PNG IN THE NEWS
Solomons Signs Deal with China
Kate Lyons and Dorothy Wickham reporting for The Guardian from Honiara on 20 April 2022 revealed that Matthew Wale, the leader of the Solomon Islands Opposition, first learned of the proposed deal in mid-2021 from a source. He claimed the deal was being negotiated by a very small team of elected representatives trusted by the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, but was being kept secret from everyone outside this tight circle including the rest of Sogavare’s cabinet.
In March, these fears proved
to be justified when the draft text of the security agreement, granting Chinese military and police significant access to Solomon Islands, was leaked online. The news alarmed diplomats in Canberra, Wellington and Washington.
The secret China-Solomons security pact took diplomats and government officials—even from within Solomon Islands—by surprise, prompting a scramble by western governments to try to block Chinese influence in the region.
In response to the leak, two delegations were dispatched from Australia to Honiara, while two top US officials, including Kurt Campbell, the national security council Indo-Pacific co-ordinator also visited the capital.
These hurried diplomatic overtures failed. Late on 19 April, China’s foreign ministry announced that the deal had been signed.
James Marape Meets Chinese Premier in Beijing
On 5 February 2022 Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, met with Papua New Guinean Prime Minister, James Marape, via video link in Beijing, as the latter was visiting China to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
The two sides had an in-depth exchange of views and reached broad consensus on developing bilateral relations and on other issues of shared interest, and issued a joint statement after the meeting.
The joint statement of 14 paragraphs issued following the meeting, contained a commitment from both leaders to further develop the China PNG relations and included reference to PNG’s recognition of the One China policy of the Chinese government.
The two sides agreed to strengthen practical co-operation on trade, investment, energy, resources, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and downstream processing, and expand exchanges and cooperation in education, culture, youth, health, sports, law enforcement, and sub-national interactions. The Chinese side would continue to provide to the Papua New Guinea side economic and technical assistance without any political strings attached, and support Papua New Guinea in developing its economy and improving its people’s livelihood.
The full statement can be accessed on the following website:
The 2022–23 Budget and the Pacific
In a story about the budget of 2022–23 in the West Australian on 29 March 2022, Dominic Giannini of AAP reported that Australia will build a new high commission chancery in the Solomon Islands and provide Pacific nations with an additional $325 million to respond to COVID-19 under its Pacific step-up program.
The new funding came amid fears of a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands and accusations that Australia has turned its back on its island neighbours.
Just over $65 million of the total will go towards the construction and maintenance of a new chancery in Honiara.
The federal government is also resuming indexation for Australia’s baseline level of Official Development Assistance of $4 billion—resulting in an additional $90 million in the next financial year.
An additional $460 million in ODA would also be spent in 2022/23 for temporary measures arising from ‘complex and overlapping challenges we face in our strategic environment’, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Paine, said.
According to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, a record $1.85 billion of the ODA is being sent to the Pacific this year.
PNG and US Military Collaboration
On 1 April 2022 the US Embassy to PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu reported that the US Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) had concluded a three-week joint military exercise, Tamiok Strike.
The exercise built on last year’s exercise and strengthened the bonds of friendship between the US Army and PNGDF. The exercise enhanced combined interoperability capabilities through training, skills sharing, and cultural exchanges. The US Army shared their experiences for basic security operations and medical training, while the PNGDF shared their expertise on jungle operations.
This exercise builds on the growing relationship between the US military and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. In addition to last year’s Tamiok Strike, the United States hosted senior leaders from the PNGDF in Hawaii and in Wisconsin and will continue exchanges for years to come.
COVID-19 and Tuberculosis in PNG
PNG reported that, at the end of March 2022, 348,938 people (about 4% of the population) had been vaccinated against COVID-19. By comparison 69.6% of Fijians had been vaccinated at that time. The reluctance of Papua New Guineans to use vaccines is a recent phenomenon. The campaign against polio, which preceded the pandemic and which was also based on vaccination, was successful.
Similarly, the uptake of BCG vaccination of newborn children was initially very successful. Starting in 2008 about 80% of children were vaccinated and five years later this had risen to an estimated 93%. The up-take of BCG then began to decline and had fallen to 52% by 2019, the year before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile tuberculosis persists as a major health problem in PNG.
In a review of activities in 2021 Dr Ann Clarke of Businesses 4 Health (B4H) referred to the impact of the COVID pandemic on the provision of, and access to, essential tuberculosis (TB) services, e.g. the number of people diagnosed with TB and notified as TB cases through national disease surveillance systems and the size of TB disease burden.
At the time of their annual report PNG had recorded 596 deaths from COVID-19. However, with 39,000 people sick with TB and over 4,000 deaths, TB remained PNG’s largest infectious disease killer.
By getting involved in COVID education and vaccination promotion B4H managed to take on two additional workplace health educators. They were also awarded a WHO COVID small grant which supplemented their sponsorship and subscriptions to support the salaries of PNG staff and all local operations.
In 2021 B4H hosted twelve monthly COVID Private Sector Zoom webinars – and three extra-special presentations on our brilliant vaccine toolbox, for World TB Day and on world AIDS Day. In PNG B4H ran twenty-seven workplace sessions on COVID-19 and vaccine promotion for their business subscribers.
Green Energy for PNG?
Business News PNG, Issue 4, 2021, reported that Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) is partnering with the government of Papua New Guinea to develop green hydrogen and green power projects. They recently signed a master development agreement under which 11 thermal energy projects and seven hydrogen power production plants are envisaged.
These projects would produce renewable electricity for the production of green hydrogen and green ammonia. These products could form the basis of a new export industry for Papua New Guinea which currently relies heavily on imported oil.
Chief executive Julie Shuttleworth said these projects would provide additional employment and reduce greenhouse emissions creating a better environment and more prosperity
Once completed these broad projects could produce 2.3 million tonnes of green hydrogen annually.
All projects would be con-ducted in full compliance with PNG laws concerned with safety, environmental protection and bribery and anti-corruption.
Porgera Mine to Re-open
Late in April 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic and slow-boiling domestic economic crisis, the government of Papua New Guinea made the surprising announcement not to extend the mining lease on a goldmine that contributes roughly 10% of the country’s total exports.
Porgera is one of Papua New Guinea’s longest running goldmines. Operating for thirty years in Enga province, this large mine was expected to produce around 250,000 ounces of gold in 2019. It employed more than 5,000 people and the 5% landowner and provincial equity stake has helped to fast-track the efforts to bring services and education to one of the country’s most remote provinces.
While a significant economic contributor, the mine has also brought with it significant controversy, including concerns over human rights, environ-mental issues and conflicts over compensation.
The mine is likely to resume in April according to Dairi Vele, head of the state negotiating team. He predicted also that ramping up to consistent output would take several months. The cost of re-starting the mine will be the responsibility of the operators, Barrick Niugini Ltd (BNL) but the state is likely to re-imburse BNL for its portion of the costs.
The shareholders’ agreement has still to be signed by equity partners, according to Mineral Resources Authority managing director Jerry Garry.
The Porgera Joint Venture (PJV) owns the Porgera Mine which is operated by Barrick (Niugini) Limited (BNL) on behalf of the JV partners.
BNL owns 95 per cent of PJV while the remaining 5% is owned by Mineral Resource Enga (MRE) Limited, which is a consortium between the Enga Provincial Government (2.5%) and the Porgera landowners (2.5%).
BNL is a company incorporated in Papua New Guinea. It is an independently managed company and is jointly owned through an equal partnership between Barrick Gold Corporation (Barrick) of Canada (47.5%) and Zijin Mining Group Company Limited (Zijin) (47.5%) of China.
Source: The National (18 March 2022)
Madang Fisheries Zone
Hon. Prime Minister James Marape says he wants Madang to become a pillar of Papua New Guinea’s economy.
He addressed this topic in front of hundreds of people at Walium Station in Usino-Bundi when announcing K100 million in financing for the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ).
Marape said that hundreds of millions of kina for the PMIZ had been spent with little to show for it during the previous two administrations’ tenure and promised that this would not happen again.
He stated that the project will be administered by the National Fisheries Authority, and that K100 million had already been set up in the 2022 Budget.
The PMIZ project was initially proposed in 2004 and inaugurated by the O’Neill administration in 2015, however despite hundreds of millions of kina being spent, nothing has transpired.
‘I want Madang to grow into an economic powerhouse in the country,’ PM Marape said. ‘The National Government will spearhead this and I appeal to the Madang people to support us in this drive.’
PM Marape reassured Madang residents that the previous two governments’ failures would not be repeated.
‘We are doing it (PMIZ) much better (than previous governments). This year, for the first time, we are putting K100 million into the PMIZ project. We will be making the PMIZ project come to life for the first time.’
Reference: PM James Marape News Page (20 March 2022). ‘PM Marape announces K100 million funding for Madang PMIZ project.’
Sisters Use TikTok to Teach and Preserve Language
Social media is often blamed for eroding traditional culture but two sisters Lisa Marie and Emma Papa are reversing the story. They are using TikTok to teach their Enga dialect and have found that people are excited to learn.
‘We are starting with the basics then leading on to pronouns,’ they said. The girls have posted five videos. The first of these has been viewed 84,000 times.
Danielle Barth, a linguist at Australian National University, said that it is the first example she has seen of the use of social media to preserve language.
Emma Papa hopes that other young Papua New Guineans will follow their lead and showcase their culture, showing pride in who they are.
Source: Hilda Wayne and Jordan Fennell of ABC Radio Pacific Beat
Snakebite Antivenom for PNG
In a story about the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) on the business pages of Sydney Morning Herald on 27 January 2022, Emma Koehn referred also to the role of Sequiris, its vaccine division, in the preparation of antivenom for snakes and other poisonous creatures. Antivenom is the most effective treatment for snakebites and its production and availability are a national priority. The Australian Government therefore assists with production of this emergency medicine product for use in Australia and for our neighbours. The government has recently extended an agreement with Sequiris and PNG’s Department of Health, whereby $750,000 will be provided over five years to ensure the availability of antivenom for snakebite victims in PNG.
Snakebite Research in PNG
The Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU) within the Dept. of Biomedical Sciences, University of Melbourne is collaborating with the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre (CCTC) of the University of PNG on a project designed to reduce the cost of antivenom for snakebite victims in PNG.
Sequiris is donating 600 doses of antivenom to the research team to assist with this project. This is more than triple the amount of antivenom currently purchased annually by the PNG National Department of Health and the donation is valued at more than PGK2.5 million annually.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) has one of the highest localised snakebite rates in the world. In some parts of PNG, snakebite mortality rates can be three times higher than those from more notorious diseases such as malaria or tuberculosis. In southern PNG, Papuan taipan snakes (Oxyuranus scutellatus) cause more than 90% of all cases of ‘envenoming’ (venom-induced injury) admitted to Port Moresby General Hospital. Death Adders (Acanthophis sp.) account for most of the others. This single cause of injury accounts for 60% of all ventilator bed-days in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). The snakebite clinic at Port Moresby General Hospital, run jointly by CCTC and AVRU, treats between 350–400 cases of snakebite each year.
Fee-Free Education for Papua New Guinean Children—Again
PNG’s latest fee-free education policy announced by the Prime Minister in June 2021 (https://pnghausbung.com/free-education-for-schools/) is the fifth in the country’s history. It will take effect in the current year and is planned to be executed over the next ten years with provision made for regular review of the success or otherwise of the new policy’s objectives.
Grant Walton and Husnia Hushang, of the Development Policy Centre, Australian National University, have recently analysed the background to the regular changes in education policy and the difficulties arising from the devolution of funding from central to provincial and district governments. This analysis has been published in the Centre’s journal.
Royal Visit to PNG
On Monday 11 April 2022, after a weekend of engagements in Australia, including opening the 200th Sydney Royal Easter Show, the Princess Royal, HRH Princess Anne, and her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, arrived in Papua New Guinea for a whirlwind visit to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
They were greeted at Jackson International Airport, Port Moresby, by Prime Minister James Marape, and Princess Anne was presented with a garland of flowers before she inspected a guard of honour. They then paid a courtesy visit to Governor-General Sir Bob Dadae and attended an official reception.
The next day the royal couple visited Caritas Technical Secondary School in Port Moresby where they received a wonderful welcome from students in traditional dress representing 22 provinces. Princess Anne and her husband were taken on a tour of the school before visiting the Port Moresby General Hospital where she opened the National Kumul Heart Centre.
They also visited the Bomana War Cemetery and the National Museum and Art Gallery and the tour ended with a dinner with Mr Marape and representatives from the charity sector and business groups.