Oct 19, 2018 Last Updated 6:03 AM, Oct 9, 2018

The Australian government has been warned a A$38 million medical aid project in Papua New Guinea could be used to foist deadly counterfeit drugs onto some of PNG’s poorest villagers. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) bureaucrats in Canberra are refusing to say if Australia will continue to bankroll the distribution network despite warnings from the PNG medical community of corruption allegations surrounding the project.

Borneo Pacific Pharmaceuticals has won the A$28 million contract to supply medical kits to the PNG government with Australian aid, then send the drugs to aid posts and medical centres around the country. Internal DFAT documents identify Borneo Pacific as PNG’s largest provider of drugs from manufacturer North China Pharmaceutical Group, a known offender in China’s fake drugs crisis. PNG’s medical society alleges that Borneo Pacific “is renowned for giving presents to people in the government procurement system”, and has branded the process ‘corrupt’ and warns that counterfeit medicines supplied under the deal could kill.

The revelations come despite promises to clean up the PNG Health Department’s drug supply division, described in 2011 by its own minister as “riddled with corruption”. The internal DFAT documents show officials knew Borneo Pacific did not hold the required quality standards accreditation to compete in the tender and were worried when the requirement was simply removed by PNG’s Secretary of Health after the tender’s deadline. The same document shows that the non-profit IDA group, which does hold the required accreditations, offered to supply its high-quality kits for A$8 million less than Borneo Pacific’s bid.

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TThe Nauru District Court has fined a European Union fishing vessel licensed to fish in Kiribati, US$1 million for illegally fishing in Nauru waters. Albacora Uno, from Spain, was detected by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) surveillance systems in Honiara in the Solomon Islands in 2012 and the matter was relayed to the Nauruan Government through the FFA legal team with recommendations on the matter. While the FFA was ready to report the ship to the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to be blacklisted for IUU activities, it was up to the sovereign nation to decide which legal avenue it wished to take regarding the issue.

Nauru chose to deal with it in their own courts, thus the ship escaped blacklisting by the WCPFC, which would have banned the ship from fishing in the region plus hefty fines. The purse seiner’s master, Jose Arrua Ispizua, and its fishing master, Sergio Iturraspe Iraculi, appeared in court charged with six counts of illegal fishing. They both pleaded guilty in the Nauru court. The court was told that the crew believed they were fishing in Kiribati waters (EEZ) and not Nauru.

Passing judgment on the two defendants on September 30, Nauru Resident Magistrate Peter Law noted that the defendants admitted their responsibility to ensuring the accuracy of the equipment used to establish the location of the vessel. However, he said tuna and other fish are valuable commodities which fishing companies exploit for profit through export to countries outside the Pacific region.

“In assessing the criminality of the defendants, the court notes that fishing is a scarce resource, which provides for the livelihood of a significant portion of the population of Nauru. “The government of Nauru issues fishing licences to foreign vessels and receives significant fees from the licences. “These fees are relied upon to contribute to the government’s budget and to enable the government to meet expenditure targets. “The court notes the maximum fines which could be imposed for the six offences totalling US$1,600,000.”

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Asmall commuter plane crash in the tiny island of Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands on Oct. 6, 2013 claimed three lives and injured four others, the worst commercial aviation incident in this U.S. territory since at least the early ‘90s. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have since been investigating the plane crash. This happened only 11 months since another small plane crash involving the same airline—Star Marianas—killed one and injured six on Nov. 19, 2012. The ill-fated Star Marianas Piper Cherokee Six aircraft crashed in a remote jungle, some four nautical miles off the West Tinian Airport on Oct. 6. It left the Tinian airport at 2:41am for Saipan, and was supposed to arrive on Saipan 10 to 15 minutes later.

CNMI authorities were alerted at almost 4am of an overdue Star Marianas aircraft. U.S. Coast Guard personnel from the neighboring U.S. territory of Guam also joined the search for the missing aircraft at the time, including a sweep of the ocean between Tinian and Saipan. Authorities also searched the jungles of Tinian. At 10:32am, or more than seven hours since the plane was due to arrive on Saipan, a U.S. Navy helicopter spotted the crash site. Tinian emergency responders had to hike to the crash site to help rescue the four survivors.

Some two hours later, the four survivors were airlifted from Tinian and brought to the hospital on Saipan where they were treated for injuries, some of them included arm surgeries. The bodies of the three took longer to extract. For two consecutive days prior to the Oct. 6, 2013 plane crash, Star Marianas also had two mishaps—one involved its smaller plane emergency landing on a street past the Tinian airport and the second one, a plane falling into a ditch after missing a turn while taxiing also at the Tinian airport. Shaun Christian, executive vice president of Star Marianas, said his company is very sorry about the tragic loss.

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I f today’s problem is shortage of electricity in the greater islands region of the Pacific with only 30% of the population having access, then tomorrow’s thorny issue will be affordability. But there is hope that the two issues can be ironed out with new incentives to seek alternative and cheaper sources of electricity through such abundant sources such as solar, hydro and wind. Islands leaders in the two most populous states—Papua New Guinea and Fiji—should be as wary of the critical issue as the bureaucrats in smaller countries.

Electricity consumption has been steadily growing at a rate of 3.7% in the broader islands region over recent years but the demand for primary energy will double from 3.6 tons in 2011 to 8.8 tons in 2035. “Reliance on imported fuels for power generation hinders development in the Pacific where electricity prices are among the highest in the world and on average, around 30% of households have electricity,” noted Robert Guild, director of the transport, energy and natural resources division in Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Pacific department in his latest Energy Outlook report.

Government leaders were not serious about investing in alternative means of power—especially hydro which is readily available in such larger states as PNG, Fiji and the Solomon Islands. Households are being forced to pay high usage bills in the impoverished states which rely on imported fossil fuels because of the ever-fluctuating international prices.

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PNG power shortage

The Papua New Guinea Government is embarking on a major electricity project, to ease the continuous power problem affecting the National Capital District and surrounding areas. The Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC) and PNG Power Limited (PPL), signed a contract for the project, worth over K25 million (US$9.6 million), with an Israeli company, LRGroup. This company will upgrade all major power transmission networks in the city. IPBC Managing Director Wasantha Kumarasiri, PPL Chief Executive Officer John Tangit and representatives of LR-Group signed the contract agreement in Port Moresby. The Port Moresby Power Transmission upgrade project came about as a result of a thorough consultation and survey carried out by the IPBC into the power issues affecting the city. Once upgraded it’s believed all power distributions will be done automatically, replacing the current manual distribution system. Kumarasiri, says the city is growing and it needs improved power supply. IPBC will meet all the cost. Meanwhile, the project will commence soon and it’s expected to be completed within a two-year period.

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Guide to the 49th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting – Nauru 2018

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