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Coffee picking, PNGIN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE COFFEE INDUSTRY, the first roadside buyers were white men.

Although there were at least two white women driving vehicles in the Wahgi and buying at the roadside - a novelty as temporary participants in the fast-growing industry.

But as the volume of coffee grew and new areas away from the main highway came into being, so the embryo factories began putting local men on the road as coffee buyers.

In one case I am closely familiar with, the first were ex-PIR non-commissioned officers and soldiers. One of them, the late Jack Amos of Busu Coffee Ltd, was anointed as PNG Businessman of the Year back in the eighties.

Other pioneers like Fero Yasona of Kainantu, Huk Awute of Goroka, Jerry Kapka of Chuave and Max Kumbamong of Mt Hagen all learnt fast in the early years and today own and manage large and successful licenced processing businesses and, in three cases, exporting operations.

All these businesses, together with the two largest exporters, engage in advisory and extension activities at no cost, aiming to retain a core of reliable, quality-conscious growers.

The legion of local buyers quickly increased, and then contractors with their own vehicles and later with their own finance, began to be involved.

It was at this time that the reserved, closed-to-expats legislation began to be talked about, and was subsequently enacted: the Coffee Industry Act of 1991, which placed the industry firmly under the control of the growers and away from the political sphere. (A situation that was subverted in 2003 without reference to the growers.)

Today the industry is subject to an element of control by the Minister for Agriculture. The Act contains provisions regulating trade, quality and export operations, one stipulating that the buying of coffee is to be exclusively in the hands of citizens with involvement in coffee growing.

The same provision still applies to coffee factories and exporters, where citizen ownership and control is established by a proviso that at least 51% of shares must be held by citizen coffee-growers.

Despite this, in the early years of the operation under the CIC Act, there were occasions where expats, mostly one-man, nonconformist missions, continued to buy and, in some cases, run small trade-stores.

These practices were closed down in the Highlands many years ago. Processing factories, all 51% owned and controlled by citizens, may employ an expat as factory manager, provided he is experienced and needed.

As such he is permitted to check on coffee being bought or delivered at the door. He does not engage in trade himself.

There are still one or two non-citizens remaining in this managerial occupation but ownership and oversight of factory operations is the prerogative of local owner-shareholders. I am waiting to see the first Asian coffee-buyer on the road in the Highlands. I predict a short and nasty day's trade if one is silly enough to try.

It is difficult enough for PNG to forge a nation-state from the hundreds of discrete tribes which each its complement of disputatious and occasionally combative clans and sub-clans.

Totally divisive, controversial illegal activities which have the appearance of having subversive official sanction on the part of authorities are a thorn in the side of all ordinary Papua New Guineans.

The mass of the people feel a civic deprivation and wounded pride because of the situation.

Great efforts must be made in this era of large royalty-receipts to begin sensible, business-like programs to set up opportunities for the well-educated but commercially-naïve to start and develop a whole range of small- and mid-level business and service industries which an increasingly-large and vocal population must have.

Illegal interlopers must be identified, prosecuted, and allowed to pack up and leave, expeditiously and without harm. It is a mistaken application of acquired worldliness and informed views of international relations to say or to suggest otherwise.

There has been trouble, and there will be more, over this point unless those who are tasked to control and apply the laws of the land begin to do so.

And so to the future - just where is the Development Bank these days?

Here is a case where, if programs are designed and peer-reviewed by Papua New Guineans in their own land and environment, an aid-funded, large business-development project could conceivably be created and put into operation.

A high level of local input into design would be likely to proof the scheme against the failure of so many foreign- organisation-conceived programs.

In my own experience the major aid-providers are always willing to look at something which is logical and rational, because success in their funding inputs is what they desire.

Of course their own convoluted management regimes are difficult to deal with, but with some real authority and some evidence of will and energy, this may also be overcome.

I know. I’ve been there, mate. Let’s begin.

I’ll join a committee of review, design and presentation, free of any charge except a clean bed, bathing facilities and three meals a day, and I mean it!


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Michael Dom

Very quick comments here because this is important.

(1) The first issue is illegal aliens not races.

(2) The second issues is improper business establishment and conduct especially when you are a non-national - I'm sorry not your house, behave!

(3) The third issue is allowing citizen participation, again not race, but in particular favouring indegenous people who are unable to commit large capital - thanks to the need to allow market value on the Kina.

(4) If every government wants to and does take particular concern for its citizens, mostly nationals, then how can it be considered racism for us to keep immigrants at arms length? (One wonders again about the Aussie visa affair.)

David Wall

Deborah Ruiz Wall made the following comment:

Globalisation has arrived. ‘Free market’ reigns. A free-fall for local cultural livelihoods is the result. What self-determination is possible for poor countries to have control over their economies?

Today, governments are less able to protect their people. A quick solution undertaken by many to address their economic management burden seems to be to privatise essential public utilities to enable them to balance their budgets.

In the face of transnational corporations that have the facility to transfer their assets from one country to another, nation-states have become dinosaurs. Global control by powerful corporations reign.

What’s happening in PNG is a microcosm of this growing phenomenon.

In Australia, for example, corruption over the behaviour of a former NSW government Minister in relation to mining approvals has been investigated by ICAC. Not a rare untypical situation these days.

Cases of conflict of interests in public-private partnerships are on the increase — as disclosed by investigative journalists. The powerlessness of ordinary citizens is crystal clear.

In regard to the perception of Asians taking over, I remember a fact finding mission went to Manila in 1995 to investigate the controversy over the sex tourism industry.

Some bars and hotels supposedly “owned” by local entrepreneurs were in fact owned by Westerners. The “owners”, as it turned out, were used as a “front” by Australian or New Zealand businessmen who married Filipino women to enable them to run their businesses under their wives’ names.

Foreigners were not permitted to own local business ventures unless they took up Filipino citizenship.
So my point is: money corrupts. Corruption does not discriminate between race and culture.
This is an issue that could really get out of hand. It’s obvious that there are many in PNG who have concerns in this area.

I can only hope the debate does not degenerate into a mindless race issue.

Let’s say you got rid of all the Asians with small businesses in the country, would the locals be able to fill the vacuum with their own small businesses?

Stephen Schmidt

Authorities and people at the district level need to take charge of their affairs and regulate who can do business in their areas.

Take Mendi as an example where no Asians are allowed to run any business.

Citizens need to stand up and fight for their rights and not be foolish in thinking that the gvernment will do this for them.

Our government and government institutions have proven to be very slack and easily corrupted by bribes.

Therefore in order for locals to prosper they must stand strong and not allow Asians into their districts or towns.

Michael Dom

I'm with you, my wantok!

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