A sad day for Papindo, PNG

Flames and chaos usher in Papindo’s 50th anniversary in PNG

Events from the past couple of days clearly prove that Papua New Guinea is, undoubtedly, one of the more difficult countries in which to build a sustainable, thriving business. Companies, both national and foreign, face the same set of trying daily challenges, such as power outages, transportation and shipping delays, shortages of basic goods and services, deficits in skilled labour, the usual slew of law-and-order problems, etcetera…

Some believe if you can stay in business for 3 to 5 years, that is already a considerable feat. This upcoming February 20th, 2024 marks Papindo’s 50th anniversary since its humble beginnings in 1974. Fifty years. That is older than the founding of this nation by one year. Fifty years means Papindo has been at PNG’s side from the very beginning, and seen it all—not only in the capital, but all over the country. Surely this means we have been doing something right to have lasted this long. And yet, every so often, the country breaks down and business houses like ours are tried and tested with senseless violence—such as during the Lae riots in 1997, Goroka’s anti-Asian protests in 2009, and again just a few days ago, in POM, Kokopo and the Highlands. We witnessed the very baseness of humanity, when reason is overcome by crowd mentality, immoral behavior, and a crumbling of basic respect and care for others.

Sure, the poor and troubled populous had their field day and gained some free food, clothing and…a bit of wild, thrilling fun. But so many supermarkets and other businesses suffered losses in the tens of millions, including Papindo Gerehu, just newly-built and opened before the pandemic in 2020. To serve somebody’s stolen carton of chicken or 10kg bag of rice or handheld mobile device, it cost our capital city millions of Kina in losses. Loss of goods and property. Loss of face. Lost lives. Years lost in upcoming rebuilding efforts. And none of this was caused by natural disaster; today’s tragedy was fully man-made.

PNG is not a war zone, but these deadly events force us to ask: Really? What has anyone done to deserve this extent of destruction?

Today, Papindo Gerehu looks like the corpse of a building that has been thoroughly gutted, its insides scoured and burnt to a char; no trace left of its normal hustle-and-bustle; all liveliness extinguished. The crime scene blazes across the parking lot between our two former buildings, their blackened remains echoing a scene that is reiterated throughout Port Moresby—a capital city from Hell, an inferno of burning buildings… Black despair is everywhere you turn; broken displays and glass; brand-new freezer and butchery equipment now decimated and in-operational; food waste and trash scattered everywhere you look. Beauty doesn’t exist; everything is broken. Especially our hearts.

Business has always been difficult and cost-ineffective because staying alive in PNG’s macro business landscape requires businesses like Papindo to follow one basic rule of thumb: “Do-Everything-Yourself.” Build and reinforce your own fences; hire private security; supply electricity to your store with your own gensets; dig your own well for fresh water; prepare your own water truck in case of fire; clean out the public storm drains if the city cannot cope with flooding problems; repair potholes; install street lamps in unsafe corners; supply your local hospitals and prisons with medical supplies, bedding, and food; even build your own bridges… All of these Papindo has done at some point or other in its 50-year history of operations in this nation of lack. Unfortunately, just how many businesses can afford to “do-everything-themselves”? Doubly unlucky is that we must still deal with political unrest, savage outbreaks of reason, and other unpredictable disruptions to daily operations.

While Papindo has been hit bad, others are suffering worse. Must we DIY our relief measures and rescue operations, too? Is it possible to suffer senseless blows like we have, and not get any relief from our government? It is NOT a matter of fact that businesses can stand up on their feet again. For many, this will have been the last straw and end of their livelihood.

We need help.

Papindo cares. We have shared in PNG’s joys and sorrows since 1974. We are a part of PNG’s cultural fabric and will remain so, but…please help us to celebrate our 50th birthday properly. Not like today, in a blaze of flames and fear. Haven’t we proven our loyalty and service? For fifty years, we have been right here: your reliable, trustworthy family store. But our heads do not understand what happened to us in Moresby and Goroka, and our hearts are in mourning.

Thankfully, we have received many heartfelt and concerned messages from our customers, suppliers, ex-coworkers and friends… These help us to confirm our worth. The help we received from the Police and Defense Force and security firms—especially in Lae and Goroka—is most gratefully-appreciated, too. We need help; no business can survive without the support of the wider community.

It is time to assess our damages and losses throughout the country. Unfortunately, the aftermath has long-term consequences beyond our control. Our Papindo Gerehu staff, who showed courage and resilience against rioters and wrong-doers, will sadly be out of work until our building is operational again. Without anywhere to shop, our Gerehu customers will need to travel greater distances for their daily grocery needs. Clearly, we all need help. May our good politicians please help enforce stronger laws to protect us and our fellow business providers from further harm. And may the wrong-doers also be prevented from harming themselves any further.

At the very least, none of our staff and managers were injured. For that, we are most grateful for the assistance we received in their safe evacuation during the mass looting. Papindo employs over 3,000 staff nationwide. Our employees are our backbone and strength. We hope to continue to provide a stable livelihood to them in the years to come.

Despite these recent setbacks and a necessary period of grieving, Papindo is not deterred in its mission to provide the best value to its customers. Before that mission can resume, however, the population will once again suffer through shortages of goods and services; all tiers of society will again experience the keen need to DIY their own solutions to solve everyday needs. Papindo hopes for a future of more cooperation, not this culture of each business fending for themselves. We all need each other now more than ever. Only with everyone’s help can we guard our homes and families into a safe 2024 and future.

Directors – Papindo Group of Companies

Lady Susan and Sir Soekandar Tjandra KBE