The great betel nut debate

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday June 1st, 2015

 PUBLIC Services Minister and Abau MP Sir Puka Temu declared to Parliament last Friday, half in jest, that he was the most patient man on earth. 

He declared that even that seemingly bottomless pool of patience was tested by the frequent forced stops along his Magi Highway by NCDC betel nut (buai) ban enforcers who would search his person. 

What got his goat, he said, was the fact that the enforcers had a buai market alongside the road block, selling, presumably, the spoils of the block.

Voicing his concern during the Grievance Debate, Sir Puka spoke of the betel nut ban in Port Moresby and of the stifling effects this had upon his people.

He spurred a scene rarely seen in the annals of parliamentary debate in PNG. 

One after another every Central MP, excepting Goilala, spoke in support. 

These MPs, who many would claim as meek or tame, spoke with stern authority and conviction. 

All the pent up frustrations of the last 40 years were laid out on the floor of Parliament. 

And Parliament listened. 

Parliament went without recess through lunch to 1.30pm when it rose. 

The Central MPs spoke of Port Moresby, which was no longer their city, of imported habits which was not of their people, of the “insult” in allocating on their own land a portion to build their own provincial headquarters, and of much more.

And they spoke, for the first time, with one voice, across all political spectrums, from both sides of the Moresby divide – the Hiritano and the Magi highways. 

It was a sight to see – first minister, then governor, then MP, then minister – and quite moving.

And in the face of this combined onslaught, the chief buai enforcer, NCD Governor Powes Parkop retreated.

He said it was a partial ban. 

He said there were specific markets and that there was appointed a buai sense of what he was saying and did not litter or spit betel nut spittle all over the place, the ban would be lifted tomorrow.

And this brings us to the betel nut ban which this newspaper has said from the beginning would not work and that it was discriminatory and that it was the wrong way to address a social problem.

For the majority of our people it is a habit that cannot be eradicated by political edict. 

The reasons of cleanliness and of health are noble and we support that but we have opposed the betel nut ban for a number of reasons, principle among them being the fact that it seems to be directed at those at the bottom of the economic food chain – the mothers and the unemployed.

This little nut keeps a lot of people engaged and gainfully employed around the country. 

It is the only local market item that has been in the basket of goods which determine the Consumer Price Index since the 1970s. 

No proper study has been done but it is obvious that betel nut sales support a huge number of unemployed people. 

To now make them unemployed by banning the trade of betel nuts and to at the same time not provide alternate means to an income for these people is to court disaster. 

A desperate and hungry population will employ desperate and angry means to survive. 

It is a basic human instinct that transcends all other. 

Crime is just one option. 

Trading betel nut is not a crime.  

It is an economic activity. Yes, the chewing of the nut is an acknowledged health hazard but so is smoking cigarettes, drinking excessive amounts or alcohol and intake of too much sugar through canned drinks. 

The by-products of these goods in abandoned cigarette butts, in empty and smashed beer bottles and empty canned drinks contribute so much non-biodegradable litter but City Hall chooses to see as litter the smaller, biodegradable betel nut shells. 

And the large corporations that produce the cigarettes, beer and canned drinks get off scot-free without being held to account for their contribution to the increasing lifestyle diseases and the litter around the city.

Let us listen to the voices of the original inhabitants of Port Moresby – the Central People. 

Lift the ban and educate the idiots.