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Better governance needed to avoid more buai trade deaths

The harrowing photo that led to  public outrageBUSA JEREMIAH WENOGO

LAST week in Port Moresby a life lost because of a blatant disregard for basic human rights by the city authority.

A grandmother from Goilala, a betel nut (buai) vendor, was run over by an oncoming vehicle as she was attempting to cross the road to avoid the clutches of City rangers dressed in police uniforms.

A careful reading of this story painted a horrifying picture. An accompanying photo showing a grief-stricken young boy trying to assist the dead woman was heart-breaking.

News of the death brought an avalanche of criticism from the public, the media and on social networking sites such as Facebook.

The general sentiment was that the betel nut ban had misfired and that the National Capital District Commission needed to urgently review its policy.

The death of this vendor was not the first. There have been other deaths related to the Commission’s decision to clamp down on betel nut selling in the city.

The irony is that even those who have been given permits to trade have fallen victim to the city commission’s crusade to clean up Port Moresby’s image. It seems as though the Commission is giving to some vendors with its right hand and taking away their rights with its left.

If this continues it is certain that the Commission’s endeavour to clean up the city will become an insurmountable task. And Governor Parkop promised a probe into the incident may hit another obstacle.

The recent stance of the top brass of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary to rid the force of ill-disciplined officers and clean up the force’s image may force it to reconsider its partnership with NCDC.

Already there is ample evidence for a serious reconsideration.

The public outcry over the most recent incident was directed at the Police given that it was reported that a police vehicle carrying men in police uniforms were responsible for the vendor’s death.

The public labelled this as yet another case of police brutality, although the officers involved were in fact NCDC reserve police who are part of the betel nut control unit and not regular RPNGC members

Furthermore, police have been blamed for assisting buai vendors smuggle bags of the nut through the Laloki checkpoint. Once again, whether this was reserve police or not, the public squarely blamed the police for this situation.

There is growing evidence of city rangers being easily agitated when carrying out their duties in and around the city.

Most often the public is being unnecessarily questioned and harassed when the reserve police suspect the presence of the green addictive in bags, bilums or pockets.

There have been incidents where person who chewed betel nut but carefully disposed of the rubbish was detained and asked to pay a fine.

Since the engagement of city rangers to tackle the city’s betel nut problem there have been concerns raised about their level of understanding of the basic laws and rights governing their work and the public’s welfare.

It was argued by some that city rangers should be properly trained to carry out their functions without depriving the public of their rights. The law should be clear and should be enforced fairly.

If there are restrictions on chewing in public places, consumers and enforcers should know this.

A failure to comply means that the culprit deserves a fine. However, it does not make sense if people are merely carrying betel nut in their bags without chewing and spitting and yet they are manhandled or spot fined.

This shows that the rangers have not been properly trained and are unable to carry out their job in a professional manner.

Above all, their work should be guided primarily by a knowledge of basic human rights. They should be able to discern when it is necessary and when it is not necessary to enforce the law.

Beyond this, the government needs to come up with an effective policy on betel nut. The buai ban has been criticised for not addressing the problem by developing a win-win approach.

Furthermore, huge sums of money have been pumped into enforcing the betel nut ban and yet betel nut is still everywhere in the city.

The loss of lives will further consolidate the public’s views about the law being draconian and will amplify the call to replace it with fairer regulation.

The problem of betel nut should not be confined to NCDC alone but should become one of the national government’s priorities given it is widely consumed and affects the livelihoods of many people.

Its high weighting in the Consumer Price Index indicates how far reaching is betel nut consumption in PNG. Any change in its price will have a significant impact on the purchasing powers of suppliers and consumers.

It is without doubt one of PNG’s most successful commodities, able to generate millions of kina domestically. It also has great potential for export.

Perhaps putting the law before enunciating thoughtful policy was not the solution to the problem; a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Although the Commission has to be commended for taking a hardline approach to change the filthy and decrepit image of Port Moresby, it is clear that this law is not sustainable. This is especially the case when it has already claimed lives and is responsible for abuse and harassment of the public.

That is why the government needs to urgently look into developing a policy specifically to address problems relating to betel nut consumption and sales.

The government, through NCDC, should be willing to consult publicly with affected parties as well as undertaking research to map a way forward to address the betel nut problem in NCD and PNG as a whole.

The law banning the sale of betel nut can then be reviewed to align with policy so the policing of buai trade and use is implemented in a sensible manner.


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Bsa Jeremiah Wenogo

Placing an economic value on rubbish may partly solve the problem as it may encourage people to continue on their "filty habit" of throwing rubbish here and there. An example of an economic problem called "Tragedy of the Commons".

If this notion of providing incentives for collection or management of rubbish is to be effective it has to be complemented with laws restricting people from throwing rubbish at will.

Litter laws should be ready to award rubbish collectors not just public but also those within residential areas. At the same time it should also fine people who are carelessly throwing rubbish in places other than garbage can or rubbish bins.

NCDC has already got a Waste Disposal Policy. I hope that before it focuses on dumps it should make sure that it imposes preventative measures to discourage people from discharging rubbish all over the place.

Once again this calls for intervention that should target both the demand and supply side of the problems. This should also be the case when dealing with the betel nut issue in NCD or any other place in PNG.

Phil, like you I also am of the view that people will begin to change if enforcement is done on a consist basis which has not been the case in NCD for many years.

Ad-hoc approaches don't do anything but only result in waste of time and resources.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Perhaps it would have been better to introduce littering laws (if they don't exist already) and then specifically target betel nut chewers who spit on the ground or discard shells etc willy-nilly until they get the message.

Apart from betel nut stains, there is still plenty of rubbish lying around Moresby, especially in the drains and creeks and at the markets.

Perhaps the NCDC's money should have been spent on rubbish bins and recycling as well as beefed up policing.

Paying people to collect material for recycling, such as paper, plastic and cans, could be a source of income. Recycled materials are exportable and could be sold overseas.

Organic material like betel nut shells can be turned into mulch and fertiliser and used by gardeners and farmers.

Tackling it that way would leave the betel nut sellers with an income and protect people who chew responsibly.

If you place an economic value on rubbish it tends to disappear magically.

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