Affirming big brother stance

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday July 2nd, 2015

 THE opening last Friday of the Papua New Guinea Chancery in Honiara, Solomon Islands, is a further step to affirm the big brother status of the Pacific’s largest nation outside Australia and New Zealand.

The chancery building was opened after almost a decade because an earlier contractor failed to complete the job. The occasion should now put what may have been an embarrassment for both the PNG and host governments firmly in the past. 

The chancery, which the former Somare Government initiated in 2009, was to reflect the long and close bilateral diplomatic relationships between the Melanesian neighbours.

The ties were cemented in 1978 when PNG was four years old and the Solomon Islands two years old. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who was in Honiara to attend the Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders meeting, opened the chancery which was built by PNG company, Lamana Development Ltd. 

“Today we stand as a family to open a place that is going to better connect our two countries,” O’Neill told the gathering at the opening ceremony.

“As PNG continues to grow, we will continue to share information about the development of our key policies particularly in education, healthcare, law and order and the ongoing infrastructure development taking place in PNG.”

O’Neill presented a che­que for K20 million as a grant to the Solomon Islands on the occasion.

He acknowledged the special relationship between the two countries.  

“It is a relationship based on customary ties.  Years of trust and of course diplomatic ties established since PNG gained independence.” 

This is not the first time PNG has assisted smaller Pacific Island countries. PNG contributed financially to the first post-coup democratic elections in Fiji.

Given its size and economy, Papua New Guinea’s position of leadership and influence in the region is increasing and appreciated. It therefore depends on the Government and the private sector in the country to make the most of the opportunities this presents. In the private sector, major PNG businesses such as Ela Motors, bemobile, Bishop Brothers, Lamana Development Corporation, Farmset have established operations mainly in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara. PNG’s largest commercial bank, Bank South Pacific has lived up to its name, through its Solomon Islands operations. 

A number of Papua New Guinean firms, including landowner companies and super funds, have property investments in Fiji. These are indications of an expanding PNG private sector that is intent on grabbing investment opportunities present in neighbouring countries. And these are not done purely on commercial considerations but such investments in a little improve livelihoods through employment and social investments in those countries much like what is happening back home.

A blogger who visited Honiara in July 2011 had posted that in many respects Honiara “feels like what PNG was 10 years ago” and it goes without saying that unfortunately the ethnic tensions of several years ago had a deep impact on development in Honiara. 

“I sympathise with the Solomon Islands because when discussing Honiara to some of my business associates in Australia their reply was the all familiar ‘is it safe to do business there?’”

This blogger suggests that if no one (investors from other countries) will invest in the Solomons then it is most likely that PNG companies will in the next couple of years.

The PNG Government and the private sector must take the lead in disproving the long held perceptions and fears to open up investment in Solomon Islands, the Melanesian region and the rest of the Pacific.

Having captured this vision of expanding Pacific investment opportunities, PNG’s flag carrier Air Niugini has now established direct connections to Honiara, Nadi and recently to Port Vila.

The opening of the chancery in Honiara is a fitting complement to the sizeable PNG investment in the Solomon Islands.

Some may argue that Papua New Guinea cannot afford to assist others as it has its own development concerns to sort out first. However, sharing is the Pacific way and Papua New Guinea has done it over the years. 

It is a sign of maturity and a coming of age to take the stage as the leader in the Pacific.