Street chaos in Port Moresby amid pay glitch for public servants

January 11, 2024 9:40 am

[Source: ABC News]

Papua New Guinea’s national cabinet has called in defence personnel to restore order in the face of major rioting and unrest in the country’s capital.

Shops and businesses in Port Moresby were set alight on Wednesday, while hundreds took to the street and were looting.

What began as a peaceful demonstration at Parliament House by police, defence and other public servants regarding a payroll issue soon escalated into a dramatic security situation.

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St John Ambulance said it had responded to a “significant emergency situation” relating to shootings and a number of fire incidents in the city.

National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop said people had been killed in the violence, according to the Reuters news agency.

The warehouse for one of PNG’s largest retailers is in flames after being ransacked, with hundreds flooding the streets outside.

Photos circulating on WhatsApp also show that ATMs in the city have been destroyed.

In a statement, PNG Prime Minister James Marape said the country’s national cabinet had authorised defence personnel “to assist police [to] restore order in the city”.

The payroll error docked about $100 from the pay packets of public servants across the country.

Papua New Guinea’s taxation body blamed a payroll “glitch” for the error.

Following a press conference by Mr Marape, where he apologised and blamed Department of Finance staff for the error, hundreds gathered outside the government building demanding he speak to them.

The deduction of up to 300 Kina ($120) in fortnightly pay is worth about half the pay packet of junior public service staff.

It’s expected to be returned in the next pay cycle.

Many at Parliament House said they believed a new tax had been enacted, a claim strenuously denied by PNG’s Internal Revenue Commission (IRC).

Many protesting used the opportunity to express other grievances related to pay.

Politically, it comes at a terrible time for the prime minister, with a grace period preventing a vote of no confidence in his leadership expiring next month.

If a vote of no confidence is triggered, a new prime minister could be elected on the floor of parliament.