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What we learn from the Tkatchenko saga

Tkatchenko goes after ‘primitive animals’ slur

‘Sack him!’ - how the PNG Post-Courier reported the furore (screenshot by Asia Pacific Report)

| RNZ Pacific | Updated

This article was republished by Cafe Pacific under a community partnership agreement with Radio New Zealand

AUCKLAND - Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister Justin Tkatchenko has  stepped aside from his position after calling critics of  his daughter, ‘primitive animals’ and ‘useless individuals’.

Savannah Tkatchenko posted a video on TikTok after attending the Coronation of King Charles III in London last week.

The video — tagged #aussiesinengland and now taken down — showed her enjoying expensive meals and going to first class airport lounges.

“We did some shopping around Singapore Airport at Hermes and Louis Vuitton, those of you who know Singapore Airport shopping is honestly so lit,” she said in the video.

The video generated immediate and trenchant criticism of her on PNG social media, incurring Tkatchenko's wrath.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Belden Namah called on Tkatchenko to resign.

“If he has indeed uttered those despicable words then I am calling on Justin Tkatchenko to immediately resign as foreign affairs minister and as member of parliament and further renounce his citizenship,” Namah said in a written statement.

PNG prime minister James Marape waded into the controversy, saying he was offended by the comments but has asked people to forgive his minister.

Tkatchenko has now made an apology through Marape.

Namah said “the ‘useless people’ and ‘primitive animals’ of this country have ensured he grew his business, gave him a wife, offered him citizenship, elected him into public office, made him a minister and sent him and his daughter to London.”

Tkatchenko is originally from Melbourne and was naturalised as a Papua New Guinean citizen in 2006.

Namah was also critical of the TikTok video and said it revealed the “disregard for Papua New Guineans” that the minister must have “inculcated in his family”.

“The name of the video says it all, #aussiesinengland. Send them to Australia if that is who they are.”

RNZ Pacific correspondent Scott Waide said the words “primitive” and “animals” are offensive slurs in PNG.

“They [the public] were annoyed with the TikTok video by his daughter and now the fact that the foreign minister has gone on the media and responded in that manner has been very offensive to many people.”

Waide said the video showed Savannah was out of touch with the realities of Papua New Guinea.

“The fact that the foreign minister’s daughter was allowed on an official trip and she was able to flaunt the expenses that were made on that trip has triggered quite a few people,” he said.

The Commonwealth Students Association’s Pacific regional representative, Dr Bradley Yombon, said the comments were “disgusting”.

“He should hang his head in shame, apologise and not only apologise, but hand in his resignation as the foreign affairs minister,” he said.

“He’s just thrown a blanket over all of Papua New Guinea and he’s not a native of Papua New Guinea which makes the situation a lot worse.

“We’ve obviously got him into office, he should be grateful, and represent us to the best of his capacity.”

In a written statement prime minister Marape said Tkatchenko had apologised to himself and the country.

Marape said he was also offended by Tkatchenko’s comments but pleaded with the public to forgive him.

“We should not be labelling our citizens as ‘primitive animals’ even if they have wronged us,” he said.

“We are a unique blend of ethnic diversities, and as Christians, we can forgive each other.”

According to Human Rights Watch almost 40% of Papua New Guineans live in poverty.

“Nobody’s come out and said anything about the exact number of people [who went to London] or how much they’ve actually spent,” said Waide.

According to the PNG Post-Courier, in 2021 the government sent a 62-member delegation to Glasgow to attend the COP26 Climate Change conference at a cost of K5.8 million.


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Oscar Sepe

Leave us .... we are useless and primitive. And leave our useless and primitive country as well, and go back to where you came from.

Kindin Ongugo

If the prime minister genuinely believes forgiveness works, I just wonder why there is no proof of forgiveness in Hela Province where payback killing is the standard practice.

Someone is hoping that forgiveness could restore order and bury everyone's sin.

Unfortunately, this possibility appears less likely.

It is probably the event that could change the trajectory PNG is heading on now.

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