IT was a simple congratulatory advertisement for a new ‘Senior Officer Expatriate Services’ placed by Bank South Pacific (right); but it riled up PNG Attitude readers.
And it broadened into a discussion we probably need to have about whether expatriates, and especially Australians, in Papua New Guinea generally behave civilly in their dealings with Papua New Guineans.
I single out Australians both because of the claimed “special relationship” between our countries and because PNG is also a strategic neighbour with which the Australian government wants to maintain good relations at all levels.
But to go back to that Bank South Pacific ad, spotted by the @Masalai twitter account, which commented, “The expat/national thing is still a thing in PNG? Wow @BSPPacific backward/racist much!”
“More of a spotlight needed on large companies in PNG who maintain these policies,” responded @Muntika_Elvix. “The expat/national (I detest that word) gap is enormous. Someone I know was told by Westpac that that branch was only for expats. Poor thing she's always thought she was white.”
And @Dru added, “Massive separatism practiced by huge multi-national companies in PNG.”
During my own recent visit to PNG, which included 10 days in Port Moresby, I was told that some of the worst offenders in their condescending verbal treatment of Papua New Guineans are middle level embassy (no names; no pack drill) employees.
“I have actually said to people, ‘Would you speak to someone like that in Australia?'" said another commentator. "I doubt it! I grew up there and I know that sort of behaviour isn't accepted there and you think it's OK here?"
“I remember the ‘expat only’ recreational spaces at my former employers," another remarked. "Would be funny if it wasn't so offensive. I worked for four years in Port Moresby and dealt with this every day.
“I fought every day against this [attitude] and it wore me down That's a huge part of why I left. I couldn't take being patronised every day at work.”
These social media insights into what seems to be a sad, separatist dynamic of at least part of the post-colonial Australian presence in PNG are deeply disturbing.
And if there are indeed tensions between Australian diplomatic employees and Papua New Guinean staff because of inappropriate attitudes and behaviour, do these stresses flow into the higher level and more complex relationships between the two countries?
There is already a physical separation, spurred along by safety concerns, between the expatriate and Papua New Guinean residents of Port Moresby.
These security issues, which are real enough, have the unintended and undesirable consequence of many expatriates living in compound-based “bubbles” from where PNG can be seen as a somewhat exotic and intimidating backdrop.
If the gap is as enormous as some of our commentators believe, then this needs to be addressed.
“Papua New Guineans aren't actually allowed into the expat-only spaces Exxon has,” another commentator observed. “You would actually be a little horrified by how Exxon maintains that separation.”
There's an Afrikaans word for that, 'Apartheid'.