Marape spills age benefit

Main Stories, National

The National, Monday June 24th, 2013

 FINANCE Minister James Marape has foreshadowed major policy announcements, including benefits for the aged and assistance to the coffee industry.

He told gatherings in two Highlands provinces last week that following on from policies such as free education, more good news would be announced at the People’s National Congress (PNC) convention in Lae this week.

“The news will be pleasing for those aged 65 years and older, and for coffee growers,” Marape, a senior member of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s PNC Party, said.

While he did not give details of the initiative on the aged, Marape said the coffee industry, PNG’s economic mainstay before the minerals and petroleum boom, would be revived with the setting up of a stabilisation fund aimed at propping up prices.

Coffee is a major cash crop in the Highlands region but prices are half of what they were several years ago. 

A kilogramme of parchment coffee fetches K3.20 and green beans fetch K6.30 compared with K8 and K12 respectively in the past.

Marape’s announcement was made in the coffee heartland when he opened three district treasury offices in Karimui and Chuave in Chimbu and Dei in Western Highlands last Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Chuave is home to the country’s biggest coffee factory owned by Kongo Coffee.

Community leaders had raised concern about the neglected industry which had forced many growers to abandon their plots as government attention turned to the petroleum industry boom. 

They also felt that the cocoa industry was being given priority with the establishment of its own stabilisation fund recently.

Marape put these concerns at ease when he told the gathering at Dei that the Government had not forgotten the industry and would make an announcement this week on the establishment of a stabilisation fund to help growers with better prices.

Despite neglect, the coffee industry remained resilient with export earnings at almost a billion kina. 

Statistics for 2011 showed PNG exported a record 1.5 million bags, earning K927 million. 

PNG accounts for only 1% of world production. 

Eastern Highlands was the biggest producer with 695,312 bags in 2011 followed by Morobe, Chimbu and Western Highlands. 

Marape urged farmers to attend to the coffee plots and work hard to grow the economy. 

He said the opening of treasury offices in the districts was a significant move by the Government because its attention was now focused on growing the rural areas. 

Millions of kina was being pumped directly into 89 districts in the country and the treasury offices would to facilitate these.

The Finance Department, which is managing the  district treasury roll-out programme, has established and opened 61 of the 89 treasury offices, with the rest expected to be completed and opened over the next two years.

Marape said each district had been allocated K10 million and the local level governments K500,000 each in the 2013 budget. 

They could expect similar or increased funding each year for the next four years and beyond if the O’Neill Government continued.

Chief Secretary to Government Manasupe Zurenouc, who is also Acting Secretary for Finance, accompanied Marape on all three occasions. Details of the openings will be publicised in a supplement in The National this week.