Blackout threats

PUBLIC Enterprises Minister Sir Mekere Morauta’s privatisation plans for PNG Power assets have angered unions who are threatening to cut off power and water supply in urban areas of the country this week.
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According to the left-leaning World Socialist Web Site, PNG's national executive council is considering proposals which include the sale of the Yonki hydropower station and the "partial privatisation" of power generation and distribution assets in Port Moresby and other major centres.

The Post-Courier reported that power workers would go on a nationwide walkout in protest of a government decision to create a special purpose company to "rehabilitate PNG Power hydro assets".

Union leaders told this newspaper that Morauta refused to entertain their demands on Friday. A lot of the anger is due to the uncertainty over job security and the state of worker entitlements.

Workers reportedly aim to prevent any takeover of PNG Power's assets in Rouna and Yonki by privately owned LR Group until they are paid out their outstanding benefits from ELCOM (which PNG Power acquired in 2010), and until other PNG Power internal issues are resolved.

The Post-Courier further reported that water and power supply throughout the country would be shut down at 8am this morning.

According to The National, more than 2000 PNG Power staff would start striking today and power outages could extend past the start of the election on Saturday.

A Highlands union representative told this newspaper that the sit-down protest will go on for as long as it takes to get the attention of Morauta.

About 200 workers in Lae will reportedly join their colleagues in the strike especially those in Yonki, Ramu, Rabaul and Port Moresby.

Despite the alarming press reports, the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry advised its members this morning that the majority of PNG Power staff are at work and the situation is not dire at this stage.

"There have been some short outages in the Central Business District this morning, but we are assured these are ‘normal' and not part of a major outage," the chamber said.

Governments around the world typically do not make privatisation deals while they are in caretaker mode ahead of an election.

Morauta abandoned his plans to merge state-owned Air Niugini with Port Moresby-listed Airlines PNG last year after the devastating APNG crash which killed 28 people in October. He is not contesting the looming election.

Bloomberg has described LR Group as a "closely held" Israeli company that provides infrastructure consulting services to developing countries.

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