THE parliamentary committee investigating Asian-owned and operated businesses is hearing some shocking evidence from key departments and agencies which deal with foreign nationals and businesses.
There just is no capacity in the Customs and Immigrations services, in the Investment Promotions Authority and the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations.
As the various agencies, starting with Immigrations and Citizenship Services started giving evidence, the committee members and others attending were enthralled and shocked.
The various agencies operate almost in total isolation. They do not have inter-agency briefings or meetings. They do not exchange notes and basically “assume” that the others are doing their jobs. There is no lead or coordinating authority.
In the age of computers, some are online, others are not or are only just getting into it. Those that are fully computerised operate systems which are incompatible.
Laws, regulations and operating systems are outdated and outmoded.
The agencies and departments are seriously understaffed, grossly overworked and have very small budgetary support. It is no wonder that the country is placed in the position it is in.
There are companies in the country whose only business is to buy up or create work permits and visas to sell to foreign nationals.
Even citizenship certificates are being acquired by dubious means. Governor of Milne Bay John Luc Critten presented to the committee a citizenship certificate which was obtained in 2006 when the Citizenship Committee never sat.
Customs officials can investigate cargo and people at ports but have no power to board a vessel or arrest and confiscate anything in the open sea even within PNG’s exclusive economic zone.
The Anti-Dumping Act which would prevent the import of cheap and counterfeit goods was mysteriously removed by Parliament in 2007. There is presently nothing to stop companies dumping anything from fake jewellery to clothing on the PNG market.
The list just goes on and on.
For a long time the blame has mostly fallen on foreigners. People have wondered long and hard about how the numbers of illegal aliens seem to have increased overnight.
Now, it turns out the foreigners have just slipped through the gaping holes in PNG’s own systems and processes.
They do not come in sea containers. They just march past Customs and Immigrations officials who are just too busy to notice or stop them.
The Foreign Affairs Department does not even have the budget to deport aliens back to their country and no facility to detain them.
The country’s land and sea borders are open to incursion day and night without the slightest hitch.
Once foreigners are in the country, there is no capacity to know their whereabouts or round them up when their visa has expired.
Civil servants in the system and foreigners aware of the chaotic mess that the Government agencies are in take advantage and so corruption is endemic.
Corruption, it must be said, is only a by-product of a deeper problem – the lack of a coordinated, modern and functional system of processing foreign nationals and corporations in the country.
Chairman Jamie Maxtone-Graham summed it up. “This is shocking. I am shocked.”
It is more than shocking. It is alarming.
Nations are so called because they are able to operate within boundaries which they can protect and defend. They have laws which the citizenry are required to obey. We are learning here that some of the fundamentals which go to making a country what it is are actually lacking or not working in PNG.
Finally, Parliament is uncovering the real reasons for the influx of foreigners, particularly those of Asian stock, into the country.
Foreigners are not to be blamed. The blame must rest squarely upon the ineptitude of the Government over many administrations dating back to Independence.
In the age of interconnectivity and information, the department which is PNG’s link to the world, is unable to go online to its missions located in different parts of the world.
The department moved from an outdated computer system back to paperwork and is only just introducing a new system with the assistance of Australia.
If this were not so serious, it would be hilarious.
It will take nothing short of a state of emergency and hundreds of millions of kina to update and modernise the system.
Although a one-stop shop for all Government agencies dealing with foreigners, including security and intelligence agencies, has been talked about for many years, it has never been put into action. It is needed, like yesterday.