Security situation a ‘setback’ for business in Southern Highlands Province, says Chamber of Commerce President

An increased security presence in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands Province is helping to restore stability after recent social unrest led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the province. However, Berry Mini, President of the Southern Highlands Chamber of Commerce, tells Business Advantage PNG that recent events are a ‘setback’ for business.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill speaking in Mendi last week, where a state of emergency has been declared. Credit: Office of the Prime Minister

Last Friday, Mini told Business Advantage PNG there was an increased security presence in Mendi, especially around key commercial and government buildings.

While almost all businesses in Mendi were now trading again, including his own, Mini noted that the security situation was not completely settled, especially outside Mendi itself.

‘The number of people coming into town has declined. People are not feeling free to come in and out of town—they only come when they absolutely have to, so we are seeing a decline in normal business activities.’

‘With the airport closed, nearly all supplies now have to be delivered to Mendi by road from Mount Hagen.’

He said the closure of Mendi’s airport following damage to its terminal would have a ‘big impact’ because aid agencies such as UNICEF had been using the airport to deliver relief supplies following the February earthquake in the Highlands.

‘We are definitely feeling affected, especially when people who are willing to assist us are not coming.’

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Supplies

With the airport closed, nearly all supplies now have to be delivered to Mendi by road from Mount Hagen.

‘The roads between Hagen and Mendi are no problem,’ he said.

‘With the roads from Mendi to Tari we’ve got a few issues but I think it’s manageable with the security forces in. From Tari onwards, there’s a bit of a problem at the moment.’

‘The biggest priority right now is we want normalcy back.’

Overall, Mini said business needed a swift return of stability and the resolution of underlying issues that had triggered the recent unrest.

‘Basically, for business in Mendi, it’s a big setback. People have lost total confidence.

‘It’s like a ghost town. With the security forces here, it’s helping but we still have problems getting to do normal business.

‘The biggest priority right now is we want normalcy back, we want people to come to town freely, we want government to be in place in the province; we want a government that can address issues.

‘Not many people get involved in farming here; they depend so much on royalties and on government activities.

‘Up to 70 police, two mobile squads, are already on the ground.’

‘That’s gone shot at the moment. People rely pretty much on those two activities.

‘We can’t do good business right at this time, so we wish that we would have a government in place, and have law in place—and then let life continue.’

Police

Acting Police Commissioner Jim Andrews announced on June 19 the commencement of police operations in the Southern Highlands Province to deal with the emergency, according to EMTV.

He said up to 70 police, two mobile squads, are already on the ground, together with a contingent of PNG Defence Force soldiers.

‘Two warehouses holding relief supplies for earthquake victims were broken into and looted.’

‘Another two mobile squads are on standby should the need arise,’ said Andrews.

He described all property damage and the burning of an Air Niugini aircraft as ‘criminal acts’.

The operation will be carried out in four phases, concluding with the arrest and prosecution of all offenders.

Damage

Andrews reportedly said two warehouses holding relief supplies for earthquake victims were broken into and looted.

ExxonMobil’s Angore wellpad. Source: EMTV

He described the burning of the National and District Court Buildings, the Commerce and Industry Building, and the residence of the Southern Highlands Governor William Powi as ‘unthinkable acts of violence’.

ExxonMobil has confirmed what it calls  ‘unacceptable’ vandalism of its Angore Wellpad A in neighbouring Hela Province, according to EMTV.

The company has encouraged all parties to work together to work through the issues.

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