West Sepik Governor looks to grow links with Indonesia
The Governor of West Sepik province in Papua New Guinea says the border with Indonesia should not be seen as a barrier to greater engagement between the two countries in areas of culture, trade, education, and infrastructure.
The Governor of West Sepik province in Papua New Guinea says increased economic and cultural engagement with Indonesia would be beneficial to both countries.
Amkat Mai says West Sepik's position on the border with Indonesia's Papua province offers a range of trade opportunities, but that currently there's a huge trade imbalance and a big gap in development in Indonesia's favour.
Mr Mai spoke with Johnny Blades who asked him about the progress of bi-lateral collaboration in areas of infrastructure, as announced by PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill last year.
AMKAT MAI: It's going ahead but it's going slowly because right now for Vanimo we have a big problem with our power supply because we have two generators and most of the fuel we get from Lae, and it's very expensive to get fuel from Lae to Vanimo so we have approached the PNG Power, especially the division of rural electrification, and what they have done is they did a study on power from Jayapura and in that study they recommended that PNG gets Vanimo's power from Jayapura. So, the Indonesian side, they have actually built a power station and the power station has come as far as the border line. But it will cost PNG Power 13 million kina to build a line from Vanimo town all the way to Bhatus.
JOHNNY BLADES: Is it worth doing, do you think? This could be huge couldn't it?
AM: I think temporarily it's worth doing because the maintenance of the power and it's going to be cheaper to get from Indonesia than maintaining our own generators, but eventually in the end we should have our own power. You know, we have plenty of rivers and streams, we could source power ourselves later. But temporarily, to support the business and to support the growing business in Vanimo we desperately need about 2.5 to 3 megawatts of power which Jayapura is able to supply over to us.
JB: What about in telecommunications?
AM: In terms of telecommunications, we are OK. I think Digicel has done a very good job. Digicel has set up towers in almost all the provinces, all the districts in West Sepik, so we have recent communication but when I compare the two; Digicel and Telecomcel, I think Telecomcel is cheaper than Digicel -- Digicel is a bit expensive.
JB: You mentioned the Bhatas market, a lot of people from Vanimo and elsewhere in the region are going across, getting cheap goods, and bringing them back. Is there trade going the other way or is that still quite low?
AM: We think that Indonesia is benefiting more from this trade than us because even our kina gets across the border into Jayapura. Jayapura is becoming now a vibrant city rather than Vanimo and West Sepik province. So there is a trade imbalance. That's why we are urging the government to do more by encouraging the concept of free trade and get all these PNG companies established in Vanimo so that the trade can be balanced. Right now it's one sided, our people buy all the stuff from Indonesia but at the grassroots level, or SME -- small to medium enterprise -- level, it's good for the grassroots because they buy stuff at Bhatas, they sell them and they make money for their daily living, like school fees, medical bills, etc. But for us as a government, we are losing big time because money is going one way and PNG kina is going one way on the other side, whereas Vanimo town is not changing so we need to look at a balanced trade where Papua New Guinea must also benefit. So meaning that for example, we can have all the big companies in PNG, they must settle in Vanimo and then they can trade all their goods to Jayapura, because they have the population supply and demand will be OK.
JB: And what about the cross border flow of traditional villagers and border crossers, is that harmonious?
AM: At the moment for the Papua province (Indonesia) and for us it is harmonious because we have a lot of students come from the other side. We have a lot of people from our side go to the other side to Jayapura, we also have the church groups like Lutherans, Catholics, all the different denominations we cross over and they cross over as well. But I would like to see more Papuans coming to Vanimo, to Papua New Guinea, and given proper or easy access. On the side of cultural exchange, like sing-sing groups and all this, it's harmonious. It's OK on both sides.
JB: Because there is this huge cultural linkage isn't there that can't be denied. It's just a line down the island isn't it, and yet you're the one same people in some ways.
AM: Yes that's correct to say that the line that divides Papua province and us, it should not be seen as a barrier but it should be seen that a line that separates the two states -- Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. But I would like to see more Papuan people visiting Papua New Guinea and more Papua New Guineans visiting Jayapura, going there for education or for trade or for sports, I'd like to see more sports being encouraged. And what we've done, is we have encouraged the 10 km run. The 10km run is actually, we start on the Indonesian side of the border, we run 10 kilometres to the border, and then another 10 kilometres on the PNG side, and if we start 10 kilometres on the PNG side we run 10 kilometres to the PNG border and then 10 kilometres on the other side.
JB: You'd have to be fit.
AM: Yeah, you have to be fit and also to encourage the young people and to tell the message to them that we are close neighbours, we are friends, we are buddies, the border should not seclude us from understanding each other and create cooperation between the youth of Papua province, Indonesia for that matter and Papua New Guinea.
JB: Do you get much criminality coming across like drugs, guns? Is that still a problem? We hear the odd report.
AM: It's a major problem I am facing now, a lot of my people from Vanimo got into prison in Jayapura because of drug smuggling and I suspect arms smuggling as well because twice my police captured five high powered guns at Aitape -- twice they have done that meaning that as a governor I am concerned about drugs and gun smuggling because I do not want to see these guns at the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas Project) or the Southern Highlands or some of our big businesses.
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