial governments? No one.

Who checks on the district development authority? No one.

Who checks on the local level governments? No one.

Who checks on the national government? No one.

The only check and balance is the goodwill of those who are in those positions. We work on consensus. We have consensus in parliament to spend money, we have consensus in the assembly to spend money, we have consensus in the development authority to spend money and we have consensus in the local level government to spend public money on projects we desire.

Right now the only real check and balance is the individual. And if the individual feels he is doing the right thing, the nation is at the mercy of the individual in a position of power to negotiate his opportunity to spend public money. We need strong mechanisms of checks and balances that will say ‘no’ to those spending money and jail them if they don’t comply.

Such a system does not exist in Papua New Guinea right now.

Bougainville govt to change name

BUKA – The Autonomous Bougainville Government is set to change its name to the Bougainville Constitutional Transitional Government to reflect the people’s vote for independence.

Bougainville’s post referendum minister Albert Punghau told The National newspaper that because 98% of Bougainvilleans had voted in favour of independence in last year’s referendum, the Bougainville government felt the need to change its name to reflect the overwhelming result.

“The name change by the Bougainville’s government is based entirely on the virtue of the majority of the Bougainvilleans who have voted for independence,” Mr Punghau said. “Bougainville Constitutional Transitional Government reflects Bougainville as the name of our island, the constitution that governs us and the transition we are making to independence.”

Call for more dialogue on ban

January 22, 2020 The National 

Businesses need more dialogue with the Government in regards to the ban on plastic bags which comes into effect from Feb 1, according to the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Chamber president Rio Fiocco told The National that the Government had refused to hold proper talks with businesses and stakeholders on the issue.
“(It) means there is some confusion among many as to what the new regime will actually be,” Fiocco said.
“No one knows what the appropriate materials, specifications and definitions of reusable bags are going to be allowed or not allowed.” Fiocco said they had been told that from March 1, bags should meet certain requirements “which potentially means there could be more, rather than less, environment impact”. “There is no policy in place to tackle the real issue which is to encourage and educate our people to reuse and properly dispose of used bags and packaging waste as a whole,” he said.

Deputy prime minister Davis Steven says NGO has been premature in its judgement of PNG’s human rights and change is now very close (PNG PM Media Unit)

AUCKLAND – Papua New Guinea’s government has defended its efforts to protect human rights.

This follows a damning international NGO report into the state of human rights in PNG.

Human Rights Watch’s annual summary on PNG says little was done in the past year to tackle corruption, police abuses and domestic violence.

But PNG’s justice minister and attorney-general, Davis Steven, said he was concerned the NGO had ignored various efforts on human rights by a new government which was working to usher in reforms.

Mr Steven, who is also deputy prime minister, said concerns about corruption played a part in the change of government. According to him, the new administration is continuing to work with the United Nations and the European Union on areas concerning human rights.

“Also, there is a very concerted effort with our development partners, including Australia and New Zealand, on certain fronts to build capacity within the law and justice sector to be a lot more focussed on our human rights efforts.” Mr Steven said he was saddened by the negative implications in the report by the NGO, which he said should know that PNG was also preparing to establish a national Human Rights Commission. PNG’s long-mooted Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is also set to become a reality. “Our government in the past six months has actually pushed it to the point where it is now before parliament. It (parliament) sits in February, and I’m very confident that this group of leaders will pass the ICAC bill,” Mr Steven said. Last year’s change in government leadership presaged a change in leadership of the country’s troubled police force. In an effort to eradicate politicisation of the force, as well as abuses by police, the outspoken government critic and opposition MP Bryan Kramer was appointed police minister.

Yet Mr Steven suggested the NGO lacked understanding of the cultural context in PNG when criticising it for treatment of females. The deputy prime minister cited gains made by the O’Neill-led government to have more girls enrolled in schools, saying this drive was continuing under the new administration. “Through our government’s education policy drive, we’ve now started to see a balance in the attention being given to our female children where education is concerned. “Our budget focus for example under the law and justice sector now has the biggest spending on the challenge that we face to deal with complaints of violence against women.” The minister said it was misleading to say the government was ignoring – or complacent about – human rights issues. No one is saying that change on these issues can happen overnight in PNG, but the government and Human Rights Watch clearly have different ideas about the required rate of change.

PNG rated low

January 24, 2020 The National Main Stories

PRIME Minister James Marape yesterday vowed to introduce major reform policies and legislation this year to address the country’s continuing low ranking in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
It will include the establishment of the long-awaited Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the Whistleblowers Act. “I announced when I first took office (in May 2019) that ICAC and Whistleblowers Act would be key vessels in reforming our country for the better,” he said.
“The 2020 parliamentary year will be filled with reform legislations that we will bring in.”
According to Transparency International PNG (TIPNG) chairman Peter Aitsi, PNG had shown “little improvement” in its ranking, scoring 28 out 100 and ranked 137 out of 180 countries surveyed. The CPI measures public sector corruption including bribery, diversion of public funds, use of public office for private gain and nepotism in the civil service.

Momis accuses mining company of lying

26 January 2020

SYDNEY – The president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has accused an Australian-linked mining company of lying to the Australian Securities Exchange over its plans to reopen one of the world’s largest copper mines.  In a scathing statement, ABG president John Momis accused the Australian-linked RTG Mining of “lies and deceptions” and said his government “will not rest until all RTG and their executives are banned for life from Bougainville and Papua New Guinea”.

Dr Momis was referring to a statement issued by RTG Mining to the ASX last Tuesday in which the company sought to clarify recent press reports, which have alleged that RTG staff are banned from entering PNG. In December, after the results of a referendum that saw almost 98% of Bougainvilleans vote in favour of independence from PNG, Momis issued a warning banning people affiliated with certain foreign mining companies, including six from RTG and one from Kalia Group, from entering Bougainville. Momis said they were creating “disharmony” in the region and that he had sought the assistance of the PNG prime minister and office of immigration and border security to assist with keeping them out of Bougainville.

 Asylum seekers released

January 27, 2020The National

EIGHTEEN asylum seekers from Manus Island imprisoned at the Bomana detention centre have been released, according to a report. But refugee advocates say many will never recover, according to a report in Guardian Australia newspaper last weekend. In August, PNG authorities arrested 52 men who had previously been detained on Manus Island on behalf of the Australian government after seeking asylum by boat. As of this year, just 18 of the 52 men remained in the detention centre, after the others had been removed having agreed to return to their country of origin. Many of those who were detained had spent up to seven years in Australia’s offshore detention system, but say the conditions inside Bomana broke them into signing the agreements. The 18 men were moved to three boutique hotels in Port Moresby, Guardian Australia understands. Refugee advocate and Port Moresby Catholic priest Father Giorgio Licini told Guardian Australia he had attempted to visit one of those who had been detained last Thursday night. Even though he is now in a hotel where conditions are better than in Bomana, the man was too tired and weak to see him. “In the hotel, I think, they have good rooms and everything is OK,” Licini said. “What we hope is one way or another through UNHCR they will be resettled somewhere, because they can’t be resettled here.”

PNG, a haven for human trafficking syndicates: Report

January 27, 2020The National

A UNITED Nations report says PNG is a haven for Asian-operated human trafficking syndicates, according to Deputy Prime Minister Davis Steven. “Successive governments have failed to address this transnational criminal activity for the last 30 years, since the United Nation, World Bank and the United States government produced a joint report highlighting our vulnerability,” he said.
“They have monitored us over the years and I’m saddened to say that the 2018 report by UN has given PNG a very bad rating whereby we are one of the few countries in the Asia Pacific region that is very vulnerable to human trafficking syndicates.” “And that is an indication that if we do not start improving on our poor enforcement and prosecution of human traffickers, it can affect our international reputation and relationship, especially where support of the Government in terms of foreign aid is concerned.”

Is sustainable forestry a fantasy?

28 January 2020


Two years ago my tribe in the Prince Alexander range of East Sepik Province obtained a Roadline TA licence from the PNG Forest Authority. The intention was to commercially harvest logs along a 40 metre road corridor as a way of enticing private investors to build a main road into our hamlets and open up access to the outside world. I produced an investment flyer of the opportunity and shared it with one investor from the United States and another from Australia who was a former colleague with connections to wealthy Indian business people.

We also met with a wealthy Chinese businessman to discuss the opportunity.

All three investors looked at the proposition from a disinterested point of view and considered only the commerciality of the available volume. All three said the volume was not commercially viable.

So the response was a unanimous no. None of them knew each other so could not have possibly colluded against us. Given these two cases, can we harvest our forests in both a commercially viable and environmentally sustainable way? Indeed, should we even attempt to harvest them on a large scale at all?

UBS – the unnecessary loan

29 January 2020

David Kitchnoge – explains the loan should never have been

PORT MORESBY – As the infamous UBS loan inquiry commences here in the national capital, let’s take a quick look at how we got here. The Papua New Guinea government had a 17.6% interest in Oil Search when Oil Search merged with Orogen Minerals in 2002. When the PNG LNG project crystallised in 2009, and the final investment decision had to be made, the government’s legislated funding obligation kicked in. But the government needed to first repay 19.5% of the sunk cost to exercise its so-called ‘back-in-rights’ and hence acquire equity in the massive project.

And then, once it was in, the government needed to fund its share of the construction costs.

To be able to meet these huge funding obligations, the government entered into an exchangeable bond arrangement with the Middle-East based IPIC to raise US$1.1 billion.

At this time, PNG effectively sold its 17.6% stake in Oil Search. This point needs to be made clear. This was when we sold our Oil Search shares.

A press release announcing the IPIC bond on the Oil Search website clearly spelled out IPIC’s intention to convert the bond to Oil Search shares upon maturity.

So IPIC had always intended to own the shares in Oil Search once held by PNG government.

The reason the deal was transacted as a bond rather than as an outright sale and purchase of shares was because the value of our Oil Search shares wasn’t sufficient to provide the amount we needed (US$1.1 billion) but there was potential for the shares to grow to that amount over time.

The bond was structured to limit the downside risks for the Arabs whilst allowing PNG to pre-sell its shareholding in Oil Search. It was a smart deal. Anyone who says they could have done a better job than Arthur Somare and his team at that time would be lying.

Given the intent of the IPIC exchangeable bond as I’ve explained, there was no need to refinance it upon maturity. The Arabs were always going to grab our Oil Search shares to redeem their bond. That had been their intention from day dot.

And by some stroke of luck or ingenuity, the value of those shares had increased over that time to sufficiently cover the bond principal as originally envisaged in the deal. Stars were aligned and it was a case of tok idai!

On our part, we leveraged a less valuable asset (Oil Search shares) with an uncertain dividend stream to acquire a more lucrative asset (a share in PNG LNG) with an excellent dividend stream.

So we never lost anything. It was a smart move that created real value for PNG. There was no need to keep our Oil Search shares once they were taken by the Arabs under the terms of the IPIC bond.

Given all this, the UBS loan should never have been negotiated in the first place.

Even if PNG had negotiated it in the hope of redeeming the IPIC bond, the loan should simply have been cancelled when it became clear that the Arabs weren’t giving up the Oil Search shares. It was that simple.

When Peter O’Neill ran out of excuses for the disastrous UBS loan that was unnecessary, he used the nonsensical argument that the PNG government needed to remain a significant shareholder in Oil Search because it was the largest employer in PNG and needed to be protected from outside interests.

Well guess what? We are no longer a shareholder, the Arabs are now a substantial shareholder, and Oil Search is still going strong.

Papua New Guinea Church Against Social Ills

Caritas PNG and the “Justice and Peace” Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands expressed their concern in a note to the Vatican’s Fides news agency. According to Caritas, human trafficking in Papua New Guinea is a very complex problem given its variety of forms, the situation of the victims and the nature of criminals who perpetrate the abuses.  A recent report, published by the local newspaper, “Post Courier”, showed that several foreign multinationals carry out activities not foreseen in their licenses and even contrary to the laws of PNG. A note from Caritas PNG, sent to Fides, suggested two practical solutions. Firstly, it calls for prompt judicial proceedings against traffickers and those who benefit from them at different levels.  Caritas also calls for greater cooperation and awareness on human trafficking and the defence of victims, both at the national and international levels through cooperation among government networks, businesses, religious communities and civil society.

Generosity is what counts

30 January 2020

Ordinary Simbu people and some business people have donated money to the bushfire appeal, saying this is one way of repaying Australia for all she has done for them


KUNDIAWA – In a critical economic situation like now in Papua New Guinea, when even a single kina matters a lot to many families, the generosity shown by the Simbu people toward the Simbu for Australia bushfire fundraising appeal is amazing. Simbus from all walks of life poured their hearts out for the fundraising effort to help the people of Australia affected by devastating bushfires.

Incredibly, elderly mothers clambered up the rocky Simbu mountains to give some money, so did young children, as did market hawkers in Kundiawa, public servants, educated elites in faraway places and small business entrepreneurs. And it wasn’t only the people of Simbu making donations but the neighbouring Jiwaka people, including political icon and Jiwaka chief Sir Philip Kapal and his daughter Debbie, who donated K500 and K1,000 respectively. The generosity of people has been so amazing and the fundraising committee wondered why that was so? One phrase frequently uttered, particularly elderly donors, was “Australia em mama” (‘Australia is our parent’).

An old woman placing a handful of coins in the donation box said in perfect Tok Pisin, “Astralia i lukautim yumi taim yumi no save long rit na rait. Ol i bringim lotu, school na hausik. Ol i wokim ples balus, rot na bris. Na bihain ol i givim independens long yumi tasol ol ino lusim yumi. Ol i givim moni yet. Nau ol i gat hevi, em taim blong yumi long helpim ol,”

‘Australia looked after us when we did not know how to read and write. They brought churches, education and health services. They built airstrips, roads and bridges. Later they gave us independence but they didn’t leave us. They continue to give us money. Now that they face problem, this is our time to help them.’

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