HELEN DAVIDSON | The Guardian | Extracts
SYDNEY - Papua New Guineans have reacted with anger at its government importing a fleet of Maseratis to drive international delegates around the APEC conference next month, amid a health and poverty crisis, struggling economy, and ongoing efforts after a devastating earthquake.
The PNG government has defended its decision, expressing confidence that all 40 luxury cars will be bought by the “private sector” after the two-day event, leaving the government with no financial burden.
The cars, which cost between $200,000 and $350,000 each in Australia, were flown in from Milan on two Boeing 747-8F charter planes this week, with the costs covered by “the private sector”, according to the minister for APEC, Justin Tkatchenko.
“Maserati Quattroporte sedans have been secured and delivered, and are being committed to be paid for by the private sector,” he said.
“Having vehicles paid for by the private sector is the smartest way to have use of the vehicles for APEC at no overall cost to the state.”
Tkatchenko dismissed the backlash, saying the government had only paid a deposit – believed to be around K40m – for the cars, which would be reimbursed by private citizens who had expressed interest in buying them after APEC.
“Of course we have paid a deposit to get everything here but all costs will be totally reimbursed and there will be no burden at all to the government at the end of the day,” he told News Corp. “They are selling like hotcakes.”
Powes Parkop, governor of the national capital district, said the expensive cars were a way of showing PNG’s “deepest appreciation” for visiting leaders.
The 40 cars are the only Maseratis to ever be brought to PNG. The cars were delivered in the same week that landowners protested outside a government department, calling for outstanding compensation claims to be paid before the conference begins.
PNG has some of the world’s highest rates of violence against women, maternal deaths, malnourishment, and stunting among children under five. For some months it has been gripped by a medication crisis across large parts of the country, as well as a polio outbreak that has already claimed at least one life.
Australia this year announced an extra $16m in aid to address the polio outbreak and assist PNG’s vaccination program. Recently there have also been pay cuts across multiple sectors, including to teachers, and unexplained resealing of Port Moresby roads while rural areas are often inaccessible.
This week the Post Courier also reported on a record rise in carjackings.
“40 Maseratis for APEC and yet they cannot fix bridges that provide access to vital services in rural areas,” said Madan resident Cornelius Kalupio on social media.
Keith Jackson, a long-term commentator on PNG, told Guardian Australia the purchase was a “total perversion” of Melanesian hospitality by “ego-struck politicians” wanting to make a statement as a sophisticated country.
Jackson noted the government would be attempting to get its money back by selling used Maseratis to a town dominated by four-wheel-drives.
Jackson said the cars might get 40km out of Port Moresby on a coastal road, or out to Sogeri near the Kokoda track.
He said seeing these cars on the road would only serve as reminder to people that they can’t get water or electricity.
“It’s a real metaphor for what’s happening in Papua New Guinea at the moment.”
“This would have to be the most striking case of the government’s disdain for their people,” said PNG commentator Susan Merrell.
“K40 million would have been better spent on building new classrooms or hospitals,” said the member for Madang, Bryan Kramer.
“It was instead wasted, just so O’Neill could impress Apec delegates all at our expense … all while the majority of Papua New Guineans live in poverty and teachers and public servants face pay cuts.”