Letter from Lae [Opinion]


Lae, Papua New Guinea’s industrial and logistics hub, is benefiting from substantial new public and private sector investment. The president of its chamber of commerce, John Byrne, provides an update to Business Advantage PNG.

Lae port. Credit: PNG Ports

Our lights are on. The ‘Welcome to Lae’ signs are out. We have a new government in Lae and Morobe ready to work to improve our conditions.

The return of the Hon. John Rosso MP as Lae Open Member – also Minister of Lands and Urbanisation and Deputy Prime Minister – recognises the  work he has done and continues to do for Lae City, rebuilding roads and infrastructure.    Luther Wenge has regained the seat of Governor of Morobe after a two-term hiatus on a platform which includes the commencement of the Wafi-Golpu project, working with business and improving education, health and infrastructure of the province.

Rosso and Wenge share common values and goals, and the Lae Chamber of Commerce is working with both them and the Lae City Authority (LCA), the board of which has a clear mandate to improve and rebuild Lae via the collection and transparent use of rates, fees and taxes.

General trading

The Lae Chamber of Commerce’s John Byrne. Credit: BAI

A key impediment for importers is the lack of foreign exchange (forex), which is why the Marape–Rosso government must make a decision on the major resource projects.

The most effective forex relief is investment and business activity. These projects will open employment opportunities for our people, provide cash flow for the country, lessen our reliance on donor money and put us back in control of our destiny.

‘Increased movement to and from Porgera indicates positivity about this mine being re-commissioned’

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Our real target, however, is to encourage more local manufacturing and downstream processing, concentrating on domestic supply as well as international exports.

Our population is growing and unemployment is a growing concern. We can manage this with more manufacturing, infrastructure, agricultural and development projects.

The impact of COVID-19 and the Ukraine–Russian War brings challenges: higher commodity prices, increased shipping costs, and delays in the delivery of both industrial and household goods.

On the upside, increased movement to and from Porgera indicates positivity about this mine being re-commissioned. Many distributors and importers are refining their processes, looking locally for solutions and, in typical Lae style, remaining positive about the future.

Another challenge is the need for a level playing field for our businesses, with all businesses being treated the same. Both Customs and the Internal Revenue Commission are having a positive impact in these areas. We do not agree with all of their activities but, as long as we have open discourse, which results in more equitable and balanced decisions, we will be a better community.

Infrastructure and development

Major construction continues, Nadzab Airport is on target for completion in 2023, with a world class international-capacity runway and terminal facility. At our international port, ICTSI will install two ship-to-shore cranes in November, which will improve efficiencies and ship turnaround times.

‘Do we want a boom? No, because at the end of a boom is always a bust.’

Meanwhile, Goodman Fielder International is building the largest flour mill in the South Pacific, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners growing and rebuilding, and many local businesses also expanding. Lae’s main market is also about to be re-developed, while the largest Australia-PNG Partnership project ever, the ANGAU Hospital redevelopment, is nearing completion.

For too long, Lae had a reputation for shocking roads. These have improved dramatically over the past five years. A project to provide new street lighting is underway, while the LCA-sponsored HandUp program is employing local women and men to keep the city clean.

The Lae–Bulolo–Wau Highway is also receiving a major rebuild, with contracts awarded to two local road builders. This is a hugely important highway for local farmers and communities.

Report card

Rosso’s and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary’s focus on safety and security puts Lae in a good place. Sure, we have areas of concern but our people are welcoming, engaged and want to be employed. We have so many opportunities for local and overseas investors.

Are we in a great space? No, but we are working continually to get there and the next five years look very positive.

Do we want a boom? No, because at the end of a boom is always a bust. We want – and plan for – incremental growth, solid partnerships, and fair and honest governance.

John Byrne is President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce.

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