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By Denys Iorere

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 23, 2002 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---The Papua New Guinea Chamber of Commerce and Industry has expressed concern at the number of foreign companies either pulling out or scaling down their operations.

This poses a "real worry" for the future of the Papua New Guinea economy, it said.

Chamber president Michael Mayberry said that the decline in the number of foreign-owned companies would reduce employment opportunities for Papua New Guineans.

Mr. Mayberry said this was a serious problem that would also impact on the level of government tax collection.

Asked to provide names of companies that intended to pull out or wind down operations, he said: "They don’t want to be known and the government doesn’t want to listen to them, so they intend to leave quietly."

Australia’s giant BHP-Billiton mining group has made clear its intention of winding down its local operations, leaving a substantial number of Papua New Guineans without jobs.

In early May the group announced its intention to shut down BHP Steel Building products (PNG) after having operated here continuously for 68 years.

It is understood that the Philippine-owned Kenmore Group has purchased some of the BHP Steel assets. But more than 400 people are expected to lose their jobs.

Their Madang and Mount Hagen operations have already shut down, with the rest closing down later this month.

Early last month Goodman Fielder International announced the closure of Lae Bilas Bakery due to a continuing decline in business and rising costs.

About 100 of its 650 workers have been affected.

One business executive told The National that the government needed to take stock of what was happening and to address some of the fundamental issues affecting the business community.

The vice president of the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ken Dunn, said that he was personally not aware of any companies pulling out or scaling down operations.

However, Mr. Dunn said the current government was not addressing fundamental problems. He hoped that some of these problems would be addressed after the formation of the new government in early August.

Business sector organizations are working on a submission for the incoming government on major areas of concern.

These are expected to include infrastructure and road maintenance problems, work permits and disincentives to investment, public sector reforms, corruption and taxation.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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