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Boulevard to nowhere: China dresses Port Moresby for APEC

New cars on a new road
Symbolising a land where the elite has created its own bubble in Port Moresby: new Maseratis parade along a new highway against a backdrop of new buildings 

JONATHAN BARRETT & COLIN PACKHAM | Reuters | Extracts

You can read the full Reuters report here

SYDNEY - Workers are putting the finishing touches on a Beijing-funded boulevard designed to showcase Papua New Guinea’s capital to visiting world leaders at this month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Critics say the six-lane road - complete with wide, illuminated footpaths - is emblematic of a regional power play whereby donor countries vie for influence with show-stopper gifts, even as deeper problems plague the Pacific nation.

Australia, PNG’s traditional partner and a close Washington ally, is lifting aid and has ploughed more than A$120 million into APEC, seeking to keep its sway over its neighbour.

Allan Bird, a parliamentarian and governor of PNG’s second largest province, said the boulevard outside parliament house had little practical benefit.

“Whatever the Chinese government spent on it, it could have been better spent somewhere else, buying medicine or building a school,” Bird told Reuters.

Independence Boulevard
Aaron Chin's splendid drone shot of Parliament House and Independence Boulevard - the K110 million 'road to nowhere' built with Chinese money 

Bird said such gifts put pressure on traditional partners such as Australia to place less restrictions around donated funds and refrain from criticizing PNG’s own spending, which controversially includes buying 40 Maseratis and three Bentleys for APEC.

“There is no transparency around the use of public finances,” Bird said.

“The government can turn to other donors and tell them to ‘toe the line or else we’ll be quite happy to take Chinese money’. They use it as leverage.”

The PNG government did not respond to questions on funding for the boulevard project or other aspects of APEC. PNG has previously thanked China for its infrastructure funding and aid, and denied Beijing had asserted any diplomatic pressure.

China also rebuilt the city’s main highway, which according to Moresby-based think tank the Institute of National Affairs, didn’t really need an upgrade.

The institute’s executive director, Paul Barker, said the resurfaced streets and new boulevard had little public benefit.

“It’s hard to imagine the boulevard will have any use other than marches or grand displays from time to time,” he said.

“It’s not really a road that goes from anywhere to anywhere.”

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Daniel Kumbon

Do people enjoy their wealth in a new life after death?

Ancient Egyptians actually believed it was possible. They believed they could enjoy their worldly possessions in the next life.

While common people were buried in the desert, rich and powerful people like the pharaohs were buried in elaborate tombs.

The pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt were regarded as both man and god. As such, after death, they were first dressed in fine clothes, mummified and then buried together with all their wealth and household possessions in burial chambers.

It was believed such amulets would protect the mummy after death. The Egyptians believed these figures would come to life when called by the dead person and would serve him in his afterlife. Jewellery and treasures were often buried with many other of their belongings that might be needed in the afterlife.

Such a tomb was discovered intact in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter. The tomb was that of the pharaoh Tutankhamen. It sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, for which Tutankhamen's mask, now in the Egyptian Museum, remains the popular symbol.

Ancient Egypt was once a thriving civilisation. It lasted over 3,000 years. The pharaoh, as leader, was believed to be both man and god. There were more than 170 pharaohs who led we Egypt over three millennia, and they covered more than 30 dynasties.

Among them were Tutankha, Rameses, Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, Hatshepsut, Khufu and Thutmose III to name just a few. Some of them were extraodinarily rich and powerful. One ruled for over 60 years.

One day somebody will sit down and write about the history of Papua New Guinea as we experience life now - the type of government system we adopted, the different prime ministers we had, how long they ruled and for what actions they’ll be remembered.

Historians will also find out that PNG was a rich country blessed with abundant natural resources – fish, timber, coffee, tea, rubber, copra, cocoa, gold, silver, copper, oil, gas, diamonds not to mention the wealth of the sea.

If these had been managed properly, PNG would have been a powerful country inhabited by a happy resourceful people.

But instead the people have been reduced to nothing - the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider and wider.

The proceeds from these rich resources have been plundered by the leading class. Health, education and other important government services have suffered.

PNG was a land where corrupt politicians and their cohorts robbed the country dry. Some dipping their hands for their 30 % cut leaving major development projects incomplete or poorly constructed.

Why is it that many leaders in PNG continue to enrich themselves and make people’s lives miserable when they know that they will never take one penny with them to the grave?

Or do they think, like the pharaohs mistakenly thought, that they will live forever?

Arthur Williams

Mikey-ado

Act 1 - Set in the Palace of Eternal Vision on the edge of Waigani Swamp

Seated on a throne constructed from many tin fish cartons and noodles at the end of the splendiferous magnificence of his hall is Masta Xiang a corpulent self-made canteen millionaire.

Around his throne are gathered his many sycophantic supporters each wearing a fake bilum made and embroidered with his emblem in his home village in distant Zanghun.

The emblem depicts a crimson squatter style toilet with the bucket overflowing with golden coins.

He is approached with due deference by the ancient Zilian who had been in his employ for years and so The Masta allowed him the audience.

Zilian expounds on the glory of his surroundings and the benefits of working from dawn to dusk for such a bountiful employer. The Masta smiles and waves his fan but demands the reason for his aged employee not being at his work station in the canteen office.

‘Masta I am so pleased with how your company has expanded due to your skilful business acumen. I hesitate to suggest that I know of someone who would greatly add to further expansion for you Sir!’

‘Yes, yes who is it?”

“My son Chengo. He has been employed for a longtime in marketing the Beltup & Rode company. They have grown into a multinational thanks to Chengo’s gift of promoting the company.

“Is he married Zilian? I wouldn’t want him playing with my Papuan female workers.”

“Masta he is an honourable married man. His wife Lingi also is very clever and helped increase the sales of the same company as her husband. They would both be happy to do your every wish in any role they could to serve you.”

“I shall consider your request old man.”

He exits the hall followed by his applauding supporters their bright bilums swaying from their shoulders.

Act 2 - Masta Xiang is sat on a very high armchair upon a raised dais from where he can watch all the cashiers checking the till-rolls against the actual cash.

Enter Chengo by now his company’s Marketing Manager followed at a respectful distance by his wife Lingi who also has become the Sales Manager. The Masta has been pleased with his clever decision to employ them.

“Ah my very efficient Chengo, welcome to you and your beautiful clever wife.”

The couple bow their heads with pleasure at his greeting. They are happy now that he appears in a good mood rather than the expected grumble about their work.

“I am soon to visit my ancestral home to view the memorial to my highly esteemed father. When I depart I will sign an attorney giving the pair of you financial power to continue to run the company in its highly efficient and may I say a rewarding manner.” He smiled knowingly.

The couple cannot believe his complete faith in them and merely mumble grateful thanks for the unexpected financial control of The Masta’s wealth.

Act 3 - A shabby courtroom beside the foundations of its costly K430 million replacement.

In the room Chengo and Lingi are appealing to the court to not be deported as they know it could mean sand in their rice somewhere in the South China Sea.

The Masta returned from his pilgrimage to find out his trusted pair appear to have emptied his coffers of nearly half a million kina by allegedly paying it to several unnamed companies.

After calming down from his confrontation with the cringing couple he saw fit to commence criminal proceedings against them.

Hoping they would soon be seeing the inside of Bomana where they would soon get tired of eating the tin fish and noodles they used to so cleverly promote for him.

His foul temper today is caused not by the thieving pair’s efforts to stop being deported but by the Minister trying to deport them before their case reaches its final stage when surely they will be found guilty.

“Why doesn’t the black monkey let the court finish its proper job and find them guilty?” he asks his lawyer.

His grovelling legal eagle replies, “Mino ..uh.. sorry I cannot understand it either Sir. All I know is the Minister has ordered the immigration officials to ‘deport them at once!’”

“Why, what’s the sudden rush?” asked Masta. “Why before their case has ended?”

The lawyer suggested it was because the Minister had seen a report by a military policeman.

“What have the army got to do with my workers?” asked the now completely flummoxed employer.

“Sorry Sir but nobody knows the answer to that question. Nothing was explained to us in court about it being something to do with our military. After all it is a criminal matter and nothing to do with them.”

Act 4 - Jacksons Airport.

A tearful Chengo and Lingi are seen waiting handcuffed in the departure lounge. A military policeman and an Immigration official look at the couple and appear to have a private joke.

Outside, a China Air plane is parked and PNG elites can be see standing alongside the red carpet waiting to greet the leader of China as he emerges from this commercial jet and into one of long queue of waiting Maserati luxury cars.

The terminal has been hung with many banners in several languages all apparently welcoming the boss of the Pacific on his state visit.

Many red-flag waving expat Chinese have come to welcome their leader and have been given the best viewing spots to see his meeting PNG’s PM and other worthies.

One of whom is the Minister of Immigration who grins as the crowds join in a familiar chorus:

This haughty youth,
He speaks the truth
Whenever he finds it pays:
And in this case
It all took place
Exactly as he says!
Exactly, exactly, exactly,
Exactly as he says!
x-x-x-x-x

[With apologies to Gilly & Sully. This script was based loosely on recent events in the courts of PNG and I apologise to any who feel it’s them.]

Daniel Kumbon

PNG is heading nowhere so it is fitting that there be a six lane boulevard that leads nowhere but into the big hole at Waigani.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The Chin family have always been good photographers. I used to get my non-Kodak slides (transparencies) processed there.

They also sold slides that they had taken in the 1960-70s. I still have a collection.

Bernard Corden

"Governments are not moral agents" - Noam Chomsky

Michael Dom

The six lane boulevard goes exactly where it's supposed to go, like the government revenues and development budget for service delivery - a short, broad, fast and direct route straight into the foothills of Waigani.

Symbolically the road appears to directly link the opposing buildings: National Parliament and that massive church.

Church and state, or vice versa, it's all about the money.

That's the anointing power of their god, Mammon.

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