By WANPIS AKO
A GROWING number of locals are now into the business of producing wine in their own backyards, so to speak.
In Jiwaka, specifically in North Waghi’s Banz station, you will find a local fruit wine producer as I found out as part of a ministerial delegation that stopped by at the factory on Saturday, Jan 13.
Minister for Communications, Information Technology and Energy Sam Basil and his team, me included, stopped by there on the way to Kagamuga in Western Highlands to catch a flight to Port Moresby following an official engagement in Simbu.
He detoured to the factory to see for himself how local company, Mountain Fruit Wine produced and packaged their product.
Owner Robert Mundi took the Minister around the facility to show him how wine was being fermented and packed ready for marketing.
Basil said it was surprising to see what the local company was doing to contribute to the development and economy of the country and he was impressed that local people can do what is still very much considered a business that only people overseas can do.
Mundi and his staff also shared with him the issues they face such as goods and services tax, saying he feels he is being taxed twice. Another problem that was pointed out to the minister was the issue of unreliable power and power cuts. They bemoaned PNG Power Limited’s inability to provide sufficient and reliable electricity supply for commercial and industrial needs, saying this matter topped their list of concerns.
Basil assured them that he would take their concerns to parliament, adding that the factory was not the only one being affected, and the issue of power has been ongoing for many years since Independence.
The Minister, himself, has had problems with electrification in his Bulolo electorate and clearly understood what the owner and staff of the factory were relating to him. During his previous two terms in office, he had successfully rolled out rural electrification in his district, which once was without any electricity at all.
Mountain Fruit Wine factory once provided employment for 200 people.
This number has greatly decreased and Mundi pointed out to the minister that this was due to the problem of inconsistent power. He said he regretted having to lay off a large number but had to take the drastic action because power blackouts were costly. It also meant that tonnes of fruit couldn’t be refrigerated and were left to rot.
People in the community also benefitted from the fruit wine business with Mundi buying ginger, strawberry, wild fruit, elder berry, lemon and banana from local producers. The factory buys elderberry and strawberry for K2 per kilo, whilst wild fruit (local name Kumai) and ginger are also purchased for the same sum. Lemon is priced at K1 per kilogram. The high demand for these fruits attracts producers from as far as Baiyer in Western Highlands and Simbu.
In explaining why he feels he is being double taxed, Mundi said he pays a monthly tax of K50, 000 to the Morobe provincial government. Moreover, he claims to also pay taxes to Eastern Highlands, Madang and Simbu provincial governments where his products are sold.
On top of that, he pays GST to the national government purse for every packed carton of wine, he said.
“We only accept it silently. If we argue with the government, we are afraid of losing our business,” he explained to the minister.
But not one to let bureaucratic red tape hold him back, Mundi is geared up to compete with overseas wine producers who export their products to PNG.
Mountain Fruit Wine uses fresh organically grown fruits and grapes from the highlands that are void of preservatives, artificial colors or flavors. Mundi pointed out that one small plastic bottle of fruit wine contains an equivalent of three bottles of beer.
Major supermarkets such as Seeto Kui, SVS, and Papindo are among the distributors of Mountain Fruit products.
Basil has challenged the factory owner to produce alter wine, saying his product can be supplied to churches around the country who can use it during holy communion.
On touring the facility, the minister expressed concern over imported materials for the production of plastic containers, adding that a substitute can be cheaply produced locally by the PNG LNG project.
Basil, who is also Minister for Energy of which PNG Power comes under, has assured Mundi that he would communicate the struggles of small fledgling industries such as his to Cabinet, and that the PM was well aware of problems with electricity in small towns around the country.
- Wanpis Ako is press officer to the Minister for Communications, IT & Energy.