Kerema in state of emergency

Focus, Normal

The National , Monday, May 30, 2011

THE provincial capital of Gulf, Kerema, is in a state of emergency after the only bank there ceased operating and shops ran out of basic food items like rice and tinned fish.
More than 8,000 people had been affected.
Gulf provincial caretaker administrator Immanuel Xavier confirmed the situation, saying the town had faced “serious cash problems in the last three weeks”. 
The lone BSP agency in town was robbed in 2008 by convicted bank robber William Nanua Kapris and his gang.
Xavier said the “agent” could not function because “there were no deposits made” by local business houses.
He said the impact was not felt until three weeks ago when the town’s economy came to a standstill because there was very little money circulating.
The National was in town last week and observed a number of flagship stores in the area shut down. Others had run out of basic groceries like rice, tinned fish and meat, sugar and freezer delights.
Dealers like Kerema Traders, Poi Mafu Bakery and Itimeta had shut doors while others like Hearo Trading and Murua Traders boasted rows of empty shelves.
Murua Traders manager Patrick Yeoh said the few shops in the area had tried their best to service the people but could not manage because they faced “banking and transportation problems”.
Yeoh, from Malaysia and has been doing business in Kerema for the past six years, said he was losing money and would think of a new strategy if his shop was to survive the money crisis.
“We have a big problem with cash (money),” he said.
“And, I have no idea where the money is.
“Our problem is banking and shipment (transport).”
He said he had ordered some items for his shop in March from Cholai Trading, in NCD, but had yet to receive his stock because the ship (mv Delta-Kikori) ferrying the goods had not arrived.
Another businessman Roland Kapo, who restocked his shop recently, said the high cost of transportation had forced him to raise his prices.
He said between 20% and 30% of his mark-up price “is taken up by transportation cost”.
Kapo said doing business in Kerema was “risky and costly” as he had to transport his goods from Port Moresby by road to Isapeharo and pay for a dingy to go by sea as the road condition was terrible.
Some teachers said they were greatly affected by the food shortage and lack of banking facilities.
 “There is no cash in our hands,” Ruth Sireh, the PNGTA Gulf provincial president, said.
“We go and give our card and cheques to the stores and they tell us to get food only as there is no cash,” she said.
“If there is cash, we are only allowed to get K10 or K20,” she said.
A number of people from a cross-section of the town’s population shared the same views, saying they had no cash and were suffering because of the policies shops had put in place to counter the food shortage.
Xavier said the Gulf provincial government “is fully aware of the situation and has reacted to it by setting up and launching Seagull Finance on May 25 to ease the town’s banking woes”.
“The administration is working closely with the governor and his cabinet to rectify the situation,” Xavier said.
“The opening of Seagull Finance is the start of a long-term solution for Kerema’s banking problems,” he said.
Xavier said K300,000 had been made available through Seagull Finance for people to do their banking, with another K500,000 expected to be deposited with the bank next week.
He said Seagull Finance was owned by the Gulf provincial government and “is a new approach to the town’s banking problems”.
He said services provided included ATMs, Eftpos, micro-finance service as well as general deposits and withdrawals.
Xavier admitted transportation was a huge challenge for Gulf, given its geographical location and make-up, but said the provincial government had plans to address the issue.
He said the Kerema-Malalaua road was undergoing construction which would ease the transportation woes when completed.
The project was funded by the World Bank, costing K49 million and covering 68km.