The governor of Papua New Guinea’s capital has defended his promotion of healthy living programmes and city clean-ups.
Powes Parkop has faced a barrage of criticism over initiatives he has implemented in Port Moresby such as the Yoga Walk for Life programme and restrictions on betelnut.
But Mr Parkop says such initiatives, which generally fall under the Active City programme, are encouraging people to adopt a more healthy lifestyle.
As Moresby prepares to host the APEC leader summit in November, he spoke to Johnny Blades who asked if all the changes in the capital were actually benefiting grassroots communities.
Any change that is small or big should be welcome and we should look at it positively. But I think overall in terms of what is happening in Port Moresby, I think it’s absolutely good for Port Moresby, but also for Papua New Guinea. It gives us hope for the future because I think for a long time in PNG we came to a dead end, that people thought that this was the end of it. nothing was going right. So… undertaking those changes in Port Moresby is good for our psychology in that we start to have self-belief again, that we can achieve more, we can do more, that there is another standard we can reach That’s been my goal as governor of our capital city, that I want at least one part of Papua New Guinea to set the standard, to become an example, to inspire our people. And the right place to have that inspiration and set that standard is of course our capital city.
JOHNNY BLADES: Now you’ve tried some things which are maybe quite radical, such as the ban on public consumption and sale of betelnut. Has it been a success?
PP: Yeah I think if you look at Port Moresby before and now, you have to agree with me that it’s been a success. Although in terms of dealing with the problem (the health hazard of chewing betelnut) we have not been successful in that respect. But these are issues to do with behaviour, attitude and culture of a people. It doesn’t happen overnight. We take people on a journey. And if you see other countries that had this practice before, mainly Asian countries – Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, go up to China, even India – it did not happen overnight. So I had no illusion that it would be an overnight success. I know it would take a long time. And the city’s much better now. We’re still chewing betelnut. People are still selling it – some in unauthorised places – but compared to where we were before, it’s much much better now, and we’re getting better. So a lot of our people, their attitudes have changed, they can see the benefit of what we’ve done, and gradually they will come along and everybody will pull up, because there’s no other option. But I have to keep pushing the boundary, I have to try new things. I can’t keep on using the old tools. We’ve been doing the same things over again and not getting the result we want. So we have to try new things.
JB: One of the new things that you’ve tried of of course is the Sunday fitness and yoga sessions. But you’ve had some criticism about that. How do you feel about that?
PP: Like with natural things, everything new challenges people’s comfort zone. But I have to do my work as a leader to lead our people to push the boundary a bit to get our people to see things in a different way. But it’s getting better all the time. Our people have faced a lot of health problems. In terms of our longevity, people are not living very long lives. So these are challenges that are important for our country, our people: to live better lives, longer lives, healthier lives. We’ve been spending a lot on health, but mainly corrective healthcare. That type of spending may be helping our health in that respect, but not improving longevity, physical fitness, wellness and health. So going in this direction, it might taken a bit of time to get our people accustomed to it but I’ve been doing it since 2014 and it’s getting bigger all the time. There are more people coming to walk with me, thousands of people walking eight kilometres with me every Sunday. The yoga class for example, we now have about six hundred young men and women turning up three times a week. It’s in the communities. In the city we also have classes in acrobat and kick-boxing and other non-combatative sports. The thing is Johnny, this is the strength of our people: physical activity, walking, jumping, swimming, climbing trees. This is our people’s strength. And I need to use the strength of our people to secure a better future. I’ll give you an example: if I were to train average Papua New Guineans to become like Chinese to run shops tomorrow, absolutely we’re lining them up for failure. But if we get them to do sports or physical activity, you can be assured that they’ll become champions instantly. So that’s why this programme is critical, because it’s moving our people. when you move change takes place. It’s also combining their mind and body together. Because for a long time we did awareness: awareness on so many things, you know, financial literacy, environment, on health and wellness. The problem with that type of approach is it’s only addressing the mind. But the body’s left behind. You can get the mind to understand. But if the body’s not in synch with mind, you have a problem. That’s been our biggest problem in Papua New Guinea.
JB: I can see what you’re talking about with trying to help change mindsets. Things all begin with ourselves, don’t they. But you’ve got such a diverse country, which is a strength of Papua New Guinea, but also there are times when people from different parts of the country clash, like we saw at the weekend here in Moresby. Will that ever change in Moresby, where there won’t be some of these tensions, disputes?
PP: It’ll not be easy to change this type of behaviour and practice because it’s something that is in the psyche of our people. They are used to the predominant way in some sectors of our communities that problems or issues are solved. So resorting to violence has been a tendency in the past, so I’m not going to pretend to say it’ll change overnight. But I think the way to get on addressing this is just grow the economy, create more opportunity. Grow the middle class, people start to change their values, and then they start to have more self-respect for themselves, they have greater goals, and then they change their behaviour. So for me I think that’s what we are doing in the city. In terms of those types of challenges, like ethnic conflict, and so on. In the past, we used to have it regularly in Port Moresby, but now I think what happened in the city last week, and at the weekend, for me I see it more as the exception rather than the norm now.
From Dateline Pacific, 3:04 pm on 20 August 2018