THE buai (betel nut) ban in Port Moresby has not reduced supply into the city. The quantity of buai in Port Moresby is about the same but prices have sky-rocketed.
This has put millions of kina into the hands of a few organised cartels, or should I say well-to-do law breakers.
Let me give you the details.
The typical Engan or Tari or anybody else from the Highlands who sold buai at small tables in Port Moresby’s simmering heat prior to the ban did not have vehicles or the necessary networks to bring bulk buai into Port Moresby, 10 or 20 bags at a time.
They would buy one or two bags from the Gulf people or Mekeos from Bereina who based themselves at the port Moresby suburb of Gerehu, which became a one-stop-shop where buai was unloaded from PMVs (commercial vehicles).
However, the enterprise has changed radically since Port Moresby’s buai ban. Frustrated street vendors are now lacking business and a new group of cartels has emerged to make huge profits.
These cartels are sourced in the higher and middle echelons of society. They are from the Highlands and Papua and hire human mules to cart buai into the city through new routes while police and city rangers waste their time tending a checkpoint at Laloki Bridge.
The cartels buy their buai in Gulf and Mekeo and transport them to Hisiu, Touto or Manumanu villages where hired dinghies wait for the shipment.
The mules then cross Red Scar Bay or Galley Reach and make their way to Port Moresby, disembarking at Koki or Taurama mostly under cover of darkness. Some mules come straight to Port Moresby in dinghies. Others cross Redscar Bay to Papa, Lealea, Porebada or Boera where troop carriers wait for them along the Napa Napa road.
Since the ban has inflated buai prices, some high-ranking defence and police officers have ventured into this lucrative new business using state assets like cars. Should you visit Gordon’s Police Barracks or Taurama, you will see the obese spouses of these supposedly disciplined officers sitting in comfort and with immunity selling betel nut.
Some of these new tycoons use unemployed youths to raft buai bags across the Laloki River and shoulder them along a bush track at the back of Rouna Quarries to reach Nekintz, Goava or Rai streets in Morata where pickup trucks await.
These kids are paid K100 for one bag of buai carried from the Laloki River to Morata. That’s enough money to quench their thirst with a six-pack and their hunger with a fried lamb flap.
Allowing this lucrative trade to slip entirely into the hands of organised cartels operating illegally has turned a benign trade into a criminal activity.
Already these scoundrels are buying houses and cars with the proceeds because almost everyone in Port Moresby chews buai. Since the ban, the profits can be measured in millions of kina.
There have already been cases where rival buai thugs, organised and otherwise, struggle for a bigger share of the buoyant market and turf fights are erupting.
Almost all the people in Governor Parkop’s office, the police in the troop carriers, public servants, school kids, doctors and nurses and just about everyone else chews buai.
The good Governor should lift his ban before more cartel members are made millionaires and more migrants from the mountains are made poorer.
Governor Parkop should buy an extra consignment of Klina soap to allow his city rangers a good shower to erase the stench of immorality as they run around chasing the few small-time buai sellers left in the city.
Buai has become a national delicacy since the Highlanders joined the other three regions in chewing their heads off.
Its appeal to the Papua New Guinea people makes me wonder whether Parliament should legislate to include a betel nut on the national flag.
Perhaps the new flag could have a Bird of Paradise with a red beak. With that done, Papua New Guineans can feel proud and the buai cartels can feel a sense of achievement.