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Employer of 3,000 could shut if problems continue

By Johnny Poiya and Bustin Anzu PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 23, 2010) – Coffee and tea producing giant WR Carpenters yesterday said operations in its vast plantations would be shut in weeks if the hiccups along the Highlands Highway continued at its current trend.

General Manager of the five tea and six coffee plantations which employ more than 3,000 workers, Ramesh Vasudevan, said the daily disturbances being caused both, by man and nature along the highway were threatening their operations.

He said those jobs would be at risk if things did not improve soon. WR Carpenters has been involved in business in Papua New Guinea for 60 years, especially in tea and coffee.

"If we don’t have the ability to sell our produce and generate revenue or don’t get our inputs like fuel, fertilizer, packing material, bags etc. for the plantations, we’ll generally be forced to shut down and that will be within weeks if the current trend continues," Mr. Vasudevan said.

"It’s having a drastic impact on our operations. Five hundred tons of coffee and tea worth between PGK2 million [US$739,000] and PGK2.5 million that we were supposed to have sent down to the coast for export overseas are being held up in Goroka and Mt Hagen, waiting for the road to be cleared."

The Kronote Bridge, five kilometers outside Henganofi from Kainantu collapsed under the weight of a semi-trailer loaded with an excavator last Thursday. All traffic came to a standstill and commuters are crossing the creek with their luggage to either side of the bridge to continue their journey. Youths in the area are also charging the commutersPGK2 for individuals and PGK5 for coconut, betel nut, kaukau [sweet potato] and potatoes bags. Eastern Highlands provincial police commander Superintendent Augustine Wampe said arrangements were made with the Works Department in Goroka to remove the vehicle and excavator and fix the bridge.

"The deteriorating conditions along the road have cost us a lot and are continuing to do so without any end in sight. We’re not able to service our contractors overseas. They’re looking elsewhere in the world where there’s tea and coffee. It’s not only the company losing income and employment but the country is losing revenue as well," Vasudevan said.

He said his company paid huge amounts in tax to the Government and the services it received in return were not proper. The Government should realize that the highway is the only lifeline for the country and if nothing is done to it, the people and businesses will suffer, he said.

"We call on the Government to look at the problems we’re facing and do something for us. If the situation continues this way, how do we run a business without selling and receiving our supplies for operation?" he queried.

His employer is the biggest producer of tea and coffee in the country as well as being the largest employer in the agriculture sector.

It runs the Minjikina, Kindeng, Aviamp, Kudjip and Bunumwo tea plantations and coffee plantations at Kindeng, Aviamp, Kigiba, Kudjip, Sigiri and Gumanch.

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