PNG govt launches agro-business venture in East Sepik

11:42 am on 30 July 2016

Employment and small business development is to increase in East Sepik province, according to Papua New Guinea's prime minister.

Peter O'Neill visited the province on Thursday to launch the Sepik Plains Special Economic Zone project at Yangoru-Saussia with local MP Richard Maru, who is the Trade and Commerce Minister.

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill addresses a crowd in East Sepik.

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill addresses a crowd in East Sepik. Photo: PNG Prime MInister's Office media

The government said the zone would be a US$31 million project built on a 500 hectare-plot acquired by the state in the 1970s.

Several projects are planned for the zone, including the main Sepik Chicken Grain and Cocoa Innovation project, Yangoru Water and Power Supply and other infrastructure.

Addressing the crowd at the launch, Mr O'Neill said the zone would "change the lives of many people and bring social and economic benefits to the people".

He said agriculture was the backbone of PNG's future and that his government would support innovative agriculture projects such as this.

However the opposition leader Don Polye has described the agro-business venture in Yangoru-Saussia as "another political gimmick".

He raised issue with where the US$17 million budgeted for the project had been directed, alleging it was transferred directly to Mr Maru's account rather than the East Sepik provincial government and local farmers.

Mr Polye said that Innovative Agro Industry Limited, a subsidiary of LR Group, who have been pushing for the project, have been at the centre of pending investigations of corruption.

He has also indicated the opposition would write to the Central Supplies and Tenders board to seek due diligence on the record of the company.

Crowd in Yangoru-Saussia, East Sepik, Papua New Guinea.

Crowd in Yangoru-Saussia, East Sepik, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Mr O'Neill, who says his government has the know-how to manage the economy through the current difficult times and low commodity prices, hit out at his critics.

"People can criticise all they want, if they are genuine we will listen, but if they are just playing politics we will continue to do what we do best - creating jobs and growing the economy," he said.

"Our government is keeping economic growth going, we are increasing the number of jobs and we are stopping companies that used to take advantage of our country such as those who were not paying their taxes.

The prime minister said the people of East Sepik wanted change that would have a positive impact on their lives.

"Our government believes in our institutions," he said, "and our people and we are allocating funding right down to the districts."