The Kananam Meeting on the proposed PMIZ was called for this Friday because a spate of important government officials claimed to have never received their invitations to the first Rempi Forum. Apparently no one’s faxes of emails were working for the weeks leading up to that forum when all the immediately impacted communities came together to discuss this Special Economic Zone being planned for their land (and they had hoped to discuss it with those who have been doing the planning). Instead, all but the Sumkar MP, Ken Fairweather (who lives on Karkar Island but seems to have received his invite), were absent and decided instead to call their own meeting within the Alexishafen grounds where they could be joined by members of the Kananam community who have so uniquely and fortunately benefitted from the spin offs of RD Tuna and now campaign to bring ten more canneries to our midst on the hope, we have to assume, that even more new gold land rovers and other tokens of development will accrue to them. These pro-PMIZ individuals were in fact at the front of the stage when Frances Gem, a Kananam landowner who has long questioned the health, environmental safety and economic benefits of RD Tuna took the mic and began an angry speech about this new fishy project, the PMIZ. He turned to face the distinguished row of elected officials behind him, all members of the sausage casing/shrinking clothes elite: Gabriel Kapris, Benny Allen, Arnold Amet, and Ben Semri. ‘You men are conmen! ’ he said---‘Every one of you are thieves and conmen!’ (To which these immobile gentlemen could only smile). ‘Let me tell you,’ Gem continued,’ about what they want to do to our water and our livelihoods here’ (at which point everyone could hear Gabriel Kapris call out ‘What did you say to me in the Philippines? [Yu bin tok wanem long Filipines? Yu bin tok wanem lo General Santos City?’]’ with a Cheshire cat smile)---To which Gem spun around to the public and said, in Pidgin, ‘The Minister for Commerce and Industry is asking me here what I said to him in the Philippines. Let me tell you what I saw when he took me to the Philippines. I saw that the landowners of General Santos City were living like animals in a zoo! This is what will happen to us! And I saw when we visited the Yacht Club’ (at which point some of the pro-PMIZ hecklers started booing him off the stage—in fact calling him a liar---even as they had also been ‘treated’ by Kapris to the same gala Mindanao junket)’I saw the colour of their water there was brown! It was awful! Im telling you the truth---do you want your sea to come out brown? I am not stupid, not a stupid man who can be fooled by a trip to the Philippines, who do you take me for? I would ask the Minister for Commerce and Industry to refrain from making comments while I try to speak here....’ and at this point all kinds of shouting erupted from before the stage, where Charley Takau, boss of Savalon Security (which works at RD), screamed that he should get out of this forum and off the stage and apologize to the Members!!! A kerfuffle began, and eventually calm returned, and Gem, to his credit, held his ground and began his speech again, deferring to the MPs he had insulted, but not so much as to apologize for his message, because he went on to explain that the time for bullshit and smooth talking was over and he had to talk straight to the people about what he saw and what he believes will happen if we allow the PMIZ to be built---we will lose everything, he said. That is a brave man, Frances Gem. The day was filled with excitement, too, because Ken Fairweather and Jamie Maxtone-Graham were also there, and at one point Fairweather asked Kapris directly what had happened to the District Funds allocated in the 2007 budget for Madang to support the earliest concept of a Marine park. ‘Where is that 25 million??? Where did that money go??’ and Sir Arnold Amet called fair-weather a white millionaire who should get off his island (Karkar), and Fairweather said Millionaire? Im a multi-millionaire---and you know what the Karkar call you? Ekting waitman! ---to which the crowd roared. The exchange made Amet more uncontrollably furious than he’d ever been seen to be in public before---truly enraged from embarrassment. Once again you could hear these govt men sneer things like ‘No NGOs!’ and ‘No white men!’ ---all pretty heady and ironic for men who have benefited from NGO services and schooling and are now inviting Asian fishing companies to come savage our fragile tuna populations for the sake of access agreement fees (and the unacquitted sums that move between palms).
But things got more interesting again, today, Saturday, when the Green Party Senator from Tasmania, Bob Brown, made a visit to Madang and met up with some of the NGO workers themselves (all Papua New Guinean in fact) to applaud them on their strong environmental stance. Ken Fairweather brought Jamie Maxtone Graham along, and Dorothy Tekwie (the new head of the PNG Green Party) was also in their midst, as were other concerned Madang citizens. Among the many very interesting highlights was a description by Jamie Maxtone-Graham of the now-defunct Anti-Asian Riots Parliamentary Investigation, to which he was appointed head only to be replaced by a NA functionary as soon as reports started coming in from ILC, Customs and several other compromised institutions about the levels of illegal immigration, irregular funding, backroom deals and so forth that has become endemic over the last decade in PNG. Maxtone-Graham made an important point when he said that all these key agencies complained that they had been systematically starved over the past 30 years and are now incapable of resisting the corruption that washes over them: there is no man power, the employee numbers have been slashed, their budgets eviscerated, their powers virtually destroyed. And he also said that there is much more illegal immigration from China than we can even imagine: 100,000 undocumented Chinese is a very low figure, for example. He said, as did everyone in the room, the PMIZ is a very fishy project. It is all the plan of the Director of RD Tuna Group of Companies in Mindanao, and not a homegrown development of any kind. The day before, Kapris had promised everyone that there would soon be a multi-lane highway up the north coast ! Did he think this was a gift to the Madang people? Does he think the Madang people are stupid enough to believe a highway is ‘development’ for their sake? How smug is this breed of conmen who cannot even imagine the macroeconomic impact of a Special Economic Zone and yet pitch it to the landowners as some kind of boon to their quality of life?
How smug is RD Tuna to jeopardize the Partners to the Nauru Agreement between the Pacific Island countries (that gives them collective management protocols) for the sake of a free trade free for all. Like Bob Brown remind the gathering today, free trade is never free: a big country always gains over the little one in free trade. Don’t believe a Special Economic Zone is a pro-PNG initiative. I live on Bagabag Island, one man in the crowd explained. What good will this be, what good will seabed mining and the Ramu Nickel project is it destroys my way of life? Jon Erico of BRG asked why our current leaders cant find a new model of development? Why are we wedded to these old neo-liberal ideas of urbanization as development? Of free trade and industrial zones and destroying the natural assets of PNG to bring services to the village? (Why, in other words, does every community in PNG have to pay for government services with their forest or fish or quality of life?) It is important to remember that the very day that Gabriel Kapris was desperately responding to accusations of his being a conman by saying he had brought all kinds of development to his area of Maprik----a group of Maprik landowners were asking in the newspaper where all this development had gone Mr Kapris? What happened to all those promises you made?