PNG’s Paga Hill residents detail life since casino land takeover

By William Brown Updated
PNG’s Paga Hill residents detail life since casino land takeover

The former residents of a settlement in Papua New Guinea who claim they were evicted a decade ago to make way for a resort, casino and aquarium say they are living without access to sanitation, electricity and water and some have faced homelessness, violence and community tension as a result of the move.

The Guardian reports that in 2012, the Paga Hill Development Company, a PNG-registered company with significant ties to Australia, announced its plan to create the Paga Hill Estate.

In 2012, police and bulldozers began moving into the settlement in Port Moresby, to clear the area, with roughly 3000 residents relocated to other settlements.

A new report by Aid Watch and Jubilee Australia that contains interviews with 190 former Paga Hill residents has found that just six per cent of people have access to sanitation where they live today, while 11 per cent say they have access to electricity and only 37 per cent have consistent and free access to water.

“These are the ultimate necessities we need to live and survive everyday that have been taken from them,” Aid Watch campaign coordinator Natalie Lowrey said.

Paga Hill Development Company told residents they would be relocated to Six Mile settlement, east of Port Moresby, where each household would be given a land title, with access to electricity and water.

But nearly a decade later, many people at Six Mile are living in tents that are now breaking after years of use, there is only one water tap that works sporadically and electricity and sanitation are inadequate, according to the report.

PNG’s first casino raises concerns

The agreement to build a US$43 million venue was signed on May 28 by Paga Hill Development Corporation and the National Gaming Control Board, but drew immediate criticism from Transparency International.

“The NGCB are the referees responsible for applying the rules of the game; they should not be running around as a player on the field,” Transparency International PNG board chair Peter Aitsi said.

“The global experience with casinos suggests an increased likelihood of money laundering and undue political influence where the regulator is weak or is compromised,” he added.

George Hallit, Paga Hill’s chief operating officer, defended the plans, saying the casino would create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly.

He also argued that the casino, which will include a hotel, shopping malls and cinemas, would attract tourists, arguing that only one-third of visits to PNG were currently tourism related.

“China’s growing middle class is forecast to account for a quarter of all international tourism by 2030.

“Eighty per cent of Chinese first-time international tourists visit a casino, and 90 per cent of Chinese visitors to the US visit Las Vegas,” he said.

But Paul Barker, executive director of the independent thinktank the Institute of National Affairs, said that PNG did not have the welfare or legal infrastructure to deal with the problems that often accompany gambling.

Poker machines make big impact on PNG way of life

The introduction of poker machines in PNG had already had a “considerable” social impact with many becoming “hooked and squandering their limited incomes in the hope of many a win, but instead leaving themselves in increasing debt and often failing to feed their families, breaking their families, causing people to lose their jobs and livelihood,” he said.

“Casinos take it to a higher level. Our big neighbour, Australia, has some of the toughest rules and capacity to manage their gambling industry and they also have strong education and social welfare systems, nevertheless, Australia has among the worst levels of gambling addiction in the world, with associated damaging social, family and economic consequences.

“PNG certainly doesn’t have the laws, penalties, governance, education or welfare capacity that Australia has, anda it has serious law and order problems already.

He also noted that casinos are often used for money laundering and argued that given widespread allegations of poor governance and corruption in PNG, there was “no way that the country can afford to take on this extra burden of permitting casino activities.”

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