Papua New Guinea rolling out red carpet for APEC but locals living in poverty
Rose Maino’s family home was demolished ahead of the APEC summit. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
Tears roll down Rose Maino’s cheeks as she describes the past few weeks of her life.
The grandmother is among a group of families whose homes have recently been bulldozed. She sits behind a big patch of dirt where the houses used to be and cries.
“Everything from the house has been buried into the ground. I’ve made a tent and I live in it,” she said.
“My grandchild also died, we buried my grandchild last week.”
Another resident, Dickson Theophilus, says they were only given a day’s notice.
“There used to be seven houses here, all these houses they are no longer here,” he said.
“They demolished them with big machines.
“We have nowhere to go.”
The houses were cleared to allow for the road they were built alongside to be expanded into four lanes.
Even the people who still have their homes are living in poverty.
It is a 10-minute drive from Sabama, where they are living in tents, to APEC Haus, the magnificent venue built off the coast of Port Moresby where the world’s leaders will meet this week for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit.
The Governor of the National Capital District, Powes Parkop, told the ABC the road is expected to be extended to four lanes after the APEC summit, when funding is available.
He said he regrets families have been affected, but it’s only those who have encroached on land reserved for the road.
The residents deny they were encroaching on the planned road and say they feel abandoned.
Dickson Theophilus says families were only given a day’s notice before their homes were bulldozed. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
“The leaders are giving more attention on the APEC, and they’ve forgotten us,” Mr Theophilus said.
“They demolished us, they just destroyed everything.
“More attention is given on APEC, we are suffering here.”
‘APEC is a stepping stone’
There is a sense of excitement in Port Moresby as the country gets ready to host APEC; it’s a significant moment for the developing nation.
But in a country where poverty is rife, medication shortages are biting and there’s just been a polio outbreak, some people are struggling to square their day-to-day lives with the money being spent on the summit.
The PNG Government purchased 40 custom-made Maserati cars for world leaders to use during the APEC summit. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
The Minister for APEC, Justin Tkatchenko, said he “absolutely” understood that sentiment but APEC was about looking to the future.
“APEC is a stepping stone to better things to come,” he said.
“We can’t just go on what’s happening now.
“APEC won’t change your lives overnight; what we’re doing is showcasing this country to investors and CEOs and many other opportunities now and into the future.”
The Minister said creating a better economy will help people in the long run.
“A lot of good things are to come, and yes, we understand there are issues out there and they are being addressed by our Government,” he said.
The exact cost of staging APEC will not be known until after the event, but the budget for just this year was 280 million kina — more than $100 million.
PNG is being assisted by several other APEC countries, including Australia and China, in covering other costs of staging the event.
Rose Maino and her family have been living in a tent since their home was bulldozed. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
Rio Fiocco from the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce said the expense was worth it.
“It will open up a lot of the business leaders to the opportunities that are here,” he said.
“Particularly in areas like agriculture and tourism.”
People told to be on their best behaviour
It is just days until China’s President Xi Jinping, the first of the leaders to touchdown in Port Moresby, arrives.
There are teams going down the route the leaders will travel, cleaning the roads and collecting rubbish.
PNG police prepare for a rehearsal motorcade ahead of the APEC summit. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
Members of the public have been told to be on their best behaviour.
Bure Francis is one of a group of people who sell vegetables in a roadside market not far from another APEC venue, the International Convention Centre.
She said police came and told them they had to stop operating ahead of APEC, but because it is their main source of income, they continued to sell the next day.
Ms Francis said police then returned and turned over their tables and took some produce.
“Everything was on the ground, all the tables they turned over, they took bundled peanuts and the single ones they just threw all over the place,” she said.
“They told us, ‘it’s like this, you all must not operate the market, but you all are still doing it, so this is what happens’.
“APEC meeting finishes, ‘OK you all can come back to the market’, it’s like that.”
She and the other farmers are still going to the gardens each day, but only to water them.
“[We kept on selling initially because] we need to give food to the children, but they did that to us, so yesterday we just came and sat watching our small gardens until we went back to the house,” she said.
Security in the capital is being dramatically ramped up for the summit, with additional police being brought in from across the country to assist.
The Police Commissioner, Gari Baki, reassured the public officers won’t be heavy handed.
“Our men have been told exactly what they are expected to do,” he said.
“This is a very different — entirely different — joint security operation. It’s completely different.”
As the days to the big event count down, PNG’s leaders say the country is ready to host the region’s business and political leaders.
Locals will just be hoping the touted benefits eventuate once the leaders all return home.