PNG’S high commissioner to the UK grew up on Manus Island and now mixes in diplomatic circles in London.
Q: It’s a long way from Manus Island to being PNG’s high commissioner to the UK. How did you get there?
A: I was fortunate to be given a scholarship to study in Australia, where I did my secondary schooling and university. I have been a public servant all my life – starting with my first job in Tonga – and my position now is really that of a public servant.
Q: PNG’s relationships with other countries have grown over the past 10 or 15 years, possibly because PNG has more to offer economically. Do you agree that people are starting to notice PNG more?
A: Yes, I think so. The LNG Project increased the footprint of Papua New Guinea internationally and is opening up doors to many other (business) opportunities. We are engaging more with the world, not only in business, but also in multi lateral policy arenas.
Q: Is your role to facilitate relationships between PNG and the United Kingdom?
15 Realm Countries for which the Queen is head of state. My role was to co-ordinate the countries (through their London high commissioners), the palace and the portraitist. Her Majesty agreed to sit for the portrait, and we presented it to her at a small ceremony at St James’s Palace. ( The only Realm countries not to be part of the project were Australia and Canada.)
Q: What other things do you have to do in your role?
A: I need to make sure the British Government and London-based multilaterals are aware of the opportunities PNG offers and also the kinds of challenges that we face. Most of the time I speak not only for PNG, but also for the Pacific Island countries as a whole. My role also includes facilitating bilateral relations with Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, South Africa and Zimbabwe. I represent PNG to these countries.
A: They (the UK) are becoming a big nation of coffee drinkers because the young population now prefers to be identified with coffee rather than with tea. It’s a coffee generation. So that’s the market that we have to target. Our coffee (and chocolate from our single-origin cocoa) is already in the supermarkets but we have huge competition from African and American producers. As a tourist destination PNG has no competitor in our region. Our product – our cultural diversity, natural beauty of the land and sea, biodiversity both on land and in the sea – is unique. You travel from one area to another only 30 minutes away and you are in a different language and cultural area. Where else in the Pacific do you get that? ■