Cross-border trade could spark prosperity for PNG province
The Acting Governor of Papua New Guinea's West Sepik says projects underway to develop cross-border trade and services with neighbouring Indonesia should provide a springboard to prosperity.
The acting Governor of Papua New Guinea's West Sepik says projects underway to develop cross-border trade and services with neighbouring Indonesia should provide a springboard to prosperity.
One of PNG's most remote provinces, West Sepik has been a prime target of Asian logging companies for years, but locals say they've seen few long-term benefits.
However Paul Nengai spoke to Johnny Blades about the strategic advantage opening up for West Sepik through being situated on the edge of Asia.
PAUL NENGAI: I see my province is lucky enough to be situated along the border because I am seeing a prosperous future for the province. Sooner or later we will venture into the Asian market.
JOHNNY BLADES: With what kind of goods?
PN: At the moment, the Asian Development Bank has helped us to put up a trade centre at the border a Wutung. It will open probably October this year. And that particular project will open up trade between us and Indonesia. At this particular time, our vehicles do not travel to Jayapura [in Indonesia] and theirs do not travel to us, but after we open that facility, we will start trading, that includes all kinds of goods that we will purchase from the other side - building materials, other services that we have been lacking for years. At the same time we will have our passport processing facilities, money exchange facilities, everything you would want. So it's a very big project and I am already foreseeing a big economic change for my province.
JB: You've already got the flow of some goods coming over, haven't you, not always legal stuff though?
PN: At the moment we have a market on the other side, close to Wutung, so people are just buying things there at a cheaper price, yeah there have been some occasions of smuggling of goods. But honestly speaking we are using PNG kina [money] buying goods on the other side and my people are making a good amount of money. On a sad note we are giving Indonesia about three to four million a year in revenue to the other side. While as on our side we don't gain much.
JB: So there's an imbalance?
PN: Exactly, there's an imbalance of trade at the moment. But I think after our facilities have been opened in October, that will help, because most our national agencies like IRC, Customs, state agencies will be established at Wutung.
JB: The national government seems to be talking about building up co-operation with Indonesia in this area, they've mentioned roading, hydro power, telecommunications. Are those projects starting up and do you think it's a good thing?
PN: Yes, it's very good for us to improve our trade and economics, and better still to improve our political relationship with Indonesia. It's very good. I just went across to Jayapura, I was invited for independence celebrations on 17 August, last Sunday. So I have seen them putting up the power poles where the plant is the hydro plant, and they are already now putting the poles up towards Wutung. So they told me, before the year's end the power will come in to Vanimo from the other side. We are focussing on building road networks within our two borders. The first one is completed now: Vanimo/Jayapura. And we are looking at another two inland roads. We are going to build another two trade centres - there's the one at Wutung, then we have another one inland, and further along towards Western province and my district, Telefomin District. Indonesia is providing very good services too. So a lot of us along the border, instead of using [telecommunications] networking here, we are using it from the other side. So, mobile communication for us is very efficient and very helpful.
JB: You've obviously got quite a lot of integration with the other side, in a number of sectors, is that right?
PN: Yeah, for your information I visited Papua province in March this year. It was interesting to note that most Papua New Guineans have moved across, those living along the border area. They have moved across to the Indonesian side and are living there. So I'm now trying to come up with a good plan with my provincial government to attract our people to come back. Basically, they're looking for good services like a road network, cheap goods and services down the other side, and Indonesia provides social services, so for them it's very attractive.
JB: It's hard to compete with the might of Indonesia's goods and those types of things, isn't it?
PN: Certainly, at this stage it's hard to beat. What you have to do is just join them and get out the benefit from their services.
JB: Politically it's a sensitive thing but what do you think of how the West Papuans are going, is it getting better, are local people over there participating more?
PN: On that issue, it's quite sensitive. I have visited Papua province on the other side several times and I have seen opportunity for economic co-operation with Indonesia. Politically, what we hear is this is the military arm of it, and there's also administrative and governance… we have to be careful. I see more beneficial from the other side economically, so I am promoting a partnership and cooperation with them. My challenge for both sides is to promote economics and then education, and then Papua province or the Melanesian brothers on the other side can venture from there into the political future. But for meantime, I always promote them to talk with the Papua Governor. I say 'the best way for you to achieve in Papua province, is you promote economic and education. These are the two powerful tools you can use to convince Indonesia to determine your future'.
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