Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mobile Phone Revolution in Rural PNG



Above: Researcher Amanda Watson (R) from the Queensland University of Technology chats with a member of the audience at the INA seminar

The findings of the first ever research into the use of mobile phones in rural Papua New Guinea, were presented today at a seminar organized by the Institute of National Affairs (INA). Amanda Watson, a PHD candidate from the Queensland University of Technology, carried out her research on the North Coast of Madang Province in 2009.

Ms Watsons key finding was that mobile phone use in rural Papua New Guinea was for social use rather than functional. She added that usage was also limited to communication between relatives. This she said was inconsistent with the patterns of usage elsewhere where the mobile phone has many economic usages.

A local cocoa producer she interviewed on Karkar Island told her that he did not feel that there was any economic benefit from using mobile phones. She clarified this statement by adding that this may be due to the fact that other enabling factors such as market information and transport systems weren’t in place. She did come across and highlands couple who had travelled to KarKar to buy betelnut and were communicating via mobile phone. Paul Barker from INA later commented that mobile company Digicel and the Fresh Food Development Company were now providing market information to farmers in the highlands.

Ms Watson also highlighted some practical and policy recommendations which she felt were necessary. She noted that the cost burden of mobiles phones was still too high for many subsistence farmers. These costs were related to recharging of credits and phone batteries as well as the fragility of handsets. She said that the benefits of opening up of the mobile market to competition should now be used to add impetus to opening of other sectors of the economy to competition.

Most of the people who participated were very positive about the use of mobile phones particularly for contacting loved ones and during time critical emergencies. They were however concerned about the use of the phones for committing adultery, illicit sex, and for coordinating criminal activities. Ms Watson therefore highlighted the need to further assess the social impacts of mobile phones in Papua New Guinea.

Meanwhile, a representative from Digicel PNG spoke at the end of the session about the company’s move to introduce mobile money. He said the service will be available to Digicel PNG’s customers next month under the brand name “CELLMONI.” Digicel CellMoni will allow Digicel PNG customers to lodge and withdraw money via a secure electronic wallet on Digicel mobile phones. Preregistration for this service is now available to Digicel customers.

Monday, June 27, 2011



This past two years have been years of great announcements and pronouncements about the future. Many Government agencies, Provincial Governments, and various Politicians have put forward plans about the FUTURE.

The Somare Government has its famous Vision 2050. The Western Highlands Governor put forward his plans for Mt. Hagen City. The Gulf Governor announced his Vision 2020 for the Province. The list goes on...

Ask yourself why all a sudden we have the planning factories churning out many cut and paste plans full of promises about a glorious future. One reason is that it is because: PEOPLE HAVE FAILED TO DELIVER therefore to DISTRACT ATTENTION FROM THEIR FAILURES they are making BOLD PROMISES ABOUT THE FUTURE just in time for the elections next year.

An academic from the Australian National University Development Policy Center, recently told me that this diversionary tactic has been played in countries like Australia and the UK. He said that all that is done is to make very ambitious statements and set their targets further into the future to cover up for the fact that nothing is being done to resolve the current state of affairs.

Another Papua New Guinean political commentator pointed out to me over lunch that Vision 2050 was not created with proper consultation from relevant stakeholders. It is now being forced down the throats of Provincial Administrators and Heads of Departments and Statutory Bodies. Some of these Government Agencies had created their Corporate Plans Ahead of the launching of Vision 2050 and now have to align those plans with V2050. He also noted the deficiency of the plan with regards to Defence and National Security.

Many of these plans have not been costed nor do they have clearly defined financing arrangements backing their execution. Thus they serve the sole purpose of creating good vibes and propping up the status of those who have failed to deliver tangible outcomes.

This year is not the year of announcing plans about the future; rather it is the year of evaluating and announcing the achievements of the past. Many have achieved very little thus have nothing of substance to brag about and seek to save face by providing optical illusions about the future.

Remember that the achievement of a FUTURE VISION is dependent on the Foundation of what has been achieved until now. A leader creates a FUTURE VISION for hes/her people based on what the Leader has achieved thus far as well as the Leader’s understanding of CURRENT REALITY. It is NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE IF ONE CANNOT DEAL WITH THE REALITY.

If not much has being achieved in the past and at present then the VISION being projected is NOTHING but a grandiose delusion.



Recently I sent out a message to friends on a social networking site and got the following response; “please keep politics out of my inbox.” I was very irritated by the response. The message wasn’t political in nature but the recipient had judged it as such.

Anyway, this got me thinking about general apartheid towards politics amongst certain segments of society. It is certainly true that people from certain regions of the country are very politically conscious and active. However the rest choose not to participate in political discourse. Yet even amongst those so called apolitical demographic one does hear complaints over conditions in the country that affect their lives.

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding about involvement in Politics. Some people assume that politics is about Parliament, Elections and Protest Marches.

However politics is at the heart of human existence. Politics is about the power relationships between bodies and the exercise of that power in decision making. These bodies may be individuals, organizations, societies or States. Because humans, like all living organisms are competitors for resources; the exercise of power will always be detrimental to the interests of one or more of the competing parties.

Politics is essentially a power struggle between individuals, families, clans, tribes, political parties, corporations, and nation states etc... over the right to access and utilize resources. Thus in attempting to find a balance and to satisfy all parties the concepts of rights, rules, customs and statutes evolved. Each competing party has the ability to exercise power in their self interest within an agreed set of rules.

However, even if all parties acted within the rules, there will always be aggrieved parties. The reason being that one party will always have a competitive advantage that may be biological, technological, intellectual or environmental in nature. While all human beings are equal before the law we are not equally talented, healthy, or socially well off.

And so by understanding the politics of your family, tribe, province, country or corporation you can create your own competitive advantages. That is why politics is absolutely relevant to everyone. Life is tough for those who do not create a political advantage individually or by assembling together as is the case with those who are disenfranchised in any state or society.

I do recognize that humans have the capability of altruistic behavior. The ultimate form of altruism is suicide as one excludes oneself from competing with fellow humans. That is not what human existence is about.

Life in the wild west of PNG




Above: Bilum belonging to Rachel Ape from the Western Highlands Province. One of the many women who were locked up and deported from Kamusie

An eyewitness has reported gross Human Rights abuses at a logging camp in the Western Province. Kamusie logging camp is run by the Wawoi Guavi Timber Company a subsidiary of Malaysian Logging Giant Rimbunan Hijau (RH).

Kamusie logging camp which is located near the banks of the Guavi River borders the Gulf and Southern Highlands Provinces. Accessibility is limited to chartered aircrafts or a dinghy ride to the District headquarters of Balimo; which is serviced by a local aviation company, Airlines PNG. Coastal shipping services do not service Kamusie although they do service Panakawa Veneer Mill and the nearby logging camp of Sesereme. This lack of transportation links is compounded by a lack of telecommunications linkage with the outside world.

Isolated within a vast rainforested area; this logging camp has become a black market hot spot.

Drug runners from Komo in the Southern Highlands travel by foot via Mt Bosavi to Wawoi Falls and then to Kamusie. A 500 ml bottle of home brew aka ‘steam’ costs K100 while a 25 oz bottle of PNGs favorite Coffee Punch costs K360 and a can of beer cost K15. The prices of food sold at the company run store are reasonable though. A 1kg packet of rice cost K5.50 while a can of coke costs K3.

The local landowners had created a mechanism that allowed them to borrow against future royalty payments. Whenever a loan transaction was made it was witnessed by a Policeman, the Landowner Chairman, the Debtor, the Creditor and the Forestry Officer stationed at Kamusie. Highlanders (mainly from Southern and Western Highlands Provinces) who had travelled to the site to sell store goods were loaning money to the landowners at 100% interest. This created resentment amongst the local landowners.

In February this year the landowners received around K2.2 million in royalties. One landowner was said to be left with only K2 in his pocket after he’s share of the royalty payment was used to service debts. The debt crisis personified by the landowner who only had K2 in his pocket, prompted landowner leaders to meet with Police and Company Officials to find a solution. The illegal sale of alcohol and drugs was of concern to the police and company officials who met with the landowners and forced the removal of the Highlanders.

Between April and May this year, members of the Papua New Guinea Police Task Force rounded up, physically abused and locked up the Highlanders. Their goods, mainly clothes and household items, were confiscated and the vendors were all beaten and locked up for a month in cells made of Shipping Containers.

A long-term Kamusie resident and Businessman, Mr. Andy Asuma had his business ransacked by the policemen. Property and goods worth hundreds of thousands were lost in the carnage. The case of Mr. Asuma has been reported by The National Newspaper. Mr. Asuma, who is now based at Balimo; will be travelling to Port Moresby to begin court proceedings for damages.

Meanwhile, the Highlanders who had been locked up in the shipping containers were deported in two phases. The men were flown out last month to Mt Hagen on a chartered twin-otter aircraft run by the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) while the women were repatriated earlier this month. The planes were chartered under the name of Micah Esami, a local landowner leader. Mr. Esami however denied any knowledge of paying for the charters.

Police brutality at Kamusie logging camp was previously documented by the ABC Foreign Correspondent program that visited the logging area in 1999.

There is still much speculation surrounding the exact reasons for the recent deportation of Highlanders from Kamusie as well as the destruction of Mr. Asuma’s property. The eyewitness however said it may have been related to the context of the situation at the logging camp.


Thursday, June 16, 2011




On Tuesday 14th June I handed a large umbrella to my mums. Mums is a respectful reference to senior women.

The umbrella was handed on a rainy day. All she had for protection was an orange plastic sheet.

My buai mums is from the Goilalala District of Central Province. She receives betelnut from her home District which she wholesales at Manu. It is at Manu that I buy her betelnut and resell them at my street.

Such is the nature of the Buai trade in Port Moresby. It is important to build relationships that are mutually beneficial. This is important as product quality is not guaranteed. A vendor with whom one has developed cordial relations would not sell one a faulty product.

As a street vendor, the fact that there is no guarantee of returning a faulty product means that if I were to buy warawara buai [bad betelnut] I would incur a loss. Having a buai mums means that I can get a good product. She even informs me if the betelnut is bad and adds extra to cover for the bad product.

I introduced my mum as in my biological mum to my buai mums. It was my mum who bought the umbrella for my buai mums I delivered it to her.

Saturday, June 11, 2011



The Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP) company held its Annual Report Meeting last Friday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Port Moresby. Present at the gathering were the company Board and Management as well as members of the general public.

The report itself contained nothing much that was new. In 2010 the company spent US$ 46.1 million on various projects in Western Province and the rest of PNG. This included the construction of a new multipurpose complex for Kompiam Health Centre. The company had also begun implementing its communications network in Western Province with the construction of towers to provide mobile, radio and television coverage to 90% of the province.

The value of its Long-Term Fund (LTF) has increased from US$ 817.9 million in 2009 to US$ 1044.8 million in 2010. The LTF is a quassi-Sovereign Wealth Fund comprising mainly of revenue received from Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML). It is aimed at sustaining the company’s activities once OTML has ceased mining operations.

The Chairman of PNGSDP, Prof Ross Garnaut was challenged by North Fly Rubber Chairman, Mr Warren Dutton, to inform the Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to keep Saibai’s TB treatment centre open. The company was also asked at the meeting to explain its involvement in Health and Agriculture in Western Province. These issues were raised particularly at a time when South Fly villagers face the real prospect of dying for want of proper Healthcare and rubber farmers may suffer the curse of the Dutch Disease once the PNGLNG project is completed. Neither the CEO Mr David Sode nor the Chairman Prof Ross Garnaut had clear responses.

In his remarks Prof Garnaut mentioned that in some way the death of 200 people from the recent Cholera Outbreak had added impetus to resolving the water and sewerage problems on Daru Island. The Annual report also stated that the project is to be completed by next year. No physical works have started yet.

The Member for Middle Fly, Mr Roy Biyama, highlighted during the meeting that the company needed to improve oversight of its projects as many in his electorate were either incomplete or not done yet. He was very critical of the company’s support for university student awareness campaigns which he said were becoming political campaigns against him. The MP’s comments regarding the students immediately drew fire from a member of the audience who felt that the students were only highlighting the political realities of the province.

Perhaps more notably absent from the meeting were members of the Western Provincial Government. This visible disconnect between the Provincial Government and PNGSDP was highlighted by various speakers who felt the need for greater cooperation between both parties. Perhaps the development challenges of Western Province were best summed up by Prof Garnaut. He said that the province has had no history of a fully functioning government and fully functioning infrastructure to deliver goods and services to the people.

Thursday, June 9, 2011




Above: The Author standing outside the premises of Daru General Hospital

There is a potential humanitarian crisis about to unfold in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea as Australia moves towards preventing border crossers from accessing healthcare in the Torres Strait. This comes a few months after a cholera outbreak that killed over 200 people.

The people of South Fly in the Western Province have had access to health services on Saibai Island in Australia, for decades now. Many cross the border under the arrangement of the Torres Strait Treaty that exists between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

With the deterioration and decay of the town of Daru and it hospital, many have preferred to cross the border to seek better treatments. Patients travel to Mabuduan Health Center at the mouth of the Pahoturi River where they receive their referral letters to travel to Saibai.

Queensland Health Services has been faced with bearing the cost of providing this care. In recent times, the burden of treating Tuberculosis has led to moves to stop providing care.

The prevention of villagers from accessing lifesaving treatment would have tragic consequences. For many who live along the coastline of the Torres Strait, getting to Saibai is much more convenient than having to travel to Daru.

People who live inland in the TransFly Savannah also find it easier to travel by foot to the Pahoturi River Villages and then by canoe to Mabuduan. The Health Centers inland at Morehead, Upiara and Wipim have had chronic shortages in Medical supplies. Access to these health facilities is by foot. The TransFly Highway aka Barramundi Highway is nothing but a pig’s trail snaking its way through the savannah.

The recent cholera outbreak exposed weakness in the delivery of Health services in the Western Province. As the disease broke out on Daru Island it spread along the sea routes towards the Pahoturi-Gizra area in the south-west and north-easterly the up along the Fly River. Provincial Health Authorities who had already undergone cholera related training workshops had failed to diagnose the disease early and had not drawn up management plans to contain an outbreak. The failure of these authorities needs to be tested in court to establish whether it constitutes negligence - that contributed to the deaths of over 200 people.

Australia meanwhile has chosen to turn a blind eye to the chaos at its doorstep. The closure of TB treatment at Saibai would mean that many in the Western Province will continue to die of TB. Those on treatment will develop drug resistance due to noncompliance to treatment caused by lack of TB drugs and/or difficulty accessing treatment centers. The rise of drug resistant strains of TB will thus pose a risk to Australians as infected traditional border crossers come into contact with Torres Strait Islanders.

The failure of the health system in Western Province reflects the failure of Health Authorities at both the National and sub-National level. It is also a reflections of the lack of political leadership both at the Provincial and National level. And Australia as a regional leader and neighbour, has chosen to let the people of Western Province suffer in silence.


# The author is from Malam village in the South Fly district of Western Province.