Reports of major election failures in Hela Province
People problems: postcard from the unexpected

Commitments, commitments, commitments….


“IF YOU CHOSE ME you wouldn’t have borrowed that money, if you chose me you wouldn’t have sent that money… I hate you, you always leave me hanging…”

His words kept playing over and over in my mind. I felt hurt, so very hurt, and at the same time so sad.

See, for the last five years, I was always borrowing money for him. Not from the bank or taking from my savings but from the worst kind – money lenders in the street.

At first, it was for things we needed to get us by through to the next fortnight. But as time wore on, he got promoted and I got a couple of promotions too, so our earning power improved.

I thought things would change for us; that we would stop borrowing, but we didn’t. Instead, it got worse. From borrowing amounts of K100 to K200 it went to borrowing amounts of K500 and above.

The reasons for borrowing also changed, we no longer borrowed for our daily essentials, we were borrowing just so he could maintain a social life. I had no capacity to repay these loans, especially with the interest that these informal money lenders charged.

We were both earning relatively good salaries, and had the capacity to last a fortnight but instead, our fridge was always empty. I was constantly thinking about where I would find the money to get our next meal, to buy easipay for the house.

It was ridiculous but I was in constant stress. However, he saw none of this. I tried so many times to tell him; I would say, “We can’t go on like this. First we borrowed to buy food and now it’s to maintain your social life.”

But he would just smile and say to me, “It’s OK, the repayment will come from my pay next fortnight.” And every time he said that, I knew that it would be me that would be stressing over yet another loan repayment come the time next fortnight.

At the next fortnight, it would be as I predicted. He’d tell me that we couldn’t afford to repay the loan in full so he’d tell me to pay just the interest component on the loans until the following fortnight.

So I did that for some, on the others I didn’t pay anything at all. And these are the ones that accumulated such huge interest each fortnight that we defaulted on the repayment.

Five years, this went on.  Five years.  And it took a lot out of me to put on a front that things were good and that we were stable financially. But I could not hold on much longer. My punctuality and attendance at work started to decline; I would turn up late to work or just not turn up at all.

This was only because these loan sharks would turn up to my office and wait either at the gate of my workplace, or sit in the reception waiting for me to turn up. On the days I did attend work, they’d greet me first thing in the morning, demanding that their money be repaid in full.

They called me a liar, they raised their voices, threatened to have me kidnapped and hurt. All this was witnessed by the office staff, all of whom by then knew what my situation was. So on top of the fact I was being targeted, I was now embarrassed because my staff knew what I was going through.

The worst part was that I earned more than they did. It was humiliating. I couldn’t speak to any of my staff properly because I was so embarrassed that issues in my personal life had spilled into my workplace and there was little I could do to contain the situation.

Meanwhile, he didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him what was happening at the workplace. I felt alone.

The turning point came at the end of last year when a loan shark turned up at our home.

It was a weekday but I did not go to work that day. That afternoon, I drove to pick up the children from school when this lady, one of the loan sharks, turned up. He had finished early from work that day so he went home early. And found this lady, and a man in a police officer’s uniform, waiting at the gate when he arrived.

This lady was furious. She demanded to see me, and demanded that I pay her money back immediately. When he told her I was not home, she said to him, “Tell her that I know where she lives and I will have her locked up if she does not repay her loan in full by the end of the week.”

When the children and I got home, he was there waiting for us under the house. I could immediately tell by his body language that something was not right. As I walked towards him, I asked, “What’s wrong?” And he said to me, “One of the loan sharks just came around to the house looking for you. It was a lady and she said if you don’t pay her money back by the end of the week she will have you locked up. She came with a police officer and said she now knows where you live.”

I didn’t know what hit me at that moment. I was in shock - speechless as I just stared at him. After the message sunk in, tears welled up in my eyes and I looked down, fighting back my tears. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me and I felt like my family’s life was now in very real danger if the situation was not addressed immediately.

At the moment, he drew me close and put his arms around me, raised my chin, looked me in the eyes and said to me, “I’m so sorry for putting you in this situation, I promise I will help you to get us out of this mess and we won’t ever come back here again.” I couldn’t help but cry as he spoke.

Last night though, we had a disagreement. Without his knowledge, I sent money to my siblings who attend school out of the province. Only one of my parents works, while the other has already retired. It’s not often that they ask me to help out with my siblings expenses, so when they asked me recently, I said I could help out, and he agreed.

But then, come our fortnight, he said “Don’t send them the money, we can’t afford to” and I agreed. But I felt bad because I had already made that commitment to my parents and my siblings and I did not want to let them down. So I borrowed the money to send to them.

Now, a couple of fortnights after I sent that money, I am short again. So I just told him what I did and he is not one bit happy. He said to me, “If you chose me you wouldn’t have borrowed that money, if you chose me you wouldn’t have sent that money… you always leave me hanging…”

I am wondering to myself now how I got myself into this situation, going from issue to issue with commitments.

An informal survey I conducted of the earning capacity of 20 people in full time employment showed (before tax per fortnight): K100-300 = 20%; K400-600 = 50%; K700-900 = 10%; K1,000+ = 20%

One hundred percent of these people indicated that they all borrow money to sustain their families through to the next fortnight because their take home pay is not sufficient.

Approximately 80% of these people live with an extended family. So obviously, a portion of their wages would go towards contributing to groceries for the house that they live in.

People in the wage and salary brackets indicated cannot afford the current accommodation and rental rates.  Because most employers are not able to offer accommodation allowance to these people, they are left with few or no alternatives but to borrow from money lenders on the street.

Our situation must improve. And we hope that the people we have trusted and elected into power will make that difference for the betterment of the people.


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Stephen Cox

Natasha your problems are also evident in Australia not just PNG, where the miners come to town and the price of everything increases so the locals are becoming paupers who cannot afford to live in their home towns.

Government everywhere has a lot to answer for.

However let me tell you a story about China and you will realise you are better off.

There is a overseas company that makes shoes, well known, but for this story nameless.

It has some 700,000 employees who work, live and exist only in that environment.

The workers live in bunk rooms up to a dozen in a small room - a room with bars on the doors and windows.

The bars are to stop people committing suicide by throwing themselves out the window. When that happens the company is forced to pay compensation to the relatives for many years.

Is ypur life that bad? It is not good but, if you can control your future, you are powerful. If only you realise that.

Learn from the past and grow to a strong and wonderful future. It is yours if you want it.

Mrs Barbara Short

Well written, Natasha.

Your story reminds us that there is a great need in PNG towns for accountants who can help these people on a fixed income, who get themselves into impossible situations with huge debts.

People on a set income must learn to budget and spend within their income. If they do plan to borrow they must first work out how they are going to repay their loan.

This is something that could be arranged by the government or through a local church or aid organisation.

If rents are soaring then there is probably a shortage of rental accommodation. The government should work to get more investment in housing.

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