A snapshot of PNG in Gordon’s Market

6 05 2012

This brilliant post by Gary Juffa succinctly puts into perspective the order of the day at Gordon’s Market.

By Gary Juffa

I spent an hour at Gorden’s Market today, a burning hot April Saturday, in Port Moresby, National Capital District. I parked right opposite the Gorden’s Police Stations and waited for a friend, around midday. As is usual with appointments in Papua New Guinea, one must be prepared to wait anywhere between 10 minutes and an entire hour. It was an hour I spent fascinated.

The population of people walking, talking and carrying on in the humid, steaming, muddy and filthy so called market were captivating. Teeming with energy and abuzz with all manner of activity, there were traders and vendors, hawkers and street sellers, betel nut connoisseurs and buyers. Scam artists and con artists and petty criminals also were active and everyone was a potential victim. A boom box belts out loud noise. There was no sign of authority of any sort. The order was disorder.

The filth of Gordons Market

This is dry filth of Gordon’s Market on a better day. Photo by Malum Nalu

Across the road, a Chinese store thrived with people streaming in and out like ants to and from a nest walking in empty handed and carrying out all manner of goods or, more correctly, junk for resale. Business is booming for the Chinese traders thanks to increased liberalization of trade, relaxing of regulatory laws to protect consumers and the introduction of an unregulated, unpoliced informal sector. The sector was supposedly intended to benefit Papua New Guineans involved in the cottage industry, selling their handicraft, arts and incubating their small entrepreneurial efforts. But the real winners are the mainland Chinese traders who import container loads of cheap household products from numerous factories proliferating throughout mainland China to resale in developing nations such as Papua New Guinea.

In Papua New Guinea, the Chinese traders target settlements and rural townships stretching their tentacles throughout the length and breadth of this Pacific island economy like a giant octopus leech sucking everything and anything out and transmitting the profits offshore to fund investments in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Other octopi are busy throughout the region and indeed the world as China shifts into gear in its drive for world dominance. They are taking advantage of a weakening West which is in pivotal transition, changing from a defined set of geographic nations to becoming a globalized Corporatedom, the new Manor of the rich, overseeing a global population of serfs.

Back in Gordon’s Market, raw sewerage and waste stream through the market in drains carrying dirty used plastic bags, and writhing naked playing children happily splashing under the baking Port Moresby sun as parents wearily gamble, play cards and turn their heads occasionally to scream at their offspring or to spit streaming betelnut juice anywhere, everywhere. A drunkard stumbles through the market, miraculously weaving his way through the human traffic, a beer bottle lovingly cradled against his bare bony chest, inch long globules of mucous and blood trailing off his moustache, humming Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road. Swarms of flies and other insects form small clouds around a dead dog recently run over by a Public Motor Vehicle in the middle of the main street, its putrid juices running off towards the drain. A man lies, in a drunken stupor, snoring under a rain tree, devoid of his shoes, belt, all clothes accept his dirty, ragged jeans. Bored betelnut vendors play games on their mobile phones and bicker with each other.

My appointment arrives. He is sweating and is sucking on an iceblock. I open they car door and he climbs in. “Yesterday I was here buying some stuff. I went to the phone booth at the Police Station and called you to make today’s appointment. After that I went into the Police Station to see an uncle of mine. He was not there. There was no one at the station. Not a single person was there when I went in, except some small guy reporting a crime apparently an armed robbery of his tucker box at Erima. I was bored so I decided to watch what was happening. He was furious this small guy. Swearing and sweating. Finally someone came. I had to look carefully to realize it was a Policeman, he was so scruffy. The complainant approached him but he said he was busy and said he had to drop off his wife and told him to wait. He waited. I waited. The small guy told me that this morning when he opened his tucker box, a man pointed a shotgun at him and took all his money. Money he had been saving up to send his son attending University of Technology in Lae for his ticket to come home for holidays. He said he didn’t want to give the money but another man punched him in the face and placed a knife under his chin and he thought of his children and wife and gave in and gave his money. Finally a police car came in. The man approached the Policeman and told him about his problem. The Policeman said the car had no fuel. Was he prepared to buy fuel? He said to the Policeman “It’s your job!” The Policeman warned him not to tell him what to do, that the government does not give the station enough to buy fuel or even paper to record complaints and went in with some of his wantoks following him into the Station. The man was so upset and said he knew who did it and would find him and kill him himself and walked out. No one heard him from the Police Station. No one cared.”

We drove out of Gordon’s Market into the main road to turn towards the Stadium. The road was crawling with cars of all types, mainly dilapidated PMV buses and taxis and used cars from Japan. It seems everyone from betelnut seller to babysitters have cars in Port Moresby. The city, built to cater for a population of less than 100,000 but accommodating somewhere in the vicinity of 600,000, is reeling from population growth caused by urban drift and growing squatter settlements, lack of family planning and people flowing into the capital searching for better services or just curious about the bright lights and what it has to offer.

After almost an hour in traffic and several near death accidents thanks to the city’s infamous taxi drivers, we made it to Koke Market towards town. At the main crossing, a CRV Honda, the carjackers preferred vehicle, was being held up and three youths with knives and a screwdriver had somehow stopped the female driver and her passenger and were attempting a carjacking, menacing the driver and trying to open the doors. I stopped my car behind her and my friend and I prepared to help, other vehicles too stopped and the youths saw us and suddenly stopped and casually walked off. Too hard, car was locked, too many motorists, some of them armed. People outside n the market watched but no one did anything. The youths merely walked over to a betelnut stand, grabbed some nuts and turned around to observe. The distraught woman drove off hurriedly. Fortunately she had her car doors locked, but her courtesy to give way at a pedestrian crossing almost ending badly for her.

I came to see Gordon’s market as symbolic of PNG politics – the filth, the chaos, the lack of order, the dirty and the erratic manner in which the actors behave reflects the nation’s state of politics. Gordon’s market is merely another example of what is happening throughout the entire nation where entire townships, urban and rural, villages and communities, are crumbling and decaying rapidly. The Gordon’s Police Station is symbolic of the public service which no longer cares and which is indifferent and poorly equipped or resourced to serve the people.
While politicians purchase properties offshore and invest the nation’s wealth in foreign economies, Papua New Guinea crumbles into a state of anarchy, its people making do with what little they can, their values and morals diminishing with each regressive step, their ability to care and act for one another reduced to crude tactics for survival with the ever increasing lawlessness.

Gordon’s Market offers a snapshot of Papua New Guinea in motion. Take a trip to Gordon’s Market, park in front of the Police Station for an hour and take a look into our bleak future.


An intolerable situation: Disasters in Governance

9 02 2012

by Gary Juffa

In the last few months, Papua New Guinea has experienced a spate of disasters in rapid succession. It is as if the elements of nature have spewed out their anger and Papua New Guinea experienced disasters from the air, land and now water. Yet it is not nature that cost the nation the lives of Papua New Guineas sons and daughters so much as human errors in judgment by those who had the opportunity to prevent the terrible events from occurring – humans.

In these instances, human beings employed in foreign owned companies operating in PNG. Yet even these agents are not to be blamed so much as the persons who direct and urge them to act and employ them and do so for profit.
These are of course the owners of the company, those who reap the profits of the business activities that generate the revenues for their bank accounts.

But even they are only partially to blame. For there are those who sit above these rampant profiteers in so far as responsibility is concerned, placed there by “the people”. The government, its elected officials and the departments and agencies and their agents, developing policy and providing check and balance, regulatory and monitory oversight in strategic and tactical efforts to protect the interests of those who need the goods and services provided by the profiteers, “the people”.

The events that occurred in the last few months are instructive examples of how the people have been ignored, left unprotected to the whim and will of corporate interest. While no one doubts the use and need for corporate activities and their benefits, their taxes, which they reluctantly pay and only if asked, they are in need of controls and regulations so that their fundamental ambition, their mission, to generate profit, often driven by the greed of those who own them, must not interfere with human life in so far as reducing it to mere costs on a profit and loss statement. That responsibility is placed firmly every 5 years on a select group of individuals chosen from among the people themselves, to act as guardians of the interests of the people and essentially the nation, creating and implementing laws to ensure that the peoples interests are carefully taken account of and protected. The consequences of the representatives ignoring their responsibility are severe. The people end up paying more then they bargained for.Sometimes with property, blood and lives…

In October 2011, an Airlines PNG plane crashed into the jungles of Madang killing 28 on board with only the crew of 4 surviving including the Australian (formerly retired) pilot, recruited nonetheless for one last stint. The entire country grieved for the victims who not included those that perished but those that were left behind with the sad memories, those that have been left will now have to endure the vacuum created by the loss of their loved ones and the consequences of their absence in their lives.

In January 2012 Papua New Guinea went into collective shock and mourning yet again when news of a landslip that occurred in the Highlands reached the rest of the country and indeed the world. This awful tragedy killed an estimated 68 Papua New Guineas living in the vicinity of a quarry operated by a contractor of the giant LNG Gas Project Exxon. Entire families were buried, fathers, mothers and children along with their simple hopes of a better life.

Whilst the nation was still reeling from the loss of lives in both disasters, a ferry overladen with passengers mainly women and children, capsized and sank off the coastal waters of Northern Province and Morobe. An estimated 100 people are missing, feared dead. Tales of horror from survivors tell of an ordeal that lasted mere minutes when the old leaky tub overladen with passengers returning from holidays, many to school was submerged by giant waves on a patch of rough sea and went down. Lower decks were filled with sleeping women and children. According to reports the ferry was overloaded beyond recommended capacity. Even more alarming is that the Captain claimed bad weather but had been forced to set sail by the ships owner or face termination of his employment. Merchant ships nearby reacted to distress signals and managed to save many. According to a report, a few persons were cut to pieces by the giant propellers of one of the merchant ships in the melee. The Australian government reacted swiftly and dispatched its navy and coastguard saving many lives from a watery grave. The Australian Political landscape also reacted swiftly, not missing a beat and Gillard took no time in claiming credit and offering condolences laced with condescending statements all in the same paragraph.

Lack of proper attention to the development, implementation and monitoring of laws and regulations, policies and procedures designed to protect human life continues to allow deaths of Papua New Guineans. The perpetrators never ever punished, merely stumble in their march towards greater profits, momentarily pausing to recover losses and regain momentum…and march on…seemingly untouchable…their investment worth far more then the lives of the citizens of this island nation, constantly and consistently in a state of non development.

The blood of these innocent victims drips not only from the hands of those employees, the pilot, the ships master and the quarry manager, but also from the executives right up through to the boards of these organizations that avid seek profit in Papua New Guinea with little concern about standards or regulations as demonstrated in those events…but drenched and soaking, congealing even in clots, are the bloodbaths that our leadership over the years have languished in, the blood of our people, constantly filled up by the inaction of those who we have elected into positions of power to guard our interests…our future…ourselves victims, our children lining up to become…. The worst disaster that continues since September 16, 1975 to this very day, is that of our lack of good governance…

Last moments of Rabaul Queen

The merits of constructive criticism in the WikiLeaks report on PNG

8 09 2011

Two critical articles on Papua New Guinea’s “rotten” politics appeared in two major Australian newspapers last week in the wake of the recently released confidential US embassy cables by WikiLeaks.

This generated a fair amount of debate and discussion on online noticeboards, forums and blogs. As expected, there were those who were quick to go on the defensive, calling out for some sort of rebuttal (!).

I, for one, found those two articles as objective observations on the state of politics in PNG. For starters, how could I disagree with this opening line?

PAPUA New Guinea is entrapped by deeply corrupt politicians who have enriched themselves on resource revenues and Australian aid programs, according to United States diplomatic reports.
Philip Dorling, The Age, September 3, 2011

As such matters go, a discussion ensued between some of my friends on this issue in my email mailing list. Here my esteemed friend Monpi of The Monpi Suit fame pointed out some critical points in response to points raised by another friend. I have reprinted the response notes in full below with the ‘question’ points summarised and in bold.

  • On… the purpose of this report (cable) and why the US were interested in PNG:

“The report would have been generated as part of standard diplomatic reportage on countries in the region in which the US has interests. Every nation acts in its own best interest (first rule of international relations) and the US is no different. It has some interests in PNG…not on the level of its interests in other countries (Libya for example) that would necessitate any action for regime change.

If anything, we as Papua New Guineans should take this report on its constructive merit. I recall the Economist releasing a very unflattering report on the state of Aussie politics and it was taken for its constructive merit (mind you, Aust is one of the few countries that has made it through the GFC* relatively unscathed) albeit mainly by the Coalition.”

  • On… AusAID being a boomerang aid and how it has made any impact, if any:

“Yes, I accept that Australian Aid has largely been boomerang aid but while that argument has legitimacy, its also getting tired. For its significant investment in PNG, Australia has some right to be querying the application of that aid. Ausaid’s budget for PNG (years 2011-2012) alone is $436.5 million. Other australian aid funding is $45.8 million so total aid is $482.3 million. I don’t know about you guys, but if i was spending that sort of money on anything, I’d be wanting some evidence of my returns (Is a cost benefit analysis on a major project too much to ask?).

Of course, Australia expends this money in the furtherance of its own national interest but when are we going to start showing ourselves to be proper managers of what we are given. Shouldn’t we be taking stewardship of the money spent in our communities? Which brings me to my next point….

I notice our politicians are given to promising massive sums of money on various projects…e.g Belden Namah’s recent proclamations in WHP. but there is one glaring omission…there is little to no detail. NONE….no detail on how the money is to be spent, no detail on financial acquittals (if any) and we the people are so blown away by the large figures that we get caught up in the b.s without realising that very little of that will actually translate to anything of substance.

If Julia Gillard was to announce a project in my area worth 10mill, you can almost guarantee she’d turn up here with an understanding of the figures, the policy and an acute appreciation of the expenditure. THAT is what leaders do in the rest of the civilised world….not grandstand on borrowed money.”

  • On… PNG’s law and order situation and the flaws in the ECP (Enhanced Cooperation Project) in light of this nation’s sovereignty:

“Sovereignty has its place but our grasp on ours is tenuous after the manner in which we have conducted ourselves since independence.

The ECP was flawed yes….however, the article does mention that Mr Kimisopa was considered “effective” by outside (objective) observers. At least one of our own was given credit where credit was due but obviously, he wasn’t corrupt enough so he wont survive for very long in PNG politics.”

  • On… the majority of our people having very minimal to nil education as the main cause for politicians being corrupt…”until such a time when all PNG citizens are educated to a level where we all understand western concept of governance then probably real change will happen”:  

“You should know by now that your leaders have capitalised for far too long on the apparent “ignorance” and “simplicity” of the people.  The argument that due to the simplicity of the people, tangible development will be some time in coming cannot hold water after 35 years of independence!

How is that we seem to have regressed rather than progressed when there are more of us who are educated than there were in the era of our parents?! I agree that we cannot change people’s mentalities in a generation but when are we going to grow up? How can we expect change when we don’t hold our politicians accountable?

When we ourselves are so myopic, we can’t see beyond our immediate needs? If the villager is content to vote for their incumbent but corrupt member because he gave them a K50 for their lamb flaps and SP, how does that make him any worse than the bureaucrat who will accept a kickback? Its a matter of degree but the evil at the root is the same……..”

In echoing my friend’s words, the Wikileaks cables and those newspaper articles mentioned should be taken for the constructive criticism that they provide.

They are simply mirrors to reflect upon. They have value as fodder for critical thought and consideration, where we can take stock of our current situation so that we can look into taking a more positive approach in offsetting this trend.


*GFC – Global Financial Crisis

*Sydney Morning Herald – Papua New Guinea teeters on a wide political fault line
*The Age – Australia, US damn PNG’s rotten political practices
*WikiLeaks Cables – Port Moresby Embassy

My take on decriminalizing homosexuality and prostitution

20 06 2011

Lady Kidu’s attempt to introduce laws to decriminalize homosexuality and prostitution has met with stiff opposition, especially from the churches and from the general public based on traditional and ‘moral’ grounds.

Here’s what a friend of mine put forward and I made my stand clear on this issue. I’m sure we all have our own views on this matter.


Here’s my response:

“But let’s face it. PNG is a pluralistic society and we would only be fooling ourselves into believing and touting the “Christian Country” badge. It would only go to show what hypocrites we are (and we won’t have to look far for that, trust me).

If a legislative change impinges on my right to live as a human being, especially with respect to those articles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and if it threatens my democratic rights as a citizen of this nation, then I will definitely fight tooth and nail to my dying breath.

In this instance however, they are seeking more of a ‘luksave‘ if you catch my drift. Its only officiating shit that’s already going down, bro.

Its more about living and co-existing in harmony with other Papua New Guineans, whether they be gay, bi or straight. Whether they be prostitutes or gigolos. Its about recognizing them and their rights.

All Men have a right to freedom of choice, just as much as God gives us the freedom of choice every day we breath. God never placed a picket fence around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He only advised them (Adam and Eve) against eating it.

We, as his created beings cannot do otherwise. Free will has to prevail here.

God hates Homosexuality but loves the Homosexual.
God hates Prostitution but loves the Prostitute.”


A retraction: History Not Sold

22 04 2011

Consider this as a retraction to my earlier post regarding the apparent sale of the old House of Assembly to a corporate entity.

That post was published in response to a news article that appeared in The National on April 18, 20011 (which was also reprinted in the same post).

The billboard in front of the construction site says otherwise, hence this post has been published in the manner of a retraction.

This gives me reason to be proud and happy in the knowledge that as a contributor to the Nambawan Super Fund, my money is being put to good use on a worthy cause.

(Still, the copywriter of the billboard should be fired for misspelling the name of the major benefactor of this worthy initiative. :))

Happy Easter!

Rebuilding the old House of Assembly. Picture courtesy of Paul Barker, 2011.


The misappropriation of a quote

18 04 2011

I received the following email from monpi of the Monpi Suite fame the other day as a commentary on the story that appeared on the front page of the Post Courier on Friday 15 April, 2011.

“Probably the best example of a mis-placed/mis-used quote….when JFK made that statement I doubt he envisaged it being used in the context of complete failure of a government in performing its most basic role i.e the maintenance of infrastructure and that failure leading the people to, out of necessity and frustration, take upon themselves the job of fixing their roads. Again, the tossers who call themselves journalists at Post Courier should be bitch-slapped!”


Local initiative
Post Courier on Friday 15 April, 2011

Photo: Post Courier, 13/04/2011

Quoting former US President John F Kennedy “and so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” the people of Kunakunai and Nangananga wards in the Kokopo District of East New Britain took it upon themselves to fix the Kunakunai section of the Giregire/Nangananga unsealed road. This section of a vital road link which deteriorated almost a decade ago will soon be used again after villagers used their own initiative to rebuild the road.
Pictured are a PMV trying out the road as villagers are rebuilding it.

You have to agree my superfly friend has a valid point here! 🙂


Poverty: the very poor tend not to rise up

13 04 2011

By: Paul Barker | 13 April 2011 at 05:48 PM

As Fr John Glynn said recently: “I cannot understand how the PM says there’s no poverty in PNG; I can see it every day in Port Moresby”.

PNG has little excuse for poverty but – like oil, copper or gold rich countries in Africa – benefit-sharing has been poor, and seems to have become worse, denying broad-based opportunities.

One of PNG’s great attributes has been broad-based access to land resources and generally suitable climate/reliable rains which have avoided the extensive starvation seen in parts of Africa (and south and east Asia in the past).

But even that’s being jeopardised now with land scams which would deprive customary l’owners of their land with 99 year business leases (SABLs) as well as displacement around mines etc.

There is poverty and a lack of access to markets and essential services deprives[sic] people of opportunities and life; (the very high and unnecessary level of maternal and child mortality in PNG – about the highest in Asia-Pacific is just one demonstration of poverty).

Now is a testing time: PNG’s already wasting great opportunities as a result of grand misuse of public funds, but will it let LNG and other new natural resource developments contribute to its citizens opportunities (including empowerment to help themselves, rather than dependency) or be squandered through burgeoning malfeasance, and failure to safeguard the interests of the wider public (including businesses)?

The Dutch Disease (or resource curse) can severely undermine a country’s prospects if not taken seriously, particularly enriching a small elite at the expense of the majority.

PNG is preparing some of the right policies to address this, but these need to be applied properly and governance issues need to be taken much more seriously than now.

The countries which have benefited from their natural resource extraction have been those which have given transparency, accountability and good governance as their priority up front.

Those that haven’t have been basket cases or at least seen extraordinary poverty alongside gross wealth as in the case of some of the oil wealthy nations where popular uprisings are now occurring.

But note, the very poor tend not to rise up, as they have more immediate issues of survival to address!

“poverty and a lack of access to markets and essential services deprives people of opportunities and life” – photo by PWM; 2003

This post first appeared as a comment on Keith Jackson’s PNG Attitude blog in response to an ongoing debate between readers in their attempt to understand the issue of poverty and being poor in PNG in comparison to similar trends in African states. You can read up more on the main article that stirred up as much interests here.

Paul Barker is the Director of the Institute of National Affairs in PNG

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