MARTYN NAMORONG | Namorong Report
The year began in Tabubil. On the stroke of midnight, flares and gunfire welcomed the New Year in the mining township located at a cliff edge on the Ok Tedi River. A fire truck with sirens blaring made its way around the town and voices could be heard near and far shouting ‘happy new year!’
I was coming towards the end of my six month contract with Ok Tedi Mining and looking forward to a two-week study tour of Canberra and Sydney followed by a week at a Deakin University conference.
It is fair to say that I was at the heart of the eye of storm that was brewing over the Ok Tedi mine. I remember leaving Tabubil and telling my colleagues that I was going to work for their shareholder, the PNG Sustainable Development Program.
I returned from my trip to Melbourne and joined PNGSDP. Sifting through the project files, I came across very many grassroots projects. It is unfortunate that such projects don’t get the attention they deserve unless a politician or high profile dignitary is associated with them.
By June, it became apparent that the PNG government was dead serious on legislating the takeover of Ok Tedi. PNGSDP staff were warned that they could lose their jobs. I left PNGSDP and signed up with EMTV in Port Moresby but before that I went on a trip to Fiji to attend a workshop on housing.
After three months in television, I resigned to pursue other interests. I suppose, for me, it was a realisation that, whilst I was doing quite well personally, there were other people out there who are being cheated and ripped-off by all sorts of players.
I assisted the Parliamentary Opposition communications team for two weeks but had to leave due to physical threats I received. In any case, I am optimistic about my prospects.
I cannot say the same however, about the future prospects for PNG. This year was the year of the national Hauskrai; but it didn’t do much for improving the position of women in PNG. Many unknown figures received their 15 minutes of fame as warriors in the cause of women and Amnesty International Australia now shamelessly runs a Facebook fundraising campaign using images of abused women.
That seems to be the sad narrative of the so called campaign to end violence against women, with individuals and organisations trying to capitalise on the miserable plight of exploited and abused women in PNG.
To some of these well-meaning people and bodies, it perhaps does not click that the discourse on gender based violence in PNG is complex and that oversimplified mass messaging doesn’t cut through to the populace.
I attended the Hauskrai held at Sir John Guise stadium and in September watched Parliament pass the Bill to take over Ok Tedi.
On both occasions, the rhetoric was that Papua New Guinea was correcting the injustices of the past. On both occasions, I observed mere grandstanding and rhetoric for self-gain by individuals and organisations.
2014 will be a tough year despite the words from various prophets of good news.
I expect the kina to slide further as Ok Tedi faces the challenges of producing and selling its copper. This year the mine was shut on two occasions: when the pit flooded and when the SAG mill broke down.
Who is to say the problems won’t recur in 2014 as the Star Mountains have very high rainfall of around 10 meters a year and the SAG mill is a second-hand one that was bought over 30 years ago. In addition, Ok Tedi’s main customer in the Philippines has shut down its refinery due to damage caused by the recent typhoon.
The kina will also continue its downward trend as direct foreign investment linked to the LNG Project dries up due to the winding down of construction. Thousands of Papua New Guineans are expected to lose their jobs.
Despite the government’s rhetoric that these workers will get jobs on government sponsored construction initiatives, given the fact that a lot of Chinese firms have got these big government contracts it seems more likely that Chinese workers will get the jobs.
I expect the mineral exploration and construction sector to hit a low as appetite for risky investment dries up and a shift in the government’s mineral policy and legislative agenda sends mixed messages all round.
The expected rise in the interest rates in the United States will make cheap credit for investment difficult and the new focus of China’s Five Year Plan will see a rise in the price of goods made in China. What this means is that there will be a low appetite for risky investments in PNG from the private sector and a risk of importing inflation from China.
The recent changes to the Fiscal Responsibility Act signal a huge appetite for creating new government debt. Increased government borrowing from domestic sources to plug the holes in its 2014 budget will see a crowding out of the private sector.
The government has proven its lack of capacity to deliver by only implementing around 50% of its development budget in what was supposed to be the Year of Implementation.
I expect crime to rise in Port Moresby and other main centres throughout PNG as the downward trend in the kina drives inflation higher and many workers lose their jobs.
2013 was the Year of the Women of Papua New Guinea, they rose up and their collective voices rang from the mountains to the coast and across the seas from island to island. And all they asked for was for a little respect and the right to a dignified life.
Will 2014 be the year of unemployed and exploited workers asking for a little respect for their hard work and the right to a dignified life by earning a living wage?