COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN

The Kapris gaol break is still featuring heavily in the newspapers. Yesterday, it was announced that the police had 72 hours to find the two remaining escapees. After that, the government will offer a bounty for their capture. So we could see a bunch of bounty hunters running around Port Moresby in a couple of days. It will be just like on the bridge of Darth Vader’s star destroyer.

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The police force has remained at about 5,000 members since independence in 1974. Of course, since then the population growth has been substantial. The increase in the last twelve years alone has been 1.1 million people (to 6.3 million) – with zero additional police hired. I can’t be sure, but I’d say at least a couple of the 1.1 million are criminals. So it might be a good idea to hire some more cops.

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In addition, the police force is anticipating a large loss of numbers over the next five years as a significant proportion of the members reach the compulsory retirement age of 60. Given the amount of time taken to train and break in new officers, it is entirely possible that the police force in PNG will decrease in size over the next few years. This does not bode well for the crime statistics.

This week, the Minister for Police, Nixon Duban, said “If we do not address law and order situation first we might as well forget about the delivery of other government services”. I concur with the Honourable Minister.

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In today’s post, I thought I’d provide a breakdown of what’s happening in the telecommunications industry in PNG, from a layman’s perspective. This industry faces its share of challenges, like every other in this country. The official government-owned telecommunications company, PNG Telikom, is widely regarded as overpriced and inept. They advertise heavily of their high-speed internet, but as there is only one connection to the rest of the world, their internet speed is, at best, the same as every other provider’s. However, as I understand it, Telikom is particularly slow and unreliable.

I went in to their office one day to enquire about their services and I was not overly impressed. The office was huge but had nothing in it except a few desks in one corner. I couldn’t just walk in – a guard was there unlocking the door and letting customers in. There was only one staff member on duty and she was sitting at a desk making a personal call on her mobile telephone. I waited in the queue for about five minutes, learning more about her private life than I really wanted to know, before I finally gave up and walked out. I guess I wasn’t the only one to have this experience because the office closed a couple of weeks later.

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By contrast, Digicel, PNG’s largest cell ‘phone carrier, provides an excellent customer experience in store. One just walks right into the store for a start, without having to ask permission from a guard. The place is full of red-shirted employees who are enthusiastic and competent. Like an Apple Store except that at Digicel they play top 40 music at a slightly annoying volume, right throughout the store. The service is fast and efficient and the whole office has a hip, modern feel to it.

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Digicel is a large company, with operations in 31 countries around the world, and a total of 13 million subscribers. Their biggest markets are in the Caribbean and Oceania regions.

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I find Digicel’s advertising campaigns quite interesting. The girl on the right in this picture is the unofficial face of Digicel PNG. Her face appears on almost every piece of Digicel advertising around town. There are streets with banners of her hanging from every lightpost.

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I find the use of the mixed demographics intriguing. In a country where virtually everyone has darker skin than the two actors in the centre, Digicel decided that this was how they would make their products look cool and fun. It says a lot about marketing in general, but also about this country. I suppose this is not surprising as it seems to be part of a global trend for the people of the world to want to look more like Hollywood stars. In India, sales of ‘whitening’ skin products have soared in recent years – even though some of them are toxic and the Government has issued warnings about the dangers of their  use.

Here in PNG, I see a lot of older women walking around with the traditional “fuzzy-wuzzy” hairstyle. However, I have noticed that the younger women almost always do something to straighten their hair. They use gels and other products to matt it down, or they use straighteners, or even just bobby pins to pull it straight.

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Digicel’s business model is typical of those used in developing countries – no accounts, pre-paid credit only using either EFTPOS machines or little cards with a scratch-off panel and a secret code. Simple but effective. It gets around all of those messy issues of contracts and bad debts. However, it is no fun when one runs out of credit on the weekend and nowhere is open that can sell it.

The internet connection is horribly oversubscribed – to the point where one can’t guarantee any usable connection at all in the evenings. In the mornings, it is quite good, so that’s when I do all of my e-mailing and such. The connection is still slow by any modern standard and incredibly expensive at 10 cents per megabyte.

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Remember Nokia and Alcatel? Well, they still exist and in PNG their cheap handsets are quite popular.

It will be interesting to see how things change around here once Vodaphone arrives. They recently bought Digicel’s biggest competitor BeMobile.

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A common problem in PNG is that people have great ideas about introducing modern technology but they lack the resources to set up appropriate maintenance regimes. As a result, everywhere one goes, one finds lovely, high-tech inventions that broke long ago and just sit around taking up space. A good example of this is the escalators at the shopping mall in Downtown Port Moresby. I have never seen these escalators working in the five months since I arrived. They didn’t work when I was here three years ago. They are now, essentially just very expensive stairs. Frankly, they’re not even great as stairs because they’re a little bit slippery.IMG_8807

As promised, here is a picture of my costume from the party last weekend, with the superheroes. I went as an Australian Soldier – complete with a toy Steyr AUG like the Australian army uses.

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I’ve been spending a lot of time down in the file room, organising a bunch of dusty old files. I’m working on modernising the filing system, which is proving to be quite a challenge. I am working a lot with a nice chap named Frankie. He never goes to Hollywood. I asked.

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On Sundays, I often have a grilled chicken breast from the barbecue at one of the local clubs. This week, I noticed that they were selling t-bones that looked like they came from a brontosaurus. I didn’t buy one for fear that if I tried to load it into my car it would have to go on the roof and might make the car fall over.

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This was the view over the city when I went out on to the balcony one morning this week.

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2 responses to “COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN

  1. Who would of thought “jail” can also be spelled “gaol”…can’t wait to use that in scrabble!

    • Yes, gaol is the British spelling, although I note that even the British newspapers are becoming more Americanised and using ‘jail’ sometimes now too. If you’re playing Scrabble using an app with an American dictionary, it might not accept it, but it’s worth a try!

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