OVERSEAS interest groups have been blamed for using children and women to oppose the K900 million Pacific tuna project in Madang province.
Commerce and Industry Minister Gabriel Kapris and Madang Governor Sir Arnold Amet said this after more than 200 protesters, mainly women and children, presented a five-point petition last Thursday over what they claimed were outstanding landowner issues.
Mr Kapris, who was in Madang to discuss the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ) project with the provincial government and landowner representatives, told The National that he was disgusted to see a child being forced to cry by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) representative as he presented the petition to Sir Arnold.
“There are vested interest groups, probably from Europe, who don’t want to see the PMIZ get off the ground.
“We are still trying to find out who they are.
“They are using our NGO, our women and our children to oppose a project which is supported by the community group, ward members and the two umbrella groups’ chairmen.”
Sir Arnold also warned parents not to use their children in protest marches because these actions amounted to child abuse.
The project developers also hinted in the aftermath of the protest that those who would lose out on the lucrative world tuna market would be envious of the PMIZ and would, therefore, be expected “to do their own attacks and lobbies so that their clans would be noticed and be ultimate beneficiaries of assistance from the Government and the PMIZ”.
According to last Thursday’s protest organisers, one group halted clearing work on the project site at Vidar, on the north coast road of Madang, while the women and children protesters presented the petition which, among others, called for work to stop on the project.
The PMIZ is expected to be one of the biggest tuna developments in the Asia-Pacific region, employing more than 30,000 people.
It will have about 10 tuna factory and processing facilities like the ones currently at RD Tuna where fish would be processed and exported overseas.
Mr Kapris said only two issues in the petition were still being finalised – benefits for landowners and environmental impact – and the petitioners would be appropriately notified.
Earlier last Thursday, Sir Arnold was about to meet Mr Kapris and officials to discuss these matters when the protesters arrived and stopped the meeting.
Many of the speakers, both men and women, voiced frustration over many issues which have been overlooked and which the Government failed to address.
PMIZ opponents had gone on the internet to lobby that the canneries and dock and storage facilities were to be constructed to service foreign fishing vessels that would dump their tuna catch.
“It will bring tens of thousands of unskilled Asians into Papua New Guinea when local unemployment is high.
“And it most certainly will lead to fishery depletion and collapse. Unless this expansion of an already socially and ecologically failed industrial tuna industry is resisted, overfishing and piracy will destroy PNG and most of the world’s remaining tuna and other fisheries.”
However, Mr Kapris said tuna was a US$6.1 billion (K16.4 billion) worldwide industry, which PNG controlled 11% while the rest of the Pacific controlled 60%.
He said PNG, by going into the processing stage at the PMIZ, would make the established producers, especially in Europe, more nervous and uncertain about their future tuna supply.