It pays to practise protectionism

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday 31st May 2013

 THERE used to be a time where certain jobs were reserved for Papua New Gui­neans.

So too was a list of restricted businesses under what used to be called the NIDA Act administered by the Trade and Commerce Department, now renamed Trade, Commerce and Industry.

Then along came the World Trade Organisation, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and their enforcers the World Bank  and the International Monetary Fund and poor little Papua New Guinea and its fragile economy and its domestic protective regimes got crushed by these juggernauts of free trade and removal of protectionist policies.

Today, it is not uncommon to see foreigners laying bricks, driving forklifts, operating tucker boxes and even standing as security guards.

Tucker boxes, mini-supermarkets and other cottage industries are increasingly in the hands of foreigners.

Behind those street side vendors displaying their wares from telephones to pirated DVD movies are foreigners who employ the vendors cheaply to do their sales for them. 

They have even broken into the only local trade which was once the sole preserve of the Papua New Guinean – the betel nut trade.

There is mega millions in the betel nut trade and where there is money, you are likely to fund a certain category of foreigners. 

We hear that certain betel nut plantations in East Sepik may have been bought by foreigners and its products sold in bulk to Papua New Guineans.

This must be stopped for the protection of Papua New Guineans and foreigners involved.

Papua New Guineans are increasingly frustrated at being sidelined and beco­ming spectators in their own country. 

Once upon a time the domination by foreigners in jobs and businesses was frowned upon but allowed by a population which pride and independent spirit had been brutalised by the colonial power.

But now, a second and third generation of Papua New Guineans who are better educated and who have no hangover from the colonial past, are emerging and making their presence felt.

They do not like what they see. They do not like to see the small to medium enterprises sector, which rightly belongs to Papua New Gui­neans in foreign hands. 

Trade, Commerce and Industry Minister Richard Maru only this week told Parliament only 10% of SMEs are in Papua New Guineans’ hands. That is a crying shame.

Papua New Guineans ask the questions: Will the Chinese government allow a Papua New Guinean to build a tucker box in Beijing or Shanghai? 

Will the Philippines go­vernment and people allow a Papua New Guinean to set up a mechanical shop in Manila or any of the other towns of that country? 

They supply their own obvious answers and that feeds a growing anger in the community.

The frustration is building and sooner or later it will emerge in the form of riots, such as we have seen in May 2009 when a simple march in Port Moresby went wrong and within days, there were anti-Asian business riots in Lae, Kainantu, Madang, Goroka, Mt Hagen, Wewak and Port Moresby.

We run today the story of a team that has been tasked to rid Madang town of illegal immigrants, counterfeit or foreign labelled products on store shelves and unsafe structures.

While ostensibly appearing to clean up Madang town, the Madsafe group’s greater interest appears to be cleaning up Madang of fo­reigners in business and jobs that can easily be operated by Papua New Guineans and also to clean up all the sub-standard products that are being sold in so many shops.

The way forward is already gaining momentum through the leadership of Minister Maru, first through the PNG Indigenous Business summit in East New Britain, then through the stimulus package announced by Prime Minister  Peter O’Neill and now through the SMEs workshop proposed to be held in Lae.

The Government must actively intervene in this most important drive for it will stave off future civil disturbances such as we have seen in Honiara, Solomon Islands, in 2006.

More importantly, this is the brightest path to greater participation by Papua New Guineans in the development of their own economy and country.