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Papua New Guineans Protest…

…World Bank's Ill-Conceived Expansion of Pacific Tuna Fish Harvest

Peaceful protestors make clear PMIZ ecologically unsustainable, corruption is epidemic and democracy threatened in Papua New Guinea

(MADANG, PAPUA NEW GUINEA) -- Over 500 people gathered at the Madang Provincial Government Headquarters on Thursday, October 15th, to protest Papua New Guinea governments' support for the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ). The PMIZ, at Vidar along the North Coast Road, is expected to be one of the biggest tuna developments in the Asia-Pacific region. Local peoples rallied to express strong opposition to PMIZ and presented a petition to the Government calling on them to halt the project. Online, thousands of global protesters from around the world supported local peoples' demands.

Men, women and children sat in front of the Madang provincial government building with placards that read 'No more PMIZ', 'We want our land back - think about our future', while others proclaimed 'We do not want PMIZ - it will destroy our sea'. The crowd was peaceful but frustrated. They also informed the government that a formal complaint has begun with the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC), and that legal actions are imminent against all parties involved.

The planned US$300 million (K990m) PMIZ project will greatly increase industrial harvest of Madang, PNG and the Pacific Islands' rich tuna resources. Canneries and dock and storage facilities are to be constructed to service foreign fishing vessels that would dump their tuna catch. It will bring tens of thousands of unskilled Asians into Papua New Guinea when local unemployment is high. And it most certainly will lead to fishery depletion and collapse. Unless PMIZ is resisted, overfishing and piracy will destroy PNG and much of the world's remaining tuna fisheries.PMIZ would build 10 tuna factories and processing facilities like the current Filipino RD Tuna cannery. The existing plant has previously been shut down for birds defecating into tuna cans fined for poor waste disposal, and employee relations are poor. Benefits have been limited to assembly line jobs for women who make K80 a fortnight (~ $USD26). Villagers have been affected by the "sex for tuna trade" where local women trade sex for fish by-catches.

The PMIZ project is being strongly driven from Port Moresby, the ruling National Alliance and their Chinese partners. The PNG national government, which is rushing the project through despite local opposition, tried to revoke permission for this democratic assembly and expression of concerns. The march had been approved by the provincial police authorities, but a government minister complained to Police Headquarters, who overturned the decision and banned the march. Still, people bravely marched.

This led Opposition leader Sir Mekere Morauta to ask "In whose interests is the country being governed? A foreign power? Foreign business interests? Illegal immigrants? Certainly not for Papua New Guineans. Section 46 of our Constitution expressly provides for freedom of expression; Section 47 provides for the right to freedom of assembly and association; Section 57 provides for enforcement of these guaranteed rights and freedoms. This is yet another example of the trend of this Government of turning PNG into a Mugabe-type regime." Local people are increasingly expressing a sense of distance from the government, and are becoming angry. It is widely thought that PMIZ is for the overseas companies, the Chinese, the corrupt politicians and those few locals they have bought off. Said one young person, "the government doesn't give a ****. They just want the money for themselves. They are not thinking of us or our future or what damage this project will do to the people of Madang. Hell they don't even think we have a brain . What do they think we're going to do - just listen to their **** and accept it? They better not make that mistake."

Plans are to follow the same foreign investment driven development model, to quickly industrially over-develop the tuna resource, which has exhausted fisheries globally wherever practiced. It is not clear how PMIZ can benefit local peoples, as they will be left with no options but to work for the cannery under whatever conditions it chooses. Following the legally questionable ground breaking ceremony in June of 2009, the Madang Lagoon communities have begun holding meetings to explore collective organized actions to permanently block PMIZ.

Local communities are concerned about environment, pollution and land issues. More ecologically sustainable management -- such as a locally owned and controlled mid-size purse-seine fish industry -- could provide fish and income in perpetuity for the people of Madang. A deeply corrupt political system is selling out the land rights, resources and future ecological sustainability of its peoples for a small group to enjoy short-term profit and bribery. This industrial export model enjoys tax holidays, enriches primarily the Chinese-owned trade stores with the small amounts of wage money entering the economy, pollutes local seas, disturbs coastal fisheries and threatens Madang's tourism industry.

NB Over 75% of the world's ocean fisheries -- some 19 out of 24 -- are being, or have already been, overexploited. Billions of people depend upon wild caught fish protein, and Pacific and PNG fisheries are some of the last healthy wild fish stocks on the planet. Many Asian and European industries and consumers are in need of Pacific fish now, as their own fisheries are collapsing. The EU is RD Tuna's biggest market, with Germany and Ireland the primary export markets.

4th July 2014