Papua New Guinea: Hurdles ahead in South Pacific Games run-up

Papua New Guinean officials insist that progress in plans to host the 2015 South Pacific Games, which the leadership hopes will showcase the country’s development, are on track. However, security arrangements and the scale of work still to be done constitute formidable challenges.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the athlete’s village on April 25, the minister for sports and the 2015 Pacific Games, Justin Tkatchenko, said progress in building the facilities was meeting targets.

A month earlier, a delegation from the Pacific Games Council (PGC) had said it was satisfied with the state of preparations, while warning that too much time had been wasted since PNG was awarded the games. Last May, the council had publicly expressed a number of concerns over delays which had marred planning and organisation.

“Because of the considerable loss of time after 2009, critically important work remains to be done to meet the deadlines for the construction of the games facilities,” council president Vidhya Lakhan was reported as saying.

Lakhan urged all stakeholders to cooperate with the council to make preparations as efficient as possible, while urging the government to release the respective funds allocated toward preparations for the games and to put into effect a 150% tax concession to all potential commercial partners, reported the Post Courier.

Set to kick off in July 2015, the games will feature some 4000 athletes from 22 nations in 28 sports. Event venues include three major stadia, as well as 40 function areas. This will be the first time PNG has hosted the games since 1991; it presented the winning bid in 2009.

The estimated budget for the games is PGK760m ($342m), of which PGK700m ($315m) has been allocated for essential infrastructure projects, including the redevelopment of Sir John Guise Stadium. A PGK106m ($47.7m) revamp of that facility will see its capacity raised to 15,000 from the current 900.

In February, Tkatchenko also announced tenders for projects including the Taurama Aquatic and Indoor Complex and the Games Village at University of Papua New Guinea campus, each of which are expected to cost around PGK200m ($90m) to build.

Although major sponsorship tie-ups already include a deal with Bank South Pacific, PNG’s largest bank, and on May 9 PMMI Insurance announced a PGK500,000 ($224,851) sponsorship deal, there are concerns that security problems could have a negative effect on investor confidence.

Last September Inter-Press Service reported that more than 60% of major crimes involve guns, while in the Southern Highlands, where an estimated 90% of firearms are illegally owned, 23% of households have been victimised by guns.

To tackle the issue, the government has pledged to create a PNG2015 Security Branch, which will form the security arm of the XV Pacific Games Taskforce, coordinating security affairs, traffic management and maintenance of public order. In contrast to Lakhan’s comments, PGC executive director Andrew Minogue said planning on security, transport, sports delivery and community engagement were well on track, according to PGC assessments.

While the games will likely give the economy a short-term boost, organisers say that work will be needed to ensure there are longer-term benefits, particularly in key sectors such as tourism. The event must be utilised as a chance to train locals in the key areas of hospitality and services, Pacific Games 2015 chief executive Peter Stewart told OBG, adding that “offshore companies will exchange knowledge and develop domestic capacity.”

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has also emphasised the job creation potential of tourism. Speaking in December 2012 at a ceremony marking the addition of two new aircraft to the fleet of Air Niugini, he said, “As a government, we are embarking on tourism as a priority development of our country... It is a sleeping giant as many say, and I believe strongly that it is an industry that will provide many employment opportunities for our citizens in the coming years.”

Improving air connections is one way in which the government is working to support growth in the sector. A major upgrade and expansion is planned for Jackson International Airport, and Nadzab Airport near Lae is set to offer flights outside PNG.

“There is a real potential to develop alternative streams of tourism in PNG if transport systems improve and flight tickets become competitive with other regional destinations like Bali, Malaysia or Fiji,” Stewart told OBG.

PNG could also differentiate itself from these nearby offerings by focusing on niche products, such as adventure holidays for the affluent. In an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio last November, Tourism Promotion Authority CEO Peter Vincent said, “The market we’re looking for is different from what the other destinations in the Pacific are looking for. They’re looking for mass tourism numbers... We’re interested in a market that would come in and spend more than 15 to 21 days in Papua New Guinea.”

PNG may find it a challenge to consolidate its goals of boosting the number of adventure travel tourists with ambitions related to the 2015 Games. Better lines of communication could help improve inter-ministry coordination; encouraging joint meetings, briefings and consultations will likely be key to ensuring the games’ legacy.

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