PAPUA New Guinea, to many outsiders, is a no-go zone. The US state department and Australian department of foreign affairs and trade periodically update their citizens on the dangers of visiting and travelling to PNG.
There is a risk index which they choose to increase or lower as they deem fit. It directly reflects the attitude of their staff on the ground.
They live and work behind high security fences and rarely visit outside the capital unless it is absolutely essential and then it is almost always on duty.
It is a fact that foreigners as well as Papua New Guineans live on the edge here. This is the land of the unexpected, they say. We hasten to add that it is also the land of paradoxes.
One such paradox is that in this thriving democracy, the peace-loving citizens live behind barbed wires and triple padlocked doors while the criminal kind roam free day and night to ply their trade. End result: Fear.
Another is that the politicians have decided they will be civil servants while the civil servants sit wondering what role will be designed for them. End result no productivity and corruption.
And the list grows.
But they will come we mean the overseas visitors.
They will flock into this country and love it or hate it, they will throw away their passports and find a nice little Papua New Guinean lass or a virile male in order to claim legitimacy for a prolonged stay here.
PNG grows on you. If you have lived here for any length of time and if you have thumbed your nose at the warnings and dangers and wandered freely around the country, you begin to love this place.
That class of PNG lovers remain both here and abroad and they are a wonder, especially when you run into them in a pub in a country town, and they get started on the subject of PNG. It becomes far more interesting and even rowdy if there is a voice raised against their rantings.
They are a lovely bunch but we want to talk of another class of people. The class that see PNG for the opportunities it presents, for the wealth they are likely to make and for the space, and the natural beauty with a small population of mostly innocent, shy and sometimes violent people.
It is starting already. The opportunists, the crooks, the scalawags, the thieves and their kindred are coming.
In the 1970s, there was a mass exodus of mostly Caucasians when it became clear that the “bois” were about to become “mastas”. This continued for almost a decade after independence.
Then the exodus stopped and a small trickle started in the reverse direction back to PNG. That was because Ok Tedi mine went into production, followed by Porgera, Misima, Kainantu, Lihir and Tolokuma gold mines.
PNG joined the exclusive club of oil producing nations in 1989 with first oil out of Kutubu. Nearby fields in Gobe and Moran joined. Gas out of Hides was commercially developed to supply electricity to Porgera.
PNG’s rainforest and its rich marine resources became commercial concerns that quickly grew into multi-million kina businesses.
More mines, including Ramu nickel came into operation. Many more are promised.
And now the mother of them all – in liquefied natural gas – is entering front end engineering and design.
Tomorrow the biggest yet, carbon trading using PNG’s large rainforest, will provide multi-billion kina opportunities.
This world revolves around money. Money will drive men into the deepest, darkest ocean beds of the world and to mine active volcanic craters.
PNG’s reputation is nothing. It is not a dictatorship such as that of Stalin or Lenin or Saddam Hussein. Yet, even in the bloody regimes of these men, companies and individuals invested, driven by the lure of money.
So never you fret. They are coming and soon the trickle will turn into a flood and the flood into a tsunami.
As Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru said after the signing of the Benefits Sharing Agreement in Kokopo: “PNG LNG will provide the platform, the catalyst, the launchpad for PNG accountants, lawyers, insurance brokers, plant and equipment companies, construction industries and all manner of other businesses to take off.
“At the same time, con-businesses and fly-by-night spivs will also flourish, so we must ensure we guard against the negative spin-offs and maximise positive benefits.”
Yes indeed. How, is the next and most important question?