PNG MP Critical Of Governor’s Crackdown On Asian Shops

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Oro Province governor ‘causing division’ in community: Arore

By Bruce Hill and staff

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 31, 2016) – An MP in Papua New Guinea's Oro Province has criticised the Governor's crackdown on foreign-owned shops as "dictatorial", warning it is "causing division" among the community.

Oro Governor Gary Juffa has published videos on social media showing him visiting mostly Chinese businesses in the town of Popondetta and checking the immigration status of employees, as well as questioning the hygiene standards.

He has vowed to close down outlets selling products that are "unsavoury, unhealthy ... and breaches consumer laws".

David Arore, the MP for Ijivitari, which covers Popondetta town, said the actions taken by the Governor against mainly foreign-operated shops is "dictatorial and unbecoming of an elected leader".

"We have systems and processes and we have institutions in this country to handle these issues," Mr Arore told Pacific Beat.

"As elected leaders, we approach the police who are in charge of law and order ... we approach foreign affairs and immigration if we are concerned about the issue of visas and work permits."

Mr Arore warned that if local people see the Governor confronting shopkeepers, they might decide they can also take the law into their own hands.

"I think his approach is ill-conceived because you can actually get Papua New Guineans, especially from Oro Province, to react and become very violent against foreign-owned investments in this province, especially the Asian-owned shops."

"It's causing division in the province because some of the shops that he is targeting are actually owned by Papua New Guineans ... But because they do not have the money required to run the shops, they rent the shops out to Asians and they get their monthly rental."

Mr Juffa said he will not apologise for protecting local consumers against shops selling poor quality food at high prices.

"It's aggressive to protect my own people? I reacted to reports which had been quite numerous that showed a group of businesses that had absolutely no care or consideration for my people," he said.

"That were involved in breaching labour and migration laws. That had successfully managed to compromise the government institutions that had been created to protect the interests of my people."

Anti-Asian sentiment in PNG business

Papua New Guinea has seen a series of anti-Chinese protests and riots in recent years, driven by the increasing number of Asian nationals taking over small businesses.

A mass protest against foreigners in the city of Lae in November left one person dead and several others injured.

In August 2014, an attack by armed villagers forced the temporary closure of a Chinese-owned nickel mine in Madang Province.

Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said there are many Chinese people in PNG who should not be there.

"We've seen a large influx of Asian traders and these are mostly Chinese traders," he said.

"But what is unusual about this group is that they tend to come in illegally, and secondly they tend to do very small business, what they call 'kai bar' in PNG, but what we might call 'the corner shop' in Australia.

"Basically what has happened is that they have taken over a lot of the small towns in Papua New Guinea, pushing out all the local traders.

"My reading is that the general population is very unhappy, so the Governor is trying to show that he is doing something."

Governor Juffa said the key grassroots issue was the sale of unhealthy products and the attitude of shopkeepers.

"A large number of complaints were received from members of the public about a lot of the goods sold that were expired, that were labelled in a foreign language which could not be read or understood by any of my people — which are breaches of consumer laws that we have, actually," he said.

"Many people were complaining about the substandard quality of the food ... and when they would bring it back they would get into massive arguments with the owners of the shops who refused to refund them, or who treated them in a very condescending manner."

He said he was accompanied by a health inspector during the interventions.

"We went there with the proper team of health inspectors. It wasn't aggressive. To you that may be aggressive, it wasn't to me," he said.

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