PNG can learn much from the region
Opening up PNG’s financial markets

It’s not the Chinese; the problem’s corruption


THE ANTI-CHINESE sentiments that exploded into pockets of looting in various centres around PNG in 2009 must be properly analysed and addressed.

At the outset, let me say that the incidents of unrest were not acts of racism as some people would like us to believe. Any person from any country who has had the good fortune of engaging with Papua New Guineans at a personal level will tell you we are not racists.

Rather, the riots were a manifestation of a complete collapse of our governance systems over the years. It was always bound to happen the very first time corrupt Papua New Guinean officials colluded with foreigners in breaking our laws. If this is not clear enough, then we will truly miss a great opportunity to seriously address corruption in our country.

There is no one to blame for our predicament. As one of my friends said, the people have vented their anger at PNG and it was unfortunate that the China man was in its path. But, in saying that, I am not absolving the illegal Chinese immigrants of any wrong doing either.

Instead of pointing fingers, we must focus on fighting the root cause of the problem to avoid such resentment in future. And while we look at addressing corruption and its detrimental effects on our country, there are a number of things we should not ignore about the relevance of China to PNG.

Firstly, there are many different peoples of Chinese origin in our country, and they differ mainly by time of immigration. Descendants of those who came to PNG before independence, or the ‘old Chinese’ as researcher James Chin calls them, are equal Papua New Guineans like we indigenous peoples.

They continue to play major roles in the development of our country in politics, business, music and the arts. Who can ever forget the late Glen Low who wrote the beautiful uniting song Wan Kantri by the Barike Band?

Secondly, China has emerged over the last few years as one of the world’s economic super powers. And it could not have asked for a better time to increase its dominance of the world.

The global financial crisis resulted in the shedding of substantial value by major listed companies around the globe, thereby creating a perfect opportunity for China to pounce. Their ambitious bid to take over mining giant Rio Tinto in Australia was an example.

Although we have dealt with Chinese businesses before, they are no way near the size of the players that are now dominating the world. And I believe we do not have enough retrospective knowledge about their corporate behaviours, values and business ethics to appropriately engage with these large Chinese investors.

Accordingly, we must thread with extreme caution when dealing with Chinese businesses that will be after raw materials from our country to quench their insatiable demands.

As a protection mechanism, we must urgently get our governance systems and processes into shape and insist that these be followed at all costs and without fear or favour.

From now on, all our dealings with foreigners must be done at complete arms length and at terms that are fair to our people. But we will not achieve this if we do not rid ourselves of corruption first.

Originally published in the Sunday Chronicle


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Francis Hualupmomi

From the information gathered in viewpoints, I am compelled to logically position the intent and motive of the Asian riots.

1. Corruption - Rent-seeking behaviour. Political and bureaucratic officials unlawfully permitting entry of Asians in return for reward.

2. Weak security system - PNG lacks effective security system to monitor and control movements of migrants.

3. Laziness in entrepreuneurial culture - This is most common in coastal regions compared to highlands region. This makes the business sector less competitive and constructs a vacuum for Asians to infiltrate and dominate business.

4. Opportunists - In most cases opportunists tend to follow the crowd. Looting is a common situation which many opportunists participate to steal what they want.

5. Racist sentiments - There could be some sentiments relating to provocation of racism.

6. Politically engineered - It was assumed by some commentators that Anjo was influenced by the Opposition and other sources who wanted to topple the NA government.

7. Less state intervention- less government support in small scale market economy - especially in the informal cash economy

I believe these are some of the factors that may perhaps play an important role in influencing antagonistic behaviour which resulted in the riot.

David Kitchnoge

Bernard - I understand the language that was used by Anjo and co, but I still do not believe it was used in a racist manner.

I think what our people really said at that time was "why are you encroaching into my space - a space that is specifically reserved for me by the laws of my own country?"

As I said, it was just unfortunate that the encroacher was of Chinese origin. Robert Atsir from Bougainville seems to agree on this take if I read him correctly from the previous article posted by Keith.

Francis – I also understand the angle you are coming from. But I wouldn’t yet brand our people as lazy unless I see them not making maximum use of all opportunities made available to them.

And I don’t agree with comparing ourselves with Chinese or whoever without first understanding ourselves from within our own context.

At the moment, I would say it is already a damn good effort from our people to still try and find their ways into the cash economy with very limited support.

Francis Hualupmomi

David - You may be right to some extrent, but in general most people in PNG especially from coastal regions are too lazy to do business.

Business is part of Chinese culture. This culture is best defined by this slang "Chinese work to live and PNG live to work".

David, this is the reality in PNG. We have potential but we are just too lazy, that's why Asians dominate the business sector.

We must not look at one side of the coin only. Balancing the equation is essential. Thats why I highlight two competing interests influencing pattern of behaviour.

Bernard Yegiora

"Let me say that the incidents of unrest were not acts of racism as some people would like us to believe".

David, from a humanist point of view, I think racism is at the heart of this issue.

One of the fundamental questions asked by Anjo and his mob was why are foreigners of Asian origin being allowed to venture into businesses restricted to nationals?

That question has racist connotations.It's definitely a race issue seeing people of other races dominating the business environment in PNG.

It's a fact of life that when you see someone or meet them for the first time you try to work out where they are from. In PNG we have this habit of saying "em blo highlands, em blo nambis, em Morobe, em blo Sepik".

We identify people by indicating what region or province they are from. This logic and approach should be used to understand the 2009 anti-Asian riot because that is the way the majority of Papua New Guineans think and behave.

Living overseas I see racism every where, every day and in different forms. People make decisions and judgements based on race.

For example, when in another country, without talking to you someone may judge you as being less knowledgeable because of your race but by talking to you they will realise that you are in fact the opposite.

Barbara Short

I strongly agree with these comments, David. When I was teaching in PNG 1971-83, I taught a lot of Economics and I know a lot was being done at that time to try to get PNG people into the cash economy.

I was Headmistress of Manggai High School 1982-83 and we were involved with a SCEPP course which was designed to get the students and their families earning cash.

The fluctuations in commodity prices were always a problem. Over the years there have been strong movements for and against price stabitisation schemes.

Diversification seems to be a good way to cope. The Australian farmers have a similar problem. One farmer just lost his wheat and cotton crops to the floods but he planted sorghum as the floods receded and is now having a bumper sorghum crop to boost his finances.

I hope the micro-finance schemes really take off. We introduced the Savings and Loan Societies but the new micro-finance schemes backed by the Reserve Bank should really take-off and help promote small business.

Some Australian friends of mine who have watched the growth of these newer Chinese haus kai shops feel they are wrong. The local PNG women should be encouraged to produce cooked food suitable for "take-away" service in PNG markets and other places where people congregate.

In Australia today we have a huge percentage of our population overweight due to the types of fatty food that is sold in all these fast food places like McDonalds. Let's hope that PNG can avoid this trap.

David Kitchnoge

Francis - I wouldn't brand our own people lazy. We try our hearts out but have not been receiving the recognition and the appropriate support to take us to the next level.

There are people out there in our rural communities who are doing coffee, cocoa and copra but with no government leadership in terms of improving access to markets.

And our commodity price stabilisation mechanisms have been completely corrupted to a stage where they can no longer provide price incentives for our people to remain in their coffee, cocoa and copra plots at times of low world commodity prices.

This is one lot of hard working Papua New Guineans.

The other lot of hard working Papua New Guineans are the very enterprising people who are seen by most as the eye sore of our towns and cities: yes I’m talking about the humble buai sellers and the street vendors who brave the hostile tropical heat 24/7 to make something of themselves.

So if you define laziness as lack of effort, then I will reject that assertion completely.

Modern trade, that includes cash changing hands, is a relatively new concept to us. We have only been introduced to it less than half a century ago.

We need to recognise this and step up and provide proper guidance and support, including financial education and awareness and access to capital and to markets, to our masses to help them properly integrate into the formal economy.

With the entry of mobile phone technology and the various micro finance and financial inclusion schemes that are being rolled out, we are beginning to see Papua New Guineans stepping up.

But more government support and encouragement is still needed in the long term to get us over the line.

So we are not lazy. And micro business activities that are reserved for us by law must not be given away to foreigners under the pretext that “we can’t do it ourselves”.

The laws in respect of this that have been corrupted must be corrected and our people must be given the protection of the State to find our feet in this newly introduced cash economy.

Francis Hualupmomi

Well said, David. The other issue is local people's laziness to think smart about entrepreneurship and lack of state intervention in local market economy, specifically self-entrepreneurial actors.

We have two competing interests working at the same time influencing the behaviour of locals rebelling against the Chinese community.

Dr Chin was my former lecturer in international relations at UPNG. His analysis of Chinese behavioural interaction with the locals seems less pragmatic from an objective point of view.

I tend to fall within the line that new migration influences shifts in perceptions and behaviour, but this may camouflage part of the issue.

The real issue lies with David's logic of governance issues and weakness in local's tendency to participate in the entrepreneurial culture.

Reginald Renagi

Unless PNG realistically addresses this issue now we will still see tensions rise in future.

There are already public perceptions for many years now that some politicians are in the pockets of certain Asian business personalities.

Further, the media just reported the recent killings in the highlands of people of Chinese origin.

This does not augur too well with what the authorities are doing (not much) to educate the populace about this issue since the anti-Asian riots over 18 months ago.

Gerald Tananu

Yes, I agree that the riot in 2009 was not really about PNG nationals disliking Chinese people, but this riot was stipulated by PNG politics.

Noel Anjo, one of the political activists at the time, was simply wanting the National Alliance to be kicked out of ruling the country and the riot was aimed to gain the support of everyone in the country, which would have led to a demand for Somare to step down. Of course this never eventuated.

This type of political game is still going at this moment, as on 26 March, Mr Anjo was chased out in Enga Province for staging a political rally trying to activate the people to carry out the protest again.

In reality, this is one of Mr. Anjo's hobbies, he enjoys politically rallies and the like. This was what he was been doing in his time at UPNG in the olden days until the administration got tougher in 2003.

It is my belief that Mr Anjo was paid by the opposition to get involved in this Asian riot in 2009.

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