Finding Mac: How Search for a Missing Student united friends, colleagues, and a city

Student from the University of Papua New Guinea organizing search party, 17 October 2020. PC Mary Terriette Aseari 

A student from the University of Papua New Guinea is reported missing by friends and family. Its reported on every major media outlet, including Post Courier and EMTV. A week goes by and still the student is not found. Rumors emerge on social media that he has been murdered, though it is dispelled. The students conduct one of the biggest search parties in the city. Among all the stress, anxiety and fear, it also brings out the best in humanity. This article was written by one of the students, Mary Terriette Aseari, a third year student at the University and a colleague of the student who had gone missing. She shares her experience in the search, that led to finding Mac.

Mary Terriette Aseari, Third year student, UPNG.

By Mary Terriette Aseari:

“Maclarence Akua, a 22 year old third-year student, a good friend and a course mate of mine at the University of Papua New Guinea had been missing for almost a week. Mac has a mixed parentage of East Sepik and Bougainville but grew up in Kimbe. A search party was organized by his family and friends and we were put into groups and stationed in different locations in the city to cover ground in search for him.  All these groups that went out to search for Maclarence were groups that he is actively involved with in school. The different groups were: Peer mentor’s and Clean Generation who covered Gerehu and Rainbow suburbs; West New Britain students who covered the Boroko area; School of Humanities and Social Science students who covered Three Mile (3 Mile) and Manu; Madang and East Sepik students who covered Gordon and Erima; and Lae and Bougainville students, including his family and friends who covered the 9 Mile area. The groups consisted of about 25-50 people each, and the search begin around 9:30 am. Our search was successful and Maclarence was found in the afternoon at Sogeri. Sogeri is an hours drive outside of the capital. Someone from Sogeri saw the posters, approached one of the groups and said Macleren he’d seen Maclaren. The students followed him to the village and met up with him.

The successful location of Maclarence raised countless negative comments on social media. Amidst all the negativity I would like to share with you all, three positive things that I have witnessed/experienced in the search for Maclarence:

  1. In all my 21 years of living in Port Moresby and calling myself a “pikinini POM” I have never been to the parts of Gerehu which I visited in our search for Maclarence. Walking from Gerehu stage 6 all the way to Gerehu stage 1, visiting every little street to put up posters and asking bystanders if they had seen Mac, had allowed me to see these parts of Gerehu and for that I am grateful.
  • I truly saw the kindness of humanity being displayed in our search for Maclarence. Mothers shed tears as we held up the posters to show them, some even said they would keep him in their prayers. Random boys on the street volunteered to escort us to help find our friend, bus drivers and boss crews willingly posted up the missing persons poster on their buses, tucker shop owners also posted up the missing persons poster in front of their shops. Even when we ran out of posters the people whom we approached took out their smart phones so that they could take a snap shot of the poster to show their families and friends in their efforts to help spread the word. Seeing this made me to appreciate humanity and really appreciate being a Papua New Guinean because I could see that displa passin blon helivim em e still stap strong yet.
  • The unity that I saw being displayed by the University of Papua New Guinea students and others that volunteered to search for Maclarence was heartwarming. People showed up in numbers and had with them personally printed posters of him. This search has made me to forge friendships with people I wasn’t even acquainted with in school. Through the sharing of water and snacks as we searched for our school mate some life long friendships were formed. And we have the search for Maclarence to thank for that.

Sometimes we have to look past the negativity that life throws at us to see and experience the beautiful things that life has to offer. In the words of marcandangel “Train your mind to see the good in everything. Positivity is a choice. The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts”. Thank God our friend Maclarence Akua has been found.”

Note:

After Mac was found, there were some who criticized the young man for going out of the public eye without notifying his family. But there were many more who have come out to support him, saying we do not know what he’s going through or what his reasons are, and that he must be given the privacy he needs. On the part of his friends and colleagues, they are happy that he is found, and in good health. Apart from finding Mac, the next great thing was the experience of comradeship, and the humanity the nation and city has shown by coming together. We are so strong together. And this experience has shown just how much people really care, even about others not of their own blood. And that is what we should take away from this whole experience.

Mary Terriette Aseari  has originally written this piece as a ‘guest blogger’ for Academia Nomad. We thank her for sharing her experience.

Please share the blog, so we can spread the love and compassion our people have towards each other. God bless you all, and take care out there.

A 150 Year Obsession: Soccer & Christianity in Morobe

PC: Oceania Football

The obsession Morobe Province has with soccer goes back to the 1900s. Some 150 years ago, Lutheran Missionaries from Finchafen, Morobe, and Lutheran Missionaries from Madang met at village in Kerowagi, between Jiwaka and Chimbu. They were among a group of missionaries pushing into the frontiers of the Highlands of PNG, evangelizing the people. They called themselves Songangs, a term popular with Lutheran circles connoting a leader in the Lutheran Church, which is used to this day. At Kerowagi, the two Songang groups had a dispute over who should take over Kerowagi as their ‘wok miti’ area (or Wok Mission, or Mission Area). Once you claimed a village or tribe as your wok miti area, your group was responsible for teaching, converting, and baptizing the people. You also had to bring waring groups together to make peace, build schools, teach and train the people in your wok miti area. Miti means Gospel in Finchafen. Wok Miti means sharing the Gospel.

Both groups, the Finchafens and Madangs, wanted to claim Kerowagi as their wok miti area. Since they couldn’t compromise, they decided to settle it through a game of football. These two missionary groups were trained by Lutheran missionaries from Germany. Germany of course was, and still is a giant football nation in Europe. The German Missionaries brought the Gospel and football – soccer. The two Songang teams selected their best reps. In what is probably the first soccer tournament in that part of the Highlands, the two Songan teams played out their hearts in the cold muddy field of Kerowagi.

They played barefoot. They did not have uniforms. They wore targets and malo. Prayers were said on both sides of the camp. Their audience had probably never seen a game of soccer. And they watched two foreign tribes from the coast chasing around a ball like kids.

The Songangs from Finchafen won the evangelism soccer tournament. The Madang Songangs moved on, whilst the Finchafen Songans settled, set up camps, and began their wok miti.

I was told this story in December 2019, when I travelled up to Nondogul, Jiwaka.I was there taking photos and observing the 30 years anniversary of PNG Lutheran Renewal in Nondogul. The Lutheran Renewal is an offshoot of Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG (ELC PNG). ELC PNG itself has more than 150 years presence in PNG. The Renewal Lutherans as an offshoot started later. It was the ELC PNG missionaries who met at Kerowagi that day.

I returned to Lae after two days in Jiwaka, and one afternoon I was reading a book titled “Cloud of Witness” I bought bought the book at Ampo book store. It documents the life stories and work of Lutheran missionaries in PNG, as they pushed inland, converting “heathens” to Christianity, stopping cannibalism, pay back killings, tribal fights, polygamy and establishing schools. It’s a really great book I recommend to anyone interested in such history, but also on how to halt the same instances in our time. Most of the stories are about missionaries from Finchafen, understandably so, given that the German missionaries were largely based in Finch.

As I finished a chapter of the book, Lae City FC players drove into the Lutheran Church of Hope Parish ground at East Taraka, Lae. It was the team’s prayer time – they pray every Monday evening with their Club Chaplin Pastor Dulan Zairing. I was visiting the pastor. I shook hands with a few, went back to reading as they went into the hall. A minute later, I could hear them sing the worship song “Aba Father….” The entire team worshiped and prayed.

Lae City FC (formerly Toti FC) has dominated soccer in PNG in recent years. And after every win when Raymond Gunemba, the captain, or any of the players are interviewed, you always hear them thank “Anutu”, Kote word for the “Great Spirit” or “God.” Kote is main language spoken by people from Finchafen. It was the same language used to train early missionaries (Raymond and Nigel left Lae City FC and joined Hekari later in 2020).

10 months after I was told this story, Lae City FC won the NSL for the 2019-2020 session.

Well, I kind of saw that coming 🙂

Congratulations 🍾.

Correction: Initially the blog said the two missionary groups met at Nondogul. However, one of the decedents of the Madang missionaries corrected me after reading it on LinkedIn: it was Kerowagi, not far from Nondogul. His grandfather was on the loosing team. The separation of Jiwaka and Chimbu as separate provinces has put Nondogul within Jiwaka, and Kerowagi within Chimbu. Initially both were within Chimbu.

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Happy 45th Independence: My Sons Are Coming

On a visit to Australia in 1963, Kondom addressed an audience at Canberra with these famous words:

“….In my village I am a chief among my people but today I stand in front of you like a child and when I try to speak in your language you laugh at my words. But tomorrow my son will come to you and he will talk to you in your language, and this time you will not laugh at him….”

Entry Requirements for PNG Universities: UPNG, UOG, Unitech, PAU & DWU

This 25 page pdf document contains all the necessary information, from entry requirements, how GPAs are calculated, how the quota systems affects selection etc. This is a helpful guide to Grade 12s and non-school leavers applying to PNG Universities.

Click online below.

Would legalizing prostitution increase security for PNG women because it is better regulated?

Front page, The National Newspaper, 9 September 2020

“If we all become atheists tomorrow, you will still have kanderes [relatives] raping their nieces, ol man kukim meri lo name blo sanguma [women will be burnt alive in the name of sorcery]. Christian-nation/non-Christain-nation argument is nonsense. Our problem is twofold: break down in law and order, and kids raised with total disregard for women. And that’s a problem that will not be solved by making porstitution legal. Fix the law and order, and teach your kids right. You also have to ask: if these women were educated, would they prefer another profession? If they had other employment opportunities that paid for their living, would they pursue porstitution? If the answers are yes, then what you need is provide better training/education for the womenfolk, and job opportunities. There’s nothing noble about prostitution. It takes away their human dignity, and reduces women to mere sex objects…” Facebook comment.

Would legalizing prostitution increase security for PNG women because it is better regulated?

Eight men raped a woman in Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, and left her on the street. This follows recent proposals to amend the constitution of PNG and make it a Christian country. Opinions are divided on whether prostitution should be legalized, with some sectors of the society arguing that PNG constitution should not be amended to make PNG a Christian country because it would make decriminalization of prostitution difficult. The other side thinks prostitution should remain illegal, and PNG constitution be amended to make it a Christian country. Though predominantly Christian, the constitution does not make explicit reference to PNG being a Christian country.

Here I argue that both groups are missing the point. 

1. Legalizing prostitution increases security of women as it’s better regulated. 

Would this argument work for PNG? The answer is a resounding NO. Burning women accused of sorcery is illegal in PNG. So is rape, especially by close relatives. But you read about it every month in newspapers and perhaps weekly on social media. It’s the most disgusting form of torment and murder when objects are inserted in their private parts and burnt to death. According to the police, most of these rapes are underaged aged girls, and they are raped by their own relatives: uncles, cousins, grandpas, and this week a young girl was raped by her step-dad. They are being raped at the safest place possible: their homes. 

Safety for womenfolk is a real problem for PNG. And legalizing prostitution will not solve this problem.
Not when women are being raped at their homes.

What then is our problem: Our problems are two fold:

A. A break down in law and order. Our police-to-citizen ratio is 1 : 1, 121. That is, one policeman/policeman responsible for 1, 121 citizens in PNG. This is about three times worse than what the UN recommends 1:450. Files of rape cases pile up at the police stations as officers respond to “more” serious cases of robbery, tribal fights etc. Furthermore our police are under-resourced and poorly equipped.

Shouldn’t the real debate be about increasing police personnel, equipping the police, increasing their budgets and giving professional trainings?

B. Kids raised with total disregard for the lives of womenfolk

We have to admit that some of our cultures (not all) and some households do not regard women with the same respect as their male counterparts. I’ve seen it in my own. When the husband commits adulatory, especially with a young women, it’s the young women’s fault. If the wife commits adulatory with a young men or a married men, she should be automatically divorced. This double standard sucks at all levels. Kids watch this as they grow. You have your own cultures, and experiences may vary, but you get the idea.

Teach your kid to respect everyone. Treat your wife with respect, so your kid can know first hand how to treat a woman. 

2. Prostitution pays for the bills

There are those who argue that prostitution should be legalized because that is how women who practice it make their living. 

Well ask yourself these questions;

A. If the women were better educated, would they prefer another profession? Is the problem because of a lack of education that limit women from job opportunities? If the answer is yes, then the debate should move towards improving access and quality of education for the womenfolk. 

B. If the women engaged in prostitution had employment opportunity that paid the bills, would they pursue prostitution? If the answer is no, then the debate should move into improving trainings/education and providing employment opportunities.

Alternatively, ask a well educated women, employed in a job that pays for her bills, whether she thinks prostitution is an option for her. Sorry about that. Don’t dare ask her. If she doesn’t punch you in the face, you’ll be know as the most stupidest person in the community for even thinking about it.

Security: Everyone need protection. Pastors and Prostitutes. What they do for a living is a debate for another day. But as far as humanity goes, both need protection. Improve law and order for Papua New Guineans. All Papua New Guineans.

Prostitution debate: Raise your kids right. Give our womenfolk the best education we possibly can. Give them employment opportunities. If, after we’ve strived for these, and young girls still go into prostitution then start your debates on decriminalizing prostitution.

Christianity debate: We can all become atheists tomorrow, and you will still have relatives burning their wives, sisters, grandmas in the highlands down to city suburbs. This Christian-nation/non-Christian-nation diverts attention from the real issue.

The problem with trying to addressing symptoms rather than the cause of the problems, is that you spend so much, and end up with the same problem.

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The Gulag Archipelago 1918 – 1956: Arrests (Part 1)

This is the first of a series of reviews I intend to write about my reading of the classic book ‘The Gulag Archipelago (1918-1956)’. The book is an abridged version of three volumes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s work, translated from Russian to English. During my visit to St Petersburg and Moscow in November of 2018, I bought as many books as I could about Russia, written by Russians. A Russian journalist, who works for one of the major newspapers with over 100 million readership advised that I should read books by Russian authors to get the ‘other perspective’. I think he was right as the literature about Russia available to Papua New Guineans are those written by Western scholars, unfairly biased towards the West’s views, but I do not think he was hoping I read the Gulag Archipelago. Or Maybe he was.

The Gulag Archipelago was made a mandatory reading for Russian students in 2009. This is interesting because the book reveals the evil practices of the Soviet Regime under Lenin and Stalin, and despite that, Russian students are required to face the evil past of their country. If you find a people willing to do that, you are amongst a people more afraid of repeating the past than facing it. Even President Putin expressed his support for the decision to make the Gulag Archipelago a mandatory reading ( Boudreaux, Richard (28 October 2010). “‘Gulag Archipelago’ Re-Issued for Russian Students”The Wall Street Journal). For someone who still though of Russians as ‘communists’ this was an interesting revelation to me. Since then I read several books about Russian history, politics, crime etc., but none comes close to the Gulag Archipelago. So I decided to do reviews of each chapter as I read.

The Gulag Archipelago, written by a Russian, has sold more than 30 million copies world wide, and has been translated to several languages. In 2009, with the current Russian President Putin’s support, the book was made a mandatory reading for Russian students. Solzhenitsyn won a Noble Prize for literature. I’m reading the fiftieth anniversary edition released on 1 November 2018, forwarded by another prolific scholar of our time, Dr Jordan Peterson. For lack of a better term I call this series “review” but what I intend to do its provide brief summary of parts of the book that made me stop and think “how was this even possible?”

Arrests

Solzhenitsyn was arrested from the front lines fighting the Germans in the second world war, for making derogatory statements against Stalin. He was a captain in the arterially division. On page 29 Solzhenitsyn talks about the ‘quota system’ for arrests. He writes:

“Every city, every district, every military unit were assigned a specific quota of arrests to be carried out by a stipulated time (Solzhenitsyn, 1973:29)”.

The political prisoners were to be sent to the islands in the Gulag Archipelago. “Political crimes” were defined vaguely under Article 58 of the Criminal Code. Article 58 made “propaganda or agitation….” to overthrow, subvert or weaken the Soviet power a very serious crime. The problem was, anyone could be arrested, and labelled as political prisoner even if he or she did not commit any political crime. They officers needed to meet the ‘quota’.

The lower jail limit was 10 years for anyone guilty of Article 58. The maximum penalty was not set, only the minimum. Beyond 10 years, the state decided when you were released from prison. The article was amended and increased to 25 years minimum, whilst the maximum remained infinite. The prisoners were used as slaves for building state infrastructure.

A former Checkist Aleksandr Kalganov retold one of his his experiences to Solzhenitsyn on how they strived to meet the quota system. Kalganov and his friends received a telegram that read “Send 200”. They were asked to send 200 political prisoners. Kalganov and his friends had a problem: they already cleaned out the area of anyone with political crimes under section 58 of the Criminal Code. Without an alternative, they reclassified people they arrested earlier for non-political crimes as political prisoners under Article 58 of the Criminal Code. Even then they fell short of the quota. One of Kalganov’s friends had an idea – there was a gypsy band playing not far from where they were – the entire band was arrested, labeled political prisoners, and sent to Gulag. The band had members ranged from 16 to 67 years old.

Sometimes if the officers were lucky, their quota problem was solved without the officers going out to do arrests. One day a women went to the police station to ask the officers what to do with her neighbor’s baby who had been crying non-stop since her mother was arrested. She went at a time when the officers were contemplating how to meet their quota. The woman was arrested, branded as political prisoner, and added to the list. She did not commit any crime, but she was needed to meet the quota.

Not all arrests driven by the need to meet the assigned quota. There were those, like Solzhenitsyn, a war hero decorated twice, arrested for expressing a negative view of Stalin. Solzhenitsyn tells the story of an independent journalist who was arrested for being the first to ‘stop clapping’. A district Party conference (the Communist Party) was underway in Moscow, and at the end of the conference, as was the custom in those days, the members stood up to applaud Stalin when his name was mentioned. Stalin was not even in the room! The small hall erupted in a stormy applause.

They clapped with hands raised, and cheered. It went on for one minute, five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. Everyone was afraid to be the first to applauding for Stalin. So it went on and on. Tired, hungry, weak, but who would dare to be the first to stop cheering? Suddenly the journalist stopped clapping and slumped into his chair. The tired party members stopped almost abruptly and collapsed on their chairs. They had someone who they would blame for being the first to stop applauding Comrade Stalin. The journalist had saved them from collapsing from exhaustion, but he had to pay the price! The journalist was charged for some crime he probably did not commit and sentenced to 10 years. He was later released, but the the interrogator warned him “don’t every be the first one to stop clapping” (Solzhenitsyn, 1973: 28).

All kinds of people were arrested including people of all faith. Husbands would renounce their faith to remain with the children whilst wives kept the faith and went to prison. Spounses were arrested for not breaking up with partners arrested for their faith. The rich were arrested for being wealthy. The poor were arrested.

One lecturer was arrested for talking about Marxism and Lenin, but forgetting to mention Comrade Stalin. The reasons were many, the quota was endless. Those who conducted the arrests were also vey creative in their techniques. You would be arrested by a hiker, who did not dress up as a military or police officer, but carried an ID nevertheless. A young woman was arrested by her date. Every train station had some kind of cell.

This book makes a very interesting reading. Solzhenitsyn writes it was incredibly painful detail. I am excited to read the next chapter: “Interrogation”. I will review it once I am done with the next chapter, so be sure to subscribe to the blog and follow the the succeeding reviews.

At completing the book, I will write about what we can learn from the Soviet experiment of communism and socialist policies. Appeal for varied versions of socialist-like policies are rising on every continent. Will we be better at implementing socialist policies that Communist Russia?

Also, there are those who say “communism began as a good idea, but was corrupted along the way.” I will use provide insights from this book on whether that is true. Others say “I would have done things differently if I was Lenin or Stalin.” I will also provide my views on that. And finally, I will conclude with what impact communism had in places it was practiced: USSR, China, Cambodia, Cuba etc.

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Somare’s Sandals vs Suspected Cocaine Pilot

What is more serious: Michael Somare’s sandals setting off an alarm at the Brisbane International Airport in Australia, or an alleged cocaine pilot crashing into PNG sovereign boarders illegally?

Were anyone of you pissed off, when in 2005, Michael Somare was asked to take off his sandals at the Brisbane airport when the sandals set off an alarm? After a long protest, Somare was given the choice of taking off his sandals, or get on the plane and return to PNG. Somare did take off his sandals – sandal that could hardly hide any illegal substance. 

PNG wanted an apology, or an expression of regret, over the Somare incident, Australian the Prime Minister, John Howard declined to apologise. He said the airport security were doing their job.

It was disrespectful of one of the founding fathers of PNG, and the incumbent prime minister of the time. But that is how serious Australia is with their security.

Fast forward to 2020, an Australian pilot enters PNG airspace illegally using a plane registered under a dead man’s name, violating of sovereignty of PNG, and crashes his plane. He allegeded to transported cocaine (reports from journalists of traces of cocaine found at the crash site). He is charged K3000 for illegal entry, which is equivalent of AUD 1, 200. 

If you were a PNG man who illegally flew into Australia on a plane registered under a dead man’s name, crashed it whilst on a suspected cocaine smuggling run, the least you be subject under is: you’d still de detained, and investigations conductedt on substance found at the crash site. If it was cocained, where did it originate from, who are your suppliers, who are your buyers, how long as it been going on, and so on.

In PNG, you commit the same crime, you are charged K3000.

One nation takes mere sandals as security threat. Another nation disregards a potential cocaine business. Which is of a greater threat, sandals or cocaine?

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72 Hours in Belden Namah’s Life: More than a nuisance?

How did Belden Namah go from volunteering to lead the State of Emergency as a Chairman of the Emergency Committee to arguing it is unconstitutional and invalid in less than 72 hours? But this is Namah-like, and you should not be surprised. But a much bigger question is, even if Namah appears to be a nuisance to many, does he have a point? Is he defending the constitution? What does his track record say about the man?

A little background: Namah has been pursuing a case in the Supreme Court, seeking the court to declare the election of Prime Minister James Marape on 30 May 2019 as unconstitutional and therefore invalid. PM James Marape and Deputy PM Steven Davis, and the Minister for Justice & Attorney General, countered this claim by first stating that election of the PM is governed by the Parliament Standing Orders which are non-judicial (not matters for the courts to decide), it is not constitutional matter which requires the courts’ involvement. Second the PM & AG argues that Belden Namah did not have the legal standing, that he was not eligible to pursue this case. PM and AG therefore wanted the case dismissed.

State of Emergency was declared before the Supreme Court ruled on this case on 23 March. Namah’s appeal to the PM to lead be the Chairman of the Emergency Committee was 24 hours earlier. James Marape did not give Namah the position, and assumed the Chairman position himself. The next day, as the nation went into lock down under James Marape as the Chairman of the Emergency Committee, the court ruled that Namah had legal standing to pursue the case that would potentially remove James Marape as the Prime Minister of PNG. Namah then raised another argument that the SOE was unconstitutional and invalid.

So far, Namah appears to be a nuisance.

Scenario One: James Marape appoints Namah as the Chairman of the Emergency Committee and 24 hours later the Supreme Court rules that Namah can pursue the case to remove the PM, who appointed him as the Chairman 24 hours earlier. Wouldn’t that be weird? Would Namah continue as the Chairman, reporting to the PM he intends to remove in the near future? Or would Namah just withdraw the case and retain his job as the Chairman? What was Namah thinking!

Scenario Two: James Marape appoints Namah as the Chairman of the Emergency Committee and 24 hours Namah realizes that the Committee he was appointed to lead is unconstitutional. Wouldn’t that be weird? Would Namah resign as the Chairman, and pursue the case to declare the SOE unconstitutional? Or would Namah be just silent and retain his job as the Chairman? What was Namah thinking!

OR DOES NAMAH’s ACTIONS MEAN MORE?

Part of the reason why the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Namah was because the judges thought the process in which James Marape was elected raises constitutional questions, not just a breach of Parliamentary Standing Orders. The constitution rises above everybody, even if the PM is beloved of the nation. The Constitution rules.

In the last decade, no MP has defended the constitutional more than Namah. Now bear with me as I provide reasons for this unpopular statement. When People’s National Congress led by Peter O’Neil had about 85 MPs, and almost all other parties and MPs under its coalition between 2012 and 2017, they amended about 14 provisions of the constitutions. They basically bulldozed amendments, legislations, budgets and just about any other decision in the parliament. The opposition, which was depleted, could not stop it. When nothing else was left to stop the carnage, Namah took on the fight individually.

He pursued until the courts ruled that the Manus Refugee Processing Centre was unconstitutional. The opposition could not stop it because they did not have the numbers. Namah had to stop it and reverse the parliament’s decision through the courts. When the grace period was moved from 18 months to 30 months, again the parliament could not stop it. Namah was among the others who pursued the matter in court until it was declared unconstitutional. The same goes for reduced parliamentary sitting days, and the number of MPs required to sign the motion for a vote of no confidence. And finally, when the parliament was adjourned in mid-2016 to avoid a vote of no confidence, Namah was among other MPs who sough the court’s interpretation. The court ruled in favour of Namah.

Despite all this, Namah is also known for orchestrating the overthrow of Somare as the PM in 2011, an action that the Supreme Court retrospectively ruled unconstitutional. He also burst into the Chief Justice’s chambers to arrest him.

It is difficult to say where Namah stands. Is he a defender of the constitution or a nuisance?

Comment below…..

Judiciary: PNG’s last defense against executive carnage, and a legislature on her knees.

There is so much conversation on Facebook on the decision of Deputy Chief Justice Kandakasi to summon Governor Alan Bird to appear before the court and show reason why he should not be held accountable for contempt of court. The governor is said to have expressed dissatisfaction on certain matter/matters before the courts. Justice Kandakasi also told Kramer to confine his role as Minister of Police to Policy matters and not indulge in police operations. The former has generated much debate.

There are many opinions, including those who argue that Alan Bird is protected by parliamentary privileges to debate and question any matter in parliament. And there are those who say this privilege does not extend to matters currently before court, therefore amounting to a contempt of court.

PNG is a land of many political and legal blunders, and exciting precedents, but very few are as memorable as the first contempt case between a MP and the courts. Manus MP Nahau Rooney was jailed for contempt of court in 1979. In 1979, when she was the Minister for Justice, she wrote a letter to the Chief Justice, and later went on to NBC, to talk about Dr Predmas’ case. The NEC had terminated Dr Predmas, a lecturer at UPNG, and wanted to deport him, but he took an injunction against the NEC decision, which the courts granted. The NEC were frustrated against the court’s decision. The Public Prosecutor took Rooney’s case as a contempt of court and raised it with the courts. The judges ruled that it was a contempt of court and jailed Nahau Rooney. Michael Somare, then Prime Minister, used his executive decision to release her from prison. All foreign judges resigned in protest, and the first national Chief Justice was appointed – Sir Buri Kidu. It is something that shouldn’t be repeated. 

You can read the court case on Paclii: Rooney (No 2), Public Prosecutor v [1979] PNGLR 448 

The difference between Nahau & Bird is that, apart from the facts of the case, which are different, Alan Bird has the parliamentary privilege to argue. Is that sufficient? We’ll wait and see.

But as far as power of judges go, criticizing judges on Facebook is a very bad trend. PNG is in a privileged position whereby lack of strong political party systems prevents appointments of Supreme Court judges who are aligned to certain political parties. In the US, the President gets to appoint the Supreme Court judges. And without exception since the 1930s Richard Nixon’s case, the Presidents have been appointing Supreme Court judges who belong to their party. These judges are appointed for life, subject to good behaviors. A Democrat appointee will always make decisions in line with liberals’ values, whilst a Republican judge will rule in line with conservative values. In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party dominated Japanese politics post-WW2 until very recently. Because the executive appoints the Supreme Court judges, since WW2, the judges were appointees of the LDP, and ruled along the values of LDP. In Malaysia, for the last 40 or so years, the judiciary and the executive were the same guys. Anwar Ibrim, Opposition MP was continuously jailed over 20 or so years as the judges, who conspired with the ruling party to keep Anwar out of politics for as long as they could. Worse still, there are countries right now where the judiciary is a mere extension of the executive arm.

PNG has, despite all the criticisms, an independent judiciary. Judiciary is the only arm of government among the three, that has some integrity left in this country. The executive in the past decade has dominated parliament, diminished legislature to a mere rubber stamp, stifled debates and bulldozed legislations. The only institution to stand up against these carnage was the judiciary. The courts ruled the Manus Detention illegal and unconstitutional. That couldn’t be done in parliament because the opposition didn’t have the numbers to stop the government. We as a nation had to rely on the Supreme Court to do that for us. When the government in 2016 adjourned the parliament to avoid a vote of no confidence (next parliament sitting was scheduled to fall well within the 12 months grace period before issue of writs for the 2017 election, thereby preventing any vote of no confidence), we had to rely on the Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional. The opposition could not stop the government from adjourning because they did not have the numbers.

If we bring the judiciary down to the same level as the legislature and executive arms, we are finished. Let the judiciary be. Even if one judge is wrong, there are others who, upon appeal, can review the decision. It has a self-correcting mechanism.

I recommend members of this page to grab a book titled “Anwar Returns” to see a real case of judges compromising. 

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The Tale of 16 Brothers: RH Logging Subsidiaries in PNG

With the PNG Forestry Association saying PNG will loose K1 billion in revenues with increased taxes, I decided to re-read a report published by the Oakland Institute, a California-based policy think tank that conducted detailed report on PNG logging companies in 2016, and 2018. This two reports show that logging companies in PNG engage in illegal logging, tax evasion and financial misreporting, costing PNG millions of Kina in lost revenue of more than US$100 million (K4 million). This blog will focus on the Oakland Institute Report 2018 findings relating to the 16 subsidiaries of HR Company engaged in logging alone (16 brothers is a reference to the 16 subsidiaries, not necessarily 16 humans).

Summary is as follows

  • HR subsidiaries keep reporting losses every year, but keep increasing their exports every year
  • There is possibility that RH logging companies misreport their real financial loss to avoid paying taxes
  • PNG Forestry Association was so wrong in 2017, so you should therefore not believe them now when they say PNG will loose K1 billion

Financial Misreporting (intentionally?)

The Oakland Institute Report reveals a pattern of possible financial misreporting and tax evasion by logging companies – and its getting worse. The financial records of 16 subsidiaries of PNG’s largest log exporter, the Rimbunan Hijau (RH) Group, show that these companies declare little to no profit! Between 2000 and 2016, all together, the 16 companies have declared losses of K776 million (US$277 million) from their operations, compared to a profit of K53 million (US$18.5 million).These companies therefore declare losing 15 dollars for each dollar of profit they make. 

Several subsidiaries have declared little or no profits for the entirety of their operations. RH subsidiary Niugini International Co. Ltd., for example, has declared zero profits and K126 million (US$44 million) in losses over the past 17 years, while more recently established operations such as Gilford Ltd, Sinar Tiasa, and Sinaran Papua have each declared more than K50 million (US$18 million) in losses. 

The Oakland Report observes “…. It is hard to comprehend how these companies continue to operate despite such significant financial losses…. the more these companies harvest and export timber, the more money they lose…” 

Even for non-accountants, you see the accounting blunder: If you make more loss after increasing exports, why increase exports every year? Shouldn’t it make sense to reduce exports instead? What is the incentive for increased logging and increased exports if you are making loss? 

What is the motivation for declaring loss?

Its something called the Future Income Tax Benefit (FITB).Under PNG tax law, when a company incurs a negative operating income, it does not have to pay the 30 percent income tax on its profits and is able to carry forward the loss for 20 years.The ability to carry a tax loss forward allows the company to accumulate tax credits from the government and apply these future income tax benefit (FITB) credits from prior years to reduce the amount of taxable income in following years.” The Oakland Institute Report (2018).

Because these companies have worked at an overwhelming loss over the past 17 years, most of them have never paid any income tax and instead, have accumulated a vast pool of “Future Income Tax Benefit” (FITB), which can be used to pay income taxes in future profitable years. The total FITB incurred by RH subsidiaries totaled US$32.6 million in 2011, and nearly doubled to US$58.8 million in 2016, five years of record losses. Because the FITB can be rolled forward and used to offset income taxes in profitable years, it is likely that these companies will never pay any income tax. 

How can you misreport losses?

There are several methods companies use to intentionally misreport their financial status (due to lack on publicly available data, it is not possible to establish how exactly RH provides this contradictory accounting, but the following are some of the ways in which you can do that). One is called transfer pricing. You can undervalue the price of logs that are sold and exported.

For instance, Company A and Company B are subsidiaries of the same company, lets say “Bau Group of Companies”. Company B, as a buyer pays a lower price than the real cost of the timber under an arrangement with the seller, Company A. However, since they both belong to the same company, Company A actually does not loose any money. Company A can declare loss in the country it is operating from, but that money can be recovered by Company B making excessive profits from buying cheap logs, and manufacturing and selling at premium prices. 

Another way is, Company A buys logging equipment and machinery from Company C. Both Company A and Company C are subsidiaries of the Bau Group of Companies. Company C artificially increases the price of the equipment so that it is very expensive. Company A buys the equipment nevertheless, but it is not making a loss. The money is going back to Bau Group of Companies via Company C. This way Company A’s expenses end up greater than its revenue, allowing the Company A to declare an operational loss for the year. Company A then can justify not paying corporate income tax under PNG laws, when in fact the group as a whole is making a excessive profits…!

Of the 60 or so companies in PNG identified as being owned or controlled by the Tiong family, which owns the RH Group, over 30 companies engage in logging and agribusiness in operations ranging from timber processing and distribution to the repair of heavy machinery and oil palm production. The Report notes that a “significant amount of RH subsidiaries’ operational expenses are spent on activities, goods, and services offered by their sister companies, leading to a situation in which transfer pricing could easily occur.” Also, according to the Report, “Data from 2000 to 2016 reveals that PNG’s export prices were US$92 less than world average for log prices .” Basically, PNG logs were sold less than the world price. 

Why you should not listen to PNG Forestry Association

The government realized this almost cheating behaviour, and introduced progressive tax rate on exported logs in 2017. The progressive tax system allows you to charge different tax rates to different timber species, with rate increasing with the value of timber. The new system resulted in a four percent increase in the average tax rate paid by exporters on the value of exported timber, from 27 percent to 31 percent in 2017.

The Minister of Forests Douglas Tomuriesa and the logging industry, especially Mr Bob Tate of the Papua New Guinea Forest Industries Association (PNGFIA) argued that the tax increase, combined with a falling demand for tropical timber affect the revenues of the companies and by extension, the nation.

According to Tate’s statement in November 2017, the impact of this policy is already being felt: “This year, raising the tax rate resulted in the Government collecting K32 million less in tax revenue than last year. Further tax increases may result in revenues – and landowner royalties – falling to zero, and to thousands more jobs disappearing.”

However, if you compare the export data from before and after the introduction of the progressive tax in 2017, you get a different result. There was in fact a six percent jump in duties paid from K293 million (US$103 million) in 2016 to K310 million (US$109 million) in 2017. The tax rate increase generated an additional K17 million (US$6 million). More interesting fact is that, this increase in revenues was achieved as exports of logs were reduced. Log exports dropped from 3.6 million cubic meters in 2016 to 3.3 million cubic meters in 2017). PNG earned more revenues for less logs. Exports did pick up again after that. So what this shows is that, the Minister and PNGFIA’s predictions were wrong.

Now, with the increase imposed on Log Export Levy tax by the Government from 35% to 59%. The Forest Industry Association reckons it will lose over K1 billion if the industry shuts down operations due to the increase. The same Association, and even the same guy is making this claims. Well here is a trade-off:

You can go into downstream processing as per the direction of the government, or continue to export raw logs, evade taxes, misreport financials, and be forced to pay 59% tax. It not too much, it about time PNG gets its lost revenue for more than 20 years.

Illegally granted Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs)

The increase in log exports by PNG in recent years is largely the result of illegally-granted Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs),which have added 5.5 million hectares of land to the ten million hectares already under active logging concession. As a result, PNG has surpassed Malaysia as the largest exporter of tropical timber in 2011. Despite PNG being a major timber exporter, the forestry sector contributes a mere three percent to PNG’s total export earnings. To date no decisive action has been taken to stop illegal logging or return land to traditional owners. 

In January 2020, company hired policeman went into Foru, lower Musa in Popondetta, and assaulted local land owners who refused to let a logging company from trespassing through their land to log in the virgin forest of the lower Musa Plateau. Oro Governor Gary Juffa has since then stopped the logging after consultation with landowners pending verification of how the loggers attained the license to cut time in the area. 

This is just one example. Elsewhere in PNG, loggers act with impunity. Tax evasion is a norm. Illegal practice has become normal. And when the government directs the companies to go into downstream processing, they claim loss of billons of Kina for PNG. There is already massive loss of billions. If you have not read the Oakland Institute Report titled “The Great Heist: Tax Evasion & Illegal Logging in Papua New Guinea”, you should read it. 

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