Threats against Conn uncalled for

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday January 20th, 2016

 RACIAL insults and threats against foreigners are unacceptable practices that have no place in modern Papua New Guinea.

Hence, it is cause for grave concern that a call for the sacking of Agriculture and Livestock Minister Tommy Tomscoll over his “questionable” handling of the vegetable import permits has drawn not only a racial slur from the minister but a threat of deportation from an anonymous caller.

It is unfortunate that Tomscoll has resorted to this kind of personal attack on Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry (POMCCI) chief executive officer David Conn who had issued a media statement last Thursday on behalf of the business community.

The chamber’s response was in support the Independent Consumer and Competition Commission’s (ICCC) call the previous day for the minister to allow more than one importer of fresh vegetables to ensure that prices were not inflated.

In that statement, Conn said the minister’s decision to allow only one “hand-picked company to be involved in importing vegetables was “highly suspicious when we have credible businesses who have been involved in this business for decades shut out of getting on with their legitimate business”.

Conn said Tomscoll’s refusal to budge on the issuance of permits to supermarkets to allow the important of vegetables was inexcusable. 

“His comments that monopolies do not raise prices and competition does not lower prices are bizarre and defy any economic reasoning that we are aware of. We further call on the Prime Minister to finally call three strikes on this matter and sack him, so businesses can go back to doing business, in what is going to be a hard enough year already, without such haphazard and reckless policy intervention by the Department of Agriculture.”

The ICCC, POMCCI, Lae Chamber of Commerce, Transparency International (PNG) and PNG Manufacturing Council have all voiced concern over the monopoly given to Gryph Holdings Ltd, a company with no previous experience of importing fresh vegetables.

Despite these concerns, the minister remains defiant and issued a lengthy media statement to only the Post-Courier on Sunday night that accused The National of having misrepresented the vegetable import permit issue. We maintain that unless Tomscoll can offer evidence to support his claim, it remains nothing more than an emotional outburst in reaction to the ever-increasing opposition to his decision to give exclusive rights to one company to import vegetables.

Not to be outdone by our rebuttal, he issued another media statement on Monday night, titled “Minister Tomscoll canes Conn over sacking call”, which we can only describe as unbecoming of a minister of state.

This time Tomscoll instructed his officers to send this statement to all media outlets, including The National.

Unlike the previous 1300-word media release, this 800-word statement was nothing more than a personal attack on the integrity and standing of the POMCCI’s chief executive. We agree with former Attorney-General and Sinasina-Yongomugl MP Kerenga the employment of Conn as the chamber’s CEO was not the issue and that Tomscoll’s call was “completely unfair and uncalled for”.

Moreover, Conn is a highly-respected voice in the PNG business community and has contributed significantly to the development of this country.

Tomscoll’s attack on Conn is blatantly racist: “For a person of foreign origin or Scotland to contemplate that he has authority and mandate to call on the Prime Minister of a country when he is a guest to sack a people’s elected leader amounts to insanity and can only come from a foolish person. I am sure that he would not have made such a call as a guest of a country in America, China, Singapore, Australia or Indonesia. He would be packing up and making is way back to Scotland.”

His attack on the business community is rather alarming: “Some members you represent through the Chamber of Commerce cause so much destruction to the waterways through mining, so much destruction through logging, and destroy people’s sustainable lifestyles, leaving them behind with no life support as beggars, on their own land, in their own country. These companies you represent contribute towards global warning cause climate change the one effect of which is drought killing people. I think after 40 years it is time for the people of Papua New Guinea to rise and voice their concern for their treatment in their motherland.”

It’s time that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill intervenes and disciplines this arrogant minister before he causes further damage to the business sector and investor confidence in Papua New Guinea.