Papua New Guinea’s state of emergency extended by two weeks


Inside the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea. Credit: BAI

Parliament has voted to extend Papua New Guinea’s state of emergency by two weeks while it debates how the country will look when the restrictions are eventually eased.

There is still no end to Papua New Guinea’s state of emergency (SOE), as MPs voted 80-2 in Parliament yesterday to extend the country’s lockdown for an additional two weeks.

The extension is to make way for Public Health Emergency Bill to be debated about how the country will tackle coming out of the SOE which has been in place since March 24 – and was due to end on June 2.

‘Moving forward, the key will be in managing with as little red tape as possible.’

While the new ‘pandemic legislation’ headed to Parliament today is a sign PNG is looking beyond the current restrictions, the extension is not good news for businesses doing it tough due to trading restrictions.

While most PNG businesses are doing their best to adapt to the SOE restrictions, some businesses like bookies, nightclubs and small beer shops remain unable to trade. SMEs have been hit particularly hard, with some restaurants and hotels closing and small traders struggling to pay bills due to reduced cash flows.

Need for clarity

Manufacturers Council of PNG’s Chey Scovell.

While SOE Commisioner David Manning admitted earlier this week that PNG still had ‘capacity issues’ in its ability to tackle COVID-19, there is some acknowledgement that it has had some success in tackling the spread of the disease.

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‘Clearly neither the world, nor PNG, are clear of this virus,’ Chey Scovell, CEO of the Manufacturers Council of PNG told Business Advantage PNG. ‘But for the actions of PNG – and the places our airlines fly to – and from closing the borders and restricting the movements of people, it is possible that PNG would have been devastated, as we are seeing in so many nations, none more so than India or Brazil right now.

‘Businesses, and our people, are resilient and adaptable but what is important is visibility. As we entered into restrictions, challenges were found in inconsistent and ad hoc changes. Now that we are beyond that, we need to maintain a consistent, uniform application of measures that are fit-for-purpose.

‘Moving forward, the key will be in managing with as little red tape as possible.’

Scovell is pointing to the different ways in which the SOE has been applied in the various provinces.

This caused heavy debate in the Parliament yesterday, in particular from East Sepik Governor Allan Bird, who argued against any extension so that Papua New Guineans could once again ‘go about their business’.

Parliament’s emergency committee started the current three-week session of Parliament by recommending a two-month extension of the SOE, with emergency measures to be relaxed except in border provinces and ports, and with disease controls to be legislated, but MPs ended up backing a shorter extension in the face of strong protests.

Rules for the new normal

Parliament is expected to debate the new Public Health Emergency Bill this week.

‘This law will embrace how we go to school, how we go to church and to work, the transport regulations, the new normal of living with the Covid-19 for the rest of our lives,’ Prime Minister James Marape told Parliament.

There have only been eight official cases of COVID-19 to date in PNG, six mild and two resulting in hospitalisation.

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