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End Blame Game on Food Freight: Basil

Minister for National Planning Sam  Basil, has called for an end to the “blame game” without investigating matters thoroughly on the Government’s fresh produce and vegetables transport freight subsidy.

Basil said this following hyped up incidence of rotten carrots and avocado arriving in a few bags in both social media and mainstream media on the Government freight subsidy arrangement with Bismark Maritime Limited.

“What has been publicized needs to be seen within the context of the Marape-Steven Government freight subsidy which has resulted in over 200 20-foot containers of fresh produce and vegetables being shipped into Port Moresby. This has resulted in 1) abundant and affordable garden food; and 2) cash in the pockets of all – from the village farmer in the Highlands and Morobe through to the re-seller in Port Moresby – along the supply chain,”

“This is economic stimulus in practice. Our team are currently collecting data to quantify and qualify the full economic impact arising from the injection of this K3 million into freight subsidy for shipping of fresh produce and vegetables,” said Mr Basil.

“The responsibility to ensure fresh produce and vegetables reach Port Moresby requires responsible action and care. It begins with careful harvesting, packaging, transportation along the highway to, and storage, in Lae. This includes the time it takes before it reaches the port for shipment,”

Basil said the individual shipper must take personal interest and responsibility to make ensure his produce and vegetables are labelled right; that Bismark Maritime Ltd gives the due attention and care in placing their goods in appropriate containers; and he/she must ask and be aware of the capacity of the ship and scheduled departure times and delivered goods for shipment in a timely way to avoid offloading for next shipment.

“With recent publicity, the crucial burning question that remains is: where along this chain of process was/were the problem(s) that resulted in the arrival of rotting produce and vegetables?”

Basil said that the Department of National Planning and Monitoring has activated an investigation into this to address this matter. But thus far, aside from the blame game on Bismark Maritime Limited, there have been no establishment of what went.

“Let me reiterate: the transport freight subsidy arrangement with Bismark Maritime Limited was a response to a State of Emergency (SoE) Order from the State of Emergency Controller. The purpose was dual: to ensure residents of Port Moresby had sufficient fresh produce and vegetables at affordable prices amid the then State of Emergency restrictions; and to ensure village farmers and those along the supply chain in the Highlands, Morobe and parts of Madang as buyers, land transport providers, and re-sellers in Port Moresby have money in their pockets,” he said.

“The context: Covid-19 restrictions had affected cash income generation for many rural farmers and SMEs involved in the supply chain; and shortage of fresh produce and vegetables, which if not addressed expeditiously, would accelerate already high food prices to unbearable levels with impacts on health and food security.

“There seems to be a lack of appreciation for the purpose of a State of Emergency. When a State of Emergency is declared, all normal processes of governance that involves consultation with all stakeholders, lengthy national procurement processes where all private sector service providers can bid, and general compliance with Public Finance Management Act can be set aside.”

Mr Basil said that DNPM, following the written directive from the SoE Controller, had sought and received legal clearance from the Office of the State Solicitor, before engaging Bismark Maritime Ltd.

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