Captain Thomas Keindip provided an important link for bush communities

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Thomas Keindip didn’t fly a Boeing 747 or an F100. He didn’t make the international flights and he didn’t sleep in hotels overnight.

He flew small planes to the locations that many people didn’t want to go to.

As the son of a missionary, Kimbun Keindip, Thomas grew up in Ampo in Lae where the Lutheran headquarters is. His determination to fly started at an early age.

During school holidays, he and his siblings would board a small plane and head off to Kabwum to his father’s village.

From an early age, he wanted to fly.

Thomas was fortunate to begin his career as a bush pilot with the Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Over the years, he received offers to fly for big airlines but he turned them down.

During one of our discussions about fuel prices I asked why. The reason was simple, he said. There’s a need for bush pilots and there aren’t enough of them.

In fact, the airline he worked for as Chief Pilot, North Coast Aviation, is the only one in Morobe serving five provinces – Eastern highlands, Gulf, Oro, Sandaun and Morobe.

It’s quite a feat for this small airline considering the fact that fuel prices have risen considerably in the last six years. In 2015, things became difficult, when he couldn’t get the fuel needed to fly. Help came and flights resumed.

As a kid from Kabwum who grew up flying back and forth to his village. Rural aviation was important. Everyday, he and his pilots flew coffee bags from some of the most rural locations in Papua New Guinea. They flew medical evacuations, flew in teachers, health workers and reunited long lost family members.

But it was the little things that matters to Captain Thomas Keindip.

I asked him during one interview what gave him the most satisfaction as a bush pilot. He said, “it was the joy of seeing family members reunited after a long time.”

That was the most important thing to him as a bush pilot. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the heroic deeds of saving lives and rescuing burn victims. He sought the simplest of pleasures – reuniting families.

It taught me a lot!

You’re a hero, bro!

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A brief understanding of the PNG economy WITHOUT the numbers

As Papua New Guineans await the 2018 budget next week,  I’ve put together the simplest explanation  I can  on  the state of the PNG  economy (minus the figures and the percentages). 


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All eyes will be on Treasurer, Charles Abel, next week when he presents budget that tries to deal with low commodity prices, tight revenue inflows and an ongoing foreign exchange crisis.

External pressures like the slow economic growth in Europe, the US and China are also having an effect on PNG’s export revenue.

Commentators have repeatedly stated that the government over estimated revenue projections from the extractive industries while prices were high and didn’t take into account the slump being experienced now.

While there is some recovery in the global economy,   the treasury is not banking on comfortable ride over the 2018-2019 period. Some analysts are predicting the bad days won’t be over until after the 2020 financial period.

It is against this backdrop that the PNG government is preparing the 2018 budget set to be presented in Parliament next week.

The warning signs have been there for several years, a booming Chinese economy in 2005-2007,   then a slow down in growth has meant less demand for raw materials.

What raw materials? Gold for IT related manufacturing,  nickel and steel for skyscrapers, copper for wires and many products. Again, this is the simplest  method of explaining for non-economists.

In Europe, growth has also been slow.   How does that affect us?

This simply means,  big economies aren’t spending as much as they did to and we can’t sell as much as we need, to keep our economy within the comfortable range.

Despite the talk about developing a diversified economy – you know, having mining, oil, agriculture, manufacturing and all that… there has been no real effort to create a level of diversification that can keep us going comfortably during economic downturns.

A diversification  of the economy means having a multitude of industries  that provide the cushion to withstand external shocks. For instance, if  copper prices drop, we still make money from cocoa, copra and coffee.  This is JUST an example.

But we are so heavily dependent on the extractive industry, that when commodity prices drop, we also suffer.

So what about agriculture?

For years, the government has talked about agriculture and the need to create a strong agriculture base. The rhetoric for a strong agriculture base is still ongoing since the payment of 100 million for the National Agriculture Development Plan was released during the Somare government which was happily lapped up by “paper farmers.”

Economic commentators, also point out that we are still  getting the basics wrong.  (We did  have  it right in the 70s and 80s.)   The resources for   transport infrastructure that will stimulate growth are going to the wrong places. There’s too much going to places like Port Moresby while the access roads in agriculture rich  areas deteriorate.

So what should we expect from the 2018 budget?

It will be one that is focused on tightening spending.   There will be more focus on tax revenue collection. The government says it will “broaden the tax base.”

There may also be increases in income tax or GST depending on which route the government takes.

The current state of public transport doesn’t add value to PNG’s tourism vision

PMV POMPapua New Guinea’s public transport system is one of the biggest obstacles to tourism growth.

It needs to be spelled out that the buses are dirty, inefficient and the standards associated with driver qualification, fare collection are not the kind you want foreign visitors or our own people to continue to contend with.

Health and hygiene standards for PMV’s are shameful and need to be improved. Individual ownership of PMV buses, while beneficial to the owners and operators, provides the bare minimum for the PNG commuter.

Having said that, we shouldn’t be improving our services only to impress foreign visitors. But it should be a service  that we can be comfortable to recommend to visitors from other countries.

On nearly every tourism website,  there are warnings against using PMV services.

Papua New Guineans deserve better and the government should step in to force the owners and the association  to improve it.

Buses should be clean, air conditioned, smoke free and buai free. The driver should be able control the bus doors remotely. The drivers should be well attired, clean and their IDs should be publicly displayed for all to see.

This should be the minimum standard.

It is no secret that current system is unsafe for commuters.
There is little sense of duty and care by PMV owners and operators. It is unsafe for school aged children, girls and women. There is no sense of urgency, punctuality or safety. This needs to change. It is a system that is outdated and unfriendly.

Instead of going on strike and inconveniencing commuters, the PMV owners association should be seriously proactive and begin discussions with the government about a future that is very different from the current. A future where buses are clean, safe, properly regulated and not staffed by thugs who passed out of Rambo school.

I am encouraged by the move by NCD Governor, Powes Parkop to set in place better services for the people of Port Moresby. I support the discussions that a ticketing service should be used.

I would go further to propose that Papua New Guinean companies should own and operate bus services, instead of individuals. Simply because, regulating agencies will have better control and any breach will be punishable through a fine or a withdrawal of the company license.

On the government’s part, import taxes on the vehicles intended to be used for PMVs should be drastically reduced or removed altogether to encourage the purchase of new vehicles.

Papua New Guineans deserve better than the rubbish being served to them.

The Vietnam SME path…Is there a PNG version?

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At least 10 hours before our departure from Da Nang City, our taxi driver, Mr. Han, who had been very helpful for the last seven days took us for a drive out of Da Nang City.

“We go Hoi An market,” he said. “Good tailor. Good price.”

Outside of Da Nang City, the landscape is quickly transformed to wide open spaces.
“Very beautiful,” Mr. Han says. “They grow rai (rice).”

On both sides of the road leading to Hoi An Market are rice paddies that extend for miles. Water buffalos stand unattended at the edge of the paddies, grazing on the grass.
The roads are good. A significant amount of investment has gone into the building of the roads in this rapidly growing economy. A relatively accurate indication of an economy’s growth is in the number of cement bags being brought by building contractors.

Along the road to Hoi An Market, new hotels are being built. New houses are taking shape and land is being cleared for concrete skyscrapers. Yet, this is an economy that is SME based.

We stop for a few minutes at a small business that produces marble and rock statues and figurines. The manager tells me the larger marble Buddahs sell for an average of USD7000 or about K22,000. The workmanship is exceptional. All the pieces are handmade and produced in a backyard workshop.
This is one of the many SMEs that exports overseas.

Tourists line the road walking or cycling. No body guards. No expensive entourage. I thought, if we managed the crime rate and provided more opportunities for young people… If we simply changed the way we think, the road from Nadzab to Lae could be turned into a massive SME hub with businesses owned by the people of Papua New Guinea.

Nearly every residential home front is either a restaurant or a shop. Every family’s life revolves around income generation, self-sufficiency and economic independence. In fact, I remarked by email, last night that Papua New Guinea’s National Goals and Directive Principles written by founding fathers who were at the time, very young, captured the direction that Vietnam took.
It’s not rocket science!

Transportation is simple.

Motorcycles take kids to school and take their parents to work, while we opt for status over convenience by choosing cars over cheaper transportation. With cheaper transportation, we can ride out the chronic bus strikes that plague cities like Port Moresby.

Of course, one can argue that this is a simplistic view of economic development. But think of the possibilities.

When the government of Vietnam drastically slashed tariffs, it gave people a wider choice of goods and services. The prices dropped and the standard of living rapidly improved.

The Vietnam government has been careful, yet decisive in its foreign economic policy.

As the neighboring Chinese economy grew, Vietnam agreed to have some of China’s manufacturing outsourced to them. The Chinese understood that the cost of production would increase as the middle class grew. That decision has had a flow on effect. Jobs were created and new SME spin-offs emerged, all revolving around the tech manufacturing.

The decision was forward thinking in that it took into account the future uptake of gadgets and luxury items by people who would be in their mid 20s and 30s by 2016.

As we go into Hoi An Market, Mr. Han, guides the imported Toytota Fortuner through the busy narrow streets. There are tailor shops everywhere. Each displaying the kind of clothing items that you find on the lines branded by Louis Vuitton and the rest of the big guns of the world fashion.

The difference? The clothes are of the same quality but unbranded and much, much cheaper. At these SMEs you can get a three piece suit, custom made in five hours for K600. They even keep your measurements in a database in case you want to order by email in future.
As Papua New Guinea’s income levels grow and the middle class expands, our costs also rise. Our costs structures are among the most expensive in the region. For instance, rental costs in Port Moresby average between K2500 per week for a modest apartment to K5,000 per week. Shop spaces cost between K6000 and K30,000. It is out of reach for ambitious Papua New Guineans looking to start a business in town and city centers.

After the APEC meeting in Vietnam, the need for cheaper internet costs, lower taxes and more support for SMEs have come to the fore. There needs to be serious efforts to slash costs drastically so that the opportunities are increased and the cost burden associated with starting and running a business are reduced for our people.
At present, costs and impediments are so restrictive that our people don’t get the opportunity to thrive in their own country.

A tale about language barriers & the lobster worth 5 million (Dong)

millionairThis blog post is three days late but it is a worthy of broadcast for travellers going to Vietnam.

First thing… language barrier. It hits you like a wall. But first let’s put all this into context.

I wasn’t in Vietnam as a tourist. So things may be different if you’re travelling as a tourist.

Security at the airport was unusually tight because of the arrival of APEC leaders and delegates. Everywhere, black clad members of the elite police unit stood, armed with the standard issue AK47s or smaller MP5s.

My baggage didn’t arrive. So I had to place a report.   I took a fair bit of time trying to explain what a Pelican case was. “No… it’s not a bird and no it doesn’t have metal corners like what you have on your catalogue.”

Thanks to Google, I found a picture and showed it to them. It helped A LOT! Google is indeed a blessing to mankind.

Then the ground staff asked for my email address and I passed it on to her. She said she would all when the bags arrived. I asked for her email address but I couldn’t write it on my English speaking keypad.

My phone’s autocorrect function just went “WT…???” and shut itself down. It couldn’t handle the pressure of dealing with the Vietnamese language. Too stressful.

Outside the terminal, the signs in English were few. The Vietnamese use the  Latin script for their language, courtesy of their French colonisers many years ago. But it’s a difficult language to understand and the words were, quite taxing on my Papua New Guinean tongue.

A Vietnamese producer I met in Bangkok a few years ago was explaining to me   just how complex the Vietnamese language is. To put it simply,   he said there was five sounds and meanings to the sound “WAH.” The differences are subtle. It’s difficult enough trying to explain by writing so I’ll stop there. I am not an expert here, even though my country has 800 of the world’s languages.

23433258_1884991461517223_815518918_oBack to the airport…

So it was raining heavily, when we arrived. Typhoon season, they said. I mean, serious raining. I come from Lae where it rains a lot. BUT it doesn’t rain nonstop for weeks. The last time it happened, Tent City was created.

We asked for a taxi. Nobody understood. The military guy we asked,  said something about a visa card. I don’t know why.

So we eventually found our way around, like Papua New Guineans always do, and got into an 8-seater taxi. We headed for the Grand Mango Hotel – a place I found online. Fast forward to 6pm, Vietnam time, at a seafood restaurant. The taxi driver said it was a OK. He didn’t tell us it was expensive.

Two team members, Ivan  and Freddy, asked for a lobster and a fish separately. We knew the Vietnamese Dong (their money), isn’t a decimal currency but we hadn’t really gotten around to understanding costs in Vietnam.

So Ivan paid 1.5 million Dong for the lobster. Freddy paid a few hundred thousand less. The larger lobster was 5 million Dong. We could have bought it. but we didn’t.   Millionaires. Tycoons with, literally, millions in their pockets.

Later that night when I was converting the value of the Dong to US dollars, it hit me. That place was EXPENSIVE! If we had bought the 5 million Dong lobster, we would have spent something in order of 200 US dollars or K600 kina!

Language barrier. We didn’t break through it like they did the sound barrier but we found a way around it and it cost us the equivalent of the price of a good phone.

Freddy dubbed Ivan, “the millionaire.”

Apart from the language barrier, I found the Vietnamese to be very kind, respectful and helpful. They are small people with big hearts. Remember, the grand parents of this generation fought the French and won. Then they fought the Americans and forced them out.

The same tenacity and drive, is being put into the fourth industrial revolution… the  digital revolution and it is reaping important results. Vietnam is now the 47th most powerful economy in the world.

They do business in their own language and they own their economy.

What is “language barrier?”

Lessons from Vietnam: Cheap internet, huge tax cuts and support to SMEs

Vietnam1Papua New Guinea is small, compared to other neighboring economies.

Many of the development challenges facing the country have not yet been resolved as the it takes on the huge responsibility of hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Port Moresby.

High on the points of discussion is the “digitization” of APEC economies. Simply put, it means access to internet technology, mobile phones and communications.

But access alone achieves very little unless the people use it to empower themselves and raise their standard of living.

In the Asia region, economies have harnessed the power of internet technology, with larger economies creating conducive environments that enable small businesses to trade with others around the globe.

In a rather simplistic outlook, the internet has changed the meaning of globalization. In the 21st century, globalization isn’t about large companies taking over smaller organizations and becoming “multinationals.” It is about small scale industries reaching a global market from the comfort of a mobile phone.

In Danang City, where the APEC meetings are being held, the power of internet technology and access to communications has drastically transformed the economy.   New industries have risen and are thriving. The demand for gadgets and associated items has increased significantly over 15 years.

Free wifi is accessible. Data costs are relatively cheap.

Customers who buy high end mobile devices also choose to buy Bluetooth headsets or personal boom boxes. Gadgets have become smaller and personal.

On another front, the government of Vietnam is currently on a path to reduce import taxes.

Online newspaper, VietnamNet reported that that “import duties are down from 5% to zero for 1,715 more tariff lines, including those for farm produce and fuel products. Together with 6,859 tariff lines removed between early 2012 and late last year, 90% of the tariff lines in ATIGA are now brought down to zero.

“Vietnam will cut 7% of tariff lines, or 669 items, including steel, paper, cloth, autos, auto components, machines, equipment, building materials and furniture in 2018.”

The government decision has triggered various results including an increase in vehicles imports. Despite fears that the tariff reduction would kills jobs, local manufacturers have increased investments and the job market has remained relatively stable.

Broadly speaking, the lives of ordinary Vietnamese are better.

While Papua New Guinea may not be able to repeat the successes of Vietnam, it is starting with plans to slash internet costs by half and to “support SMEs” at least on paper.

It is no secret that more needs to be done.

Reducing internet and mobile phone costs has to be supported with a reliable power supply.   SME owners   must have the training and finance. Bureaucratic and political obstacles have to be removed.

But most importantly, Papua New Guinean businesses have to be given the incubation space to grow and the people have to own their economy with strong support their government.

I’m Papua New Guinean, not African

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So yesterday in Singapore I wanted to buy a local SIM card.

Even after years of travel, I can never get used to  the complexities of big city existence.

Russell Saigomi, evil twin #2, was kind enough to stop at a tiny roadside shop where a gentleman of South Asian origin tried to convince me – the already converted – of the value of buying a Singtel SIM.

“1BG data. Free SIM,” he said. Then he asks for my passport.

Then he  took some time.

For some reason, his computer didn’t recognise my passport. I peered over the counter and looked at the screen. All the details appeared correct except the country where the passport was issued.

He had written GHANA without even asking!

He assumed I was African and his system was refusing my passport. So, here I am standing there. Looking at the screen. Even the Singtel system was telling him… “Dude… he’s Papua New Guinean” and he refused to believe it.

And you know how you don’t know a language but you know what they’re talking about? It’s because foreign languages have a way of dropping you hints just so you understand. I guess there was a system upgrade that was supposed to have happened after the Tower of Babel incident long ago, but the techs forgot about it. So the bugs are still there.

So the guy was talking to his wantoks and the word that kept coming up was “Africa…” Then somehow, GHANA appeared on the  computer as part of my personal details.

It took some time again.

There was me trying to explain that I am from Papua New Guinea:”I am NOT  from the great continent of Africa and definitely NOT from Ghana…”

…and  Russell telling him to type: P-A-P-U-A   N-E-W   G-U-I-N-E-A into the system.

It finally worked out. I got the SIM.

In March, I arrived at Male (pronounced MA-LEH) International Airport on the small island nation of Maldives.

It is a beautiful country. The people are nice and very conscious of the impacts of climate change and… cross border threats especially from Africa.

The Maldivians speak Divehi – a blend of languages including Arabic Hindi. It is the result of thousands of years of cross cultural exchanges. I was sent to from one Immigration desk to another while the rest of the passengers proceeded to the baggage collection area.

The rapid fire exchange of Divehi was punctuated by the word “GUINEA” and “AFRICA.”

Immigration guy again assumed I was African and sent me straight to immigration girl at the “Ebola and Yellow Fever” section. This was at the height of the Ebola crisis in Africa.

Again it took some time. Nobody asked. Everyone assumed I was African.

Then I said: “Excuse me Miss, what’s the problem?”

She was she was looking to see if “GUINEA” was on the list of countries associated with the ebola outbreak.

Me: “uuuumm… I am not from Guinea in Africa. My country is PAPUA NEW GUINEA. It is an island nation like yours and we live in the Pacific. NO EBOLA.

They let me through.

Three days later, there was a bird flu outbreak in Male. Four people died.

It wasn’t me.