Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Of Bank Fees and Heart Surgeries

“Haven’t had the chance to complete reading a book you’ve been meaning to? Take it with you the next time you go to a Bank South Pacific branch.”

This was an assessment by a member of Papua New Guinea’s eminent Facebook page, Sharp Talk when relating to her fellow members the amount of time one is likely to spend standing in line at banks.

As jocular as it may seem on the surface, this shared remark is indicative of the growing frustration many bank users are experiencing with the country’s commercial banks.

Happy BSP Rural Banking customers
The amount of time spent standing in line to be served, as well as the perception that banks are charging “unnecessary” fees and charges exacerbate the frustration for an already agitated bank client population.

Public discussion on the issue of “banking experience” and of fees charged by banks is not unique to Papua New Guinea.

An American NBC News report recently cited a study in the US which found that “checking account fees have hit unprecedented highs…with free checking account, one with no strings attached,” becoming increasingly rare in the American banking sector.

The report added that the average “monthly maintenance fee” for American banks had increased by an unprecedented 25 percent from 2011. It also found that amongst other fee increases, the cost of withdrawing cash from an “out-of-network” Automated Teller Machine (ATM) increased by 4 percent to US$2.50 (K5) in the same period.

This has caused increased apprehension among bank customers in the US regarding the relevance of bank products and their related fees.

In neighboring Argentina, public opinion against bank fees have led to the country’s central bank issuing directives which “will limit the ability of banks to raise prices and fees this year…a nod to consumers struggling to keep up with rampant inflation.”

According to a report published earlier this month by media giant, Fox Business, the Argentinean central bank has directed that the country’s commercial banks can only implement marginal increases at less than 10 percent on ATM and other fees despite requests for increases of as much as 25 percent.

The decision by the country’s central bank was predicated on Argentina’s macroeconomic considerations such as inflation, and to foster government initiatives to bring people from outside its formal economy (the underground economy) into the banking sector.

This segment of Argentina’s population can be likened to a majority of Papua New Guinea’s informal sector, the so-called “unbanked” portion of our population.

Less than a week after the report on Argentina’s development in bank fees, The Copenhagen Post reported increased public criticism over news that the largest bank in Denmark, the Danske Bank had restructured its bank fees, resulting in some of its customers being required to pay as much as 480 kroner (K183) a year to “have an account with Danske Bank.”

The restructure sees the bank replacing “various banking fees with a flat quarterly fee,” primarily targeted at customers with the least amount of banking traffic.

Danske Bank sees this as a measure to increase “customer satisfaction and profitability going forward.”

Danske customers see otherwise, bombarding the bank with complaints and criticism, to threats of moving banks. The bank’s Facebook page was inundated with posts from dissatisfied customers.

The Copenhagen Courier reports one poster as saying, that the move implies that “the less money you have in the bank, the more you have to pay? So the rich don’t pay anything? Not smart.”

Papua New Guinean critics of fees and charges by commercial banks have not been sparing in their criticism either. Newspaper editorial columns and online pages have been saturated with discussions on the issue, and questions have been raised as to whether the fees being charged are justified.

A queue of customers at a BSP branch
Of the three major commercial banks in PNG, the Bank South Pacific has copped the heaviest criticism from customers. So much so that on various social media sites, a number of discussion threads were running concurrently in as late as last week, with a majority of postings critical of the bank’s imposition of transactional and maintenance fees.

In an endeavor to understand the widely held perception that BSP was “robbing” its customers through bank fees, and to gauge the bank’s views of the criticisms, a series of questions was sent to the bank’s public relations department recently.

BSP CEO Ian Clyne stepped in with a request for an exclusive interview to allow the BSP management to clarify the issue of bank fees from the bank’s perspective.

Mr Clyne’s assertion is that any discussion on bank fees will not be complete without first considering the “bigger picture.”

The bigger picture here, being the bank’s overall expansion and redevelopment program which has been ongoing since 2009. An exercise which sees the complete “re-engineering” of BSPs operational and human resource capacities.

Or as Mr Clyne puts it, of having the bank undergo a “triple bypass heart surgery.”

Mr Clyne reiterated that the re-engineering and modernization of the bank’s systems includes training and education for bank staff to improve their capacity to deliver desired outcomes and to ensure customer satisfaction and retention.

With a staffing capacity of just under four thousand, 98 percent of whom are national employees, the bank’s management insists that investments in systems and people can only strengthen its position as the leading bank in the country.

Included in the bank’s redevelopment initiatives was the segmentation of services and products to cater for its differing client base. BSP First and BSP Priority will continue to cater for the corporate, high-end banking customers who account for 78 percent of the bank’s profits.

The Mass Market segment or the branches and rural agencies will continue to provide banking services for the majority of the banks customers in both urban and rural areas.

While the bank is focused on delivering greater financial inclusion for the “unbanked” sector, Mr Clyne remarked that opening rural and provincial branches should be based on cost theory of economies of scale and internationally accepted resource allocation models.

This is due to bank analysis that 26 branches operate unsustainably and continue to be supported by head office. As a nationally owned bank, the BSP is also mindful of its corporate responsibility to society in terms of providing support to communities and organisations in areas outside of the banking sector. Importantly, in driving the financial inclusivity program through rural and online or mobile banking.

The cost of this “triple bypass heart surgery” for the bank has been in excess of K500 million and the management expects to continue its redevelopment program which will see an increase in the number of EFTPOS facilities to 15,000 and ATMs to just under 300 nationwide by the end of 2013.

An aggressive rural, mobile and internet banking expansion program, a fledgling WantokMoni concept, continued remodeling and upgrading to branches and service centers will continue to ensure the bank expands a large financial outlay.

BSPs community service program through School Kricket
But all these must continue if BSP (and indeed any commercial bank in Papua New Guinea) is to achieve its aim of providing a modern and efficient banking service to its customers.

Rural and mobile banking in particular should prove to be beneficial for the estimated 85 percent who comprise our rural population in a year declared by the national government as the year for implementation.

Mobile and Internet banking options can alleviate the long waits in line at banks as BSP estimates that as much as 40 percent of customers who present themselves at branches can easily opt to access their accounts using these two options available at any given time.

Accepted, bank charges and transactional fees can be a disincentive to banking, however, they are necessary for banks to continue rolling out products aimed at providing an efficient banking service and for unbanked customers to have access to financial inclusion programs.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Juffa warns Oro people of potential disaster

NORTHERN Province has yet again been devastated by torrential rain and flooding. 

The Province has never really recovered from the 2007 Cyclone Guba, with all of its major bridges not reconstructed, except for Double Cross which is a makeshift bridge. 
Oro Governor, Gary Juffa

Commuters have been using wet crossings since 2007 and now disaster has struck again effectively cutting off 
Kokoda and Oro Bay. 

Oro Governor Gary Juffa has asked his people to be prepared for the worst, as rains continue and flooding throughout the province has cut off communities from basic services. 

This includes the township of Popondetta, which has been cut off from the main airport of Girua and seaport of Oro Bay, due to heavy flooding of the Girua River. 

In his address to the people on Radio Northern on Sunday Morning, Governor Juffa asked the people to make an effort to move inland to higher ground, not cross heavily flooded rivers, mind their children and boil drinking water. 

He assured the people that the Provincial Government was doing all it could to assess damages and would be asking the National Government for immediate assistance with food, drinking water, temporary shelter and medical aid, should the situation worsen. 

Already the floods have washed away food gardens and houses in Tufi and Wanigela and parts of the North Coast. 

Governor Juffa said while the weather at this time of the year expected heavy rainfall, the flooding was increasingly more intense every year with landslips and mudslides also becoming common. 
Governor Juffa stated that since Cyclone Guba in 2007, Oro had never been rehabilitated properly and was in grave danger from suffering more damage to its already deteriorated infrastructure.

Governor Juffa confirmed that this year the four main bridges in Oro that had been washed away, would be rebuilt and the provincial disaster plan and facilities would be overhauled to ensure better preparation for such disasters. 

Villages along the Mamba, Gira and Eia Rivers have also been affected and their food gardens remain inundated. 

In Tufi, there’s also been widespread flooding from Airara to Wuyaku, and in Tumari village, 14 houses have been washed away. Food gardens have been destroyed as well.

“I am in the process of making a submission to the National Executive council to declare Oro a Disaster Province and seek financial assistance from the Government. Provincial Disaster & Emergency Officers have been dispatched and the full extent of the damage should be known sometime over the weekend,” Mr Juffa said. 

“In the meantime, I call on the people, especially those living near rivers to move to higher grounds and to assist each other at this time of disaster.”

He said the immediate need would be for clean water, food and medical supplies especially for mothers and children. 

Governor Juffa commended the two Open Members, Delilah Gore and David Arore for their initial commitments of K10,000 each to assist the Provincial Disaster teams. 

“I am committing K20,000 from my discretionary funds to also assist the teams,” Mr Juffa added.

As soon as the full extent of the damage is known, my Office will coordinate fundraising for those who wish to assist the people of Oro.

K50 million for Hagen’s Kapal Haus


THE Western Highlands Provincial Government has allocated K50 million towards the construction of a new provincial headquarters to replace the gutted Kapal Haus. 

Governor Paias Wingti announced the allocation during the passing of the provincial budget at the Airport Motel in Mt Hagen on Friday. 

This is news to the people of Western Highlands who have been waiting since late 2009 after arsonists set fire to the province’s government headquarters under suspicious circumstances. Police work on the matter has not gone any further following the arrest of one suspect who was later released on bail. 

The allocation towards work on the new headquarters was made possible after Mr Wingti met with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and asked for his assistance. 

The former government under Governor Tom Olga spent close to K13 million on consultancy work and demolishing of the remains of Kapal Haus while a contract with a Chinese firm to build a new headquarters costing K100m lapsed after the provincial government failed to meet a K28 million funding deadline. 

The former three time Prime Minister described the Olga Administration’s plans for the new headquarters as having gone out of its means by lying to the people for a K100m building which the province was not financially capable of meeting. 

Mr Wingti said: “This is a big project for a small province like Western Highlands. You either get guarantee from the National Government or have a lot of resources with income and security to backup the K100m project.

"It was only a gimmick. That talk about K100m is very shallow. There’s no basis. Banks don’t lend money without security. They wasted K13m of public money on drawings alone.”

The construction of a new headquarters, when Mr Olga was the governor, came under his ‘Hagen Kona Kai’ city redevelopment program.

Today's Post Courier Headlines

In the Post Courier today:

The Lae-Bulolo-Wau Highway is a national disaster waiting to be declared. It is in a shocking state and the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will see that first hand when he does an aerial inspection of the damaged highway this morning.

Also a Gorethy Kenneth report on findings that Telikom PNG is over-charging customers for a handset mobile phone that is deemed cheap and is causing a lot of problems for customer.

Online edition also available at:


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Today's Post Courier Headlines

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill is expected to put all Cabinet Ministers on notice in order to implement and deliver the 2013 budget.

His message to his Ministers is “shape up or ship out!”

National Planning Minister Charles Abel revealed this at a press conference in Port Moresby yesterday.

Also covered: Minister James Marape’s order for an investigation into the “cheating” saga. All in today’s paper.

The online edition now available: http://www.postcourier.com.pg/20130110/thhome.htm

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Port Moresby Nature Park Offers New Attractions

With the 2012 festive season now a distant memory, many residents and visitors to the Port Moresby are seeking avenues to keep holidaying children occupied before the school year commences.

The Port Moresby Nature Park, located in what was formerly called the National Botanical Gardens is increasingly becoming the preferred destination for parents and children to while away the remainder of their holidays.

Park General Manager, Ms Melissa McGeorge said in a press statement that the Nature Park has experienced a huge surge in visitors in recent months.

Ms McGeorge believes that the spike in visitor numbers can be attributed to the Park’s various attractions.

“There has been a real increase in visitors to the park over the last three months which we attribute to our regular introduction of new attractions and continued improvements and upgrades.”

Ms McGeorge also attributes the growth to people understanding that the Park offers new and different experiences from its predecessor, the old Botanical Gardens that unfortunately did not always have a good reputation.

As the countries only combined botanical and zoological Parks & Gardens the site aims to promote both PNG’s diverse and unique plants and animals.

Many visitors have commented that they were pleasantly surprised with all the changes and how green and well maintained the gardens are.

Visitor Mrs Catherine Bona of Tokarara recently bought her family out to the Park and when asked what her family thought of the day she said, “A lot of changes have taken place at the Park compared to our last visit in 2011 when it was the Botanical Gardens.”

“It has been good for me to show my children the animals and plants of my village.  I think other families not able to take their kids back to the village can visit the Park to show their kids some sense of what plants and animals are found back home,” she said.

The Port Moresby Nature Park is open to the public and entry fees range from a low K1.30 for children under 12 years of age to K5 for adults. The Park is a non-profitable Trust Entity and is an initiative of Governor Powes Parkop and NCDC.   

Rainbow “Market” Vendors Continue to Pose Risk

Market vendors in Port Moresby’s Gerehu suburb continue to endanger themselves, motorists and pedestrians by marketing their wares at the old Rainbow “market” venue.

Vendors outside the fenced off area
The Rainbow market had for years proven to be popular with residents of Gerehu and buyers from throughout the city, as well as attracting sellers from other suburbs, and fishmongers and vegetable growers from neighboring Central Province.

The market had provided a good variety of garden produce, fish and game, including a bustling betel nut market on its periphery, however, a private party claiming ownership of the land upon which the market was previously situated fenced off the area late last year, forcing vendors to seek an alternate venue.

Vendors near service station
Market vendors and buyers had been advised by the National Capital District Commission (NCDC) to utilize the designated Gerehu Market, however, vendors continue to trade on a narrow strip of land adjacent to the Goro Kaeaga Road leading into Gerehu.

Meanwhile, Deputy City Manager, Mr Honk Kiap has advised residents of Gerehu and Port Moresby that renovation works at the Gerehu Market which commenced last year had been completed.

The major renovation works had included a complete leveling and reconstruction of the main market area, improvements to its perimeter fence and onsite utilities such as the ablution block and market stands.

Fishmongers and vegetable produce sellers
at the Rainbow suburb
Mr Kiap said that vendors had had been advised to move in to the renovated Gerehu Market, however many continue to illegally occupying the strip on land at Rainbow, placing themselves and others at unnecessary risk. 

Namah Responds to PM on Manus Island Center

Opposition Leader Belden Namah has refused to accept statements from the National Government claiming that PNG laws were not circumvented when the Manus Island Asylum Seekers Processing Center was established.

Mr Namah was also incensed at the Government’s labeling of moves by the Opposition to seek a Supreme Court Interpretation on the Center as a “joke”, labeling the decision to house asylum seekers in PNG on behalf of Australia as having the “hallmarks of a personal decision for personal gain, which has turned into a national problem with little more than a rubber-stamp from the NEC.”

In a press statement released today, Mr Namah responded by saying that the Prime Minister’s decision to “take on Australia’s responsibility to receive and process foreign asylum seekers coming to its shores flies in the face of our national constitution and the integrity of our laws.”

Mr Namah said that although the Prime Minister had assured the country of the Center’s legality under the national Constitution, he had failed to specify the relevant provisions and laws that formed the basis for the decision.

The Opposition is concerned that the detention of persons in the Manus Island facility is a contravention of Section 42 on the National Constitution which guarantees the “Liberty of the Person.”

Mr Namah also refused to accept the National Government’s argument that the country was “bound by international conventions and charters with respect to the Asylum Seekers Detention Scheme.”

“Any international charters or conventions must first be ratified under PNG law through the drafting or amendment of existing legislation – especially those that, as in this case, bear constitutional and legal ramifications,” Mr Namah said.

The Opposition leader further stated that “if the Prime Minister wants PNG to be a regional leader, a goal common to us all, then it is his duty to conduct government business in a manner befitting the chief executive officer of his country. If he fails in this duty, we as the leaders of the alternative government will ensure that he faces the full legal consequences.”

Mr Namah reiterated the importance of preserving “the integrity of our laws and processes and the dignity of our nation. Protecting and enforcing our sovereign rights in a court of law is not a mockery; it is due process and part of our fundamental responsibility as political leaders.”

Mr Namah called on the Prime Minister to act in the best interests of the country.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Vendors Decry Proposed Ban on Betelnut Sales

Petero Sirvese is one of thousands of Port Moresby city residents who thrive on Papua New Guinea’s infamous “drug” of choice and occasional aphrodisiac, the humble betel nut.  

And he is likely to become one of the thousands who will be “out of work” should the city’s municipal authority succeed in its endeavor to ban sale of the nut within city limits.

Sirvese’s day revolves around the unassuming nut, waking up at when the day is still in its infant stages and going for a brisk 10 minute walk down to Gerehu’s version of the World Trade Center.

At this bustling 24 hour trading post, Sirvese packs into a scrum of heaving and pushing players working their way towards bags of betel nut, jealously guarded by their owners. 

Hands are thrust forward, calls of figures ranging from a low of K50 to as much as K300 can be heard echoing in the cold morning air.

“As soon as I secure a 10kg bag of buai, I head straight back home to have the nuts thoroughly washed and cleaned, “Sirvese relates.

The cleaned nuts are then neatly aligned on an old (and previously much loved) study desk which had been converted into a buai vending table. This is strategically placed near Sirvese’s residential gate, and the day’s retail trade is about to begin in earnest.

Breakfast and lunch meals for Sirvese are taken no more than 20 meters from his trading post. Dinner will be indoors if the day’s sales prove to be brisk enough to see him end his selling at 3pm or thereabouts.

Sirvese’s routine, whilst seemingly tedious to some, is repeated by thousands of other buai peddlers throughout the city daily.

The betel nut trade in is perhaps the most prevalent commercial activity in Port Moresby, occurring in just about every pocket of the city imaginable. At all hours of the day. So much so that buai traders would not feel out of place in New York, a city that never sleeps.

Retail sales of buai is not the strict domain of the “otherwise unoccupied”, employment wise. Many single income families use this trade to supplement their incomes for everyday necessities to major expenses such as school fees and hauskrai contributions.

A comprehensive ban on the sale of the nut within city limits is sure to place many families who depend on the sale of the nut in difficult circumstances. 

This proposal has also sparked serious debate in various circles, including the country’s vibrant online community where one commentator stated that the banning is “unrealistic in a society where buai chewers outnumber non buai chewers.

“A ban will see the birth of sophisticated smuggling rackets, similar to drug smuggling. Buai is ‘green gold’ and people will go to extremes in its trade. Stringent regulation is better.”

Other social commentators called for City Hall to seek a solution which caters for both parties, those being of Sirvese and his ilk who rely on betel nut to thrive, and those of Governor Parkop’s similar mindset wanting to see a clean and hygienic capital city.

"I don't know what else i can do to survive in the city if the ban on buai is enforced," lamented Sirvese as news of the impending ban gradually registered with him.