Monday, August 14, 2023

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

CULLIGHAN TANDA: Good morning to you, if you just tuned in, and also welcoming, apart from our listeners, our viewers on Facebook this morning – good morning. Again, now, it gives me great pleasure to welcome to the program for the first time, the Administrator of USAID Madam Samantha Power, who joins me in the studio – our first guest for the week. And can't picture it that we're getting any better than kicking off with obviously the USAID Administrator. Madam Power thank you so much for your time and welcome to the program.

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: I am thrilled to be here. Thank you.

MR. TANDA: Just a bit about Administrator Power in this case. In terms of – I'm actually blown away by the resume that I'm reading, I mean, really when it comes down to this, you pretty much, you've been listed as one of the Top 100, Time’s 100, most influential people, one of Foreign Policy's top 100 global thinkers, and by Forbes as one of the world's most 100 powerful women in the world. You're an author and an editor of multiple books, a recipient of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction – that is amazing. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: You left out the most important part, which is I'm on Papua New Guinea’s number one talk radio show. So let's get our priorities straight, and put things in perspective.

MR. TANDA: Thank you so much. I am very humbled this morning.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Excited to be here. 

MR. TANDA: First time in Papua New Guinea?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, first time. Really taken aback by the generosity, the welcome that we've gotten. I'm here as the representative of USAID, President Biden sent me. He's been sending a lot of high level visitors lately. In my case, he announced about a year ago that USAID was going to expand its presence in the Pacific, generally, and very specifically, in Papua New Guinea. So, I'm actually here to open a USAID office, and so I'm hoping that will be the gift that keeps on giving or the, you know, real foundation for a deeper partnership with the people of this country who, again, I'm really taken by.

MR. TANDA: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the feedback – the feedback coming through. In terms of the partnership that Papua New Guinea has with with the U.S., there's been a great involvement that I've seen recently, with the Defense Cooperation Agreement that was signed by a U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when he was here, with the Prime Minister, our Prime Minister, of course, of Papua New Guinea, James Marape. In any case, for us I think it's quite important to see greater level of engagement taking place, not just in Papua New Guinea, I think, the Pacific Region in general.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, there's no question that it looks different, even to me as a member of the Biden Administration than it did when I was in the Obama Administration. I was UN Ambassador in those days. And, you know, I worked really closely with our Pacific Island colleagues at the UN, but you didn't have this level of engagement, this number of high level trips, the resources that are now being invested, which, you know, we’ll need to continue to expand over time. 

We know that the needs are more substantial than even USAID resources are going to be able to address. But I think this is a reflection of a few things. First, the United States believing that the Pacific region is the most important region in the world. Second, I think, when it comes, for example, to climate change, we're owning much more than we have in the past – our responsibility as a major emitter, you know, which is affecting countries in the Pacific Islands, including Papua New Guinea, in a very, very profound way. So, we have a responsibility to come and see what we can do to help communities adapt whether in the agricultural sector and disaster preparedness. And we come, I hope, in a way that is noticeably humble. I've come to listen and learn before we script what we're going to be programming here over the next decade. You know, we need to get out. Papua New Guinea is such a diverse, multifaceted country. We, of course, need to move beyond the Capitol and make sure we have our connections out in even the smallest of islands. 

So it's going to take us time, I think, for our presence to be felt, for the impact to be felt across the board. But already, we have invested in electrification in a manner that, I think, has reached about 800,000 people – about 155,000 households now having access to reliable electricity. If the government is to meet its target of having 70 percent electrified by 2030, we're going to have to get busy and go much beyond that, that 800,000 people, but I think we have a foundation from which to build.

MR. TANDA: The energy primary, the energy commitment over bilateral revenue took place, for myself having covered the APEC, the 2018 APEC Summit that took place here, that was probably one of the most tangible outcomes from Papua New Guinea was getting to APEC in itself. And I think energy is such a key driver of development in any developing country, for that matter. USAID has also been in the regulatory space of the energy sector as well. For the commitment, I think, it's so important that the energy plays a huge part in, particularly in our manufacturing sector, but apart from just in general, altogether, it is such a challenging country to read, especially when it comes to infrastructure for the energy sector.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, you know the challenges far better than I do as an outsider. But, I will say that the way partnership works best with USAID is when we work with governments, with institutions to catalyze reform. We provide technical assistance because sometimes there's not the human capacity even to be able to follow through on the best intentions when it comes to reform. And then you couple the reforms with, for example, access to cheap finance, so that communities can afford, if not connecting to the grid, they can afford solar panels, which will allow them to bypass connecting to the grid altogether. And, that sometimes, when we work around the world, we will see countries that they want the solar panels but they don't want the reforms. And, I get that, you know, actually bringing a diverse country and diverse political stakeholders together around any particular reform agenda, there are winners and there are losers and so that can be hard to do. 

But I actually, yesterday, on my first day here in Papua New Guinea, got to meet with individuals who have been affected by one of the reforms that has happened. There's an amnesty effort to communicate to people who are, let's say stealing or pirating their electricity to say, “hey, come forward, normalize, regularize you won't get punished. It'll be hopefully affordable.” It's not affordable for everybody, but it's interesting talking to the head of the energy company saying it’s working. People are coming forward, slowly but surely. And then I met with a shop owner, who just said, his power supply now is so much better than it's ever been in the past, way fewer blackouts, which means way fewer perished items, because he's selling perishables. And he's saying because people around are actually regularized, they have their own meters, they have their own electricity sources, they're not just cribbing his. 

I also met with female entrepreneurs who were selling solar out in the countryside in very remote areas. And it was interesting, on the one hand, it was incredibly inspiring and impressive to see these women blazing a trail and recognizing, as you said, the good that it can do to bring reliable energy, for example, to a school, to a health clinic, just to a street to have street lights, where there might be violence in the community that makes it harder for perpetrators to carry out their crimes – so many public goods grow out of electricity. On the other hand, hearing from these entrepreneurs, it's tough to get a loan. It's tough to mobilize the capital, to put down the collateral. 

And so that's where I announced yesterday that we’re working with a company to come here and set up a solar mini grid with us as USAID coming forward and bearing some of the risks. So we'll invest $1.2 million, the company will invest $1.2 million. By us bearing the risk that company is willing to come in where otherwise it was standing on the sidelines, saying, “I'm not sure, will it be profitable?” And we have to find a way with our partner, like Australia and New Zealand, Japan and others, to do the same for those entrepreneurs. How can we create a pool of capital where they can access those resources, because you know they're hard working enough and dynamic enough to get it done, but someone needs to take a chance on them.

MR. TANDA: That has been a challenge for those entrepreneurs, in particular what we call the small to medium enterprise, or the SME sector, in Papua New Guinea. In terms of assisting them, it's really that there's an actual tangible system that comes up. Thank you very much for that commitment and for that assistance coming in.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I mean, to me it's a privilege. The greatest thing about being a USAID is your job is basically to give a tiny piece of catalytic support to change agents in their communities, and then just watch in awe as they go crush it in the world. And I know that's what these women entrepreneurs are going to do if they get that door open to them. I mean, the challenge is just doors are closed. They're closed, especially to women, but not only to women, they're close in certain parts of every country, rural areas are often getting less investment than metropolitan areas. And so what USAID tries to do is level the playing field a little bit and then allow the creativity and the dynamism to get unlocked.

MR. TANDA: Also moving on, the space of climate change itself. Papua New Guinea, of course, we are home to the first climate change refugees from the Carteret Islands, they were the first one to be affected, and before all the other Pacific Islands had initially started experiencing. In the case with a rising sea level, definitely affecting women. Every now and then, whenever there's the king tide or anything, there's always a food security issue, particularly with the Carteret Islands, particularly in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, in this case. From the support that USAID has given towards not just climate change, but biodiversity in general too as well. It's something that's very close to heart for us Papua New Guineans as just as those being affected by climate change.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Look, there's no question that climate change is walloping Papua New Guinea as it is so many communities, I mean, extreme weather events, wildfires, you also have volcano at the present to deal with, which we're trying to be supportive on. But a lot of communities now are feeling those worst projections that we've been hearing about for years and not doing enough about to prevent, and now they're here, and they're likely even to get worse. So yesterday, I announced an additional $5 million, which will do a number of things, but I think the most important component of it is about $3 million to support disaster preparedness. 

There are two aspects of, quote unquote, responding to climate change. One is mitigation and trying to curb emission, well Papua New Guinea is not a big emitter. At the same time, its forests are a major, major boon to the, just as the Amazon is, and yet people talk about the Amazon. They don't talk about Papua New Guinea’s forests – I was struck. The Prime Minister yesterday made a huge portion of our meeting was about these forests. So, we want to think about forest conservation, the preventing of illegal logging, and work on that. But the second part of climate change is what your communities are grappling with already, which is adaptation. How do you prepare yourself for the worst? I met a business executive last night from Deloitte, she's the first ever Papua New Guinean partner at Deloitte, a major multinational firm. And she said that the island where she grew up is now basically split in two. It used to be one happy island contiguous, and now you have the water, you know, has risen to such an extent, and she's been pleading with her uncles to move to the other safer higher side of the island, and they're staying put. 

And so, we have to work with our partners on the ground, work with communities to hear from them, what do they most need? Is it seawalls? Is it seeds that are drought resistant? Is it seeds that are flood resistant? Is it moving away from agriculture into a different sector, because fundamentally, the ecology can no longer sustain the livelihood that has defined a community for thousands of years. I mean, this is going to be a really, really tough time. But we again, as a major emitter have a responsibility to be there hand in hand with communities figuring out what are the helping hands that can be lent to ensure that those communities are what they want to be, which is independent and able to sustain themselves.

MR TANDA: On the Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show, it’s time for our first break for this morning, as any good commercial radio station does. As we take a breather, our special guest USAID Administrator, Madam Samantha Power, our special guest on the Talkback Show this morning. And I think we’re the only radio station that she's chosen to come on – thank goodness for that. [inaudible] if you have any questions you'd like to ask, or comment you'd like to make, you can send us a WhatsApp message on 7714 6340, or you can post a comment on our live feed this morning. On Facebook, that's Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show. Just type it into Facebook and log on to the page. And I keep saying over and over again people, please like the page, and even like the discussion. In any case, we'll be back with our special guest Administrator for USAID Samantha Power, our special guests this morning on TalkBack.

[Commercial Break]

Welcome back to Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show our special guest, USAID Administrator, Madam Samantha Power in the building, very, very busy woman. And in this case, she's decided to donate almost 30 minutes of her time with us on the Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show. 

Madam, I understand very recently that you, I think it was yesterday, you met with our Prime Minister, the Honorable James Marape. How was the meeting?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It was productive. I think also, it was important we went out to the press afterwards, because I think he deemed it important to get the country's attention to say, “Hey, this is a big deal that USAID is opening up an office here for the first time in decades.” And this is a reflection of that deepened partnership along with the Defense Cooperation Agreement, so forth. And the content of the meeting itself, I mean, we really talked a lot about the tough economic headwinds that people in Papua New Guinea are facing. And he offered thoughts on where he felt we could be helpful. 

He is very, very focused on how protecting Papua New Guinea’s natural heritage is itself a gift to Mother Earth. You know if the mangroves can be restored, if the forest can be preserved, if this incredible biodiversity, if we can we can deepen our conservation work with you and with the communities who are on the front lines. That's not just a gift to the people of Papua New Guinea. I mean, USAID’s focus is that, what benefits the people. But it has, in the case of carbon capture and so forth, incredibly important collateral effects on the planet more generally. So that was clearly an area of emphasis for him. 

We also talked a lot about education, a desire to see more scholarships made available to young people in Papua New Guinea. He's looking, as well, for more capacity in his ministries to grow the pipeline of young people who can come into government, be part of reforming institutions, making sure that they're responsive to the people of the country. 

And we're all very excited about the off grid solar possibilities. I mean, Papua New Guinea you could say that making necessity is the mother of invention, but with three quarters of the country not having access to reliable electricity, we have no choice but to look together supporting you and listening to you at how we can link people up to sources of energy without having to necessarily connect to the to the national grid, which will be unavailable to many, many communities for a very long time. And it's in the end going to be much, much cheaper to be able to get affordable solar out to very remote areas, or to places that will not in the foreseeable future connect to the grid. So I think that's an area, as well, of collaboration. 

And my job as well, and he asked for this, is to go back to the United States and say what I say everywhere, which is we are much more in favor of trade than aid, no one wants aid. You want aid maybe just for the time being, but ultimately, we want more private sector investment, more trade with Papua New Guinea. And so, I, as USAID Administrator, have the chance to describe what I saw. I met with CEOs and others who are part of this brand new American Chamber of Commerce here in Papua New Guinea last night. And they gave me ideas for what to ask for when I go back to the United States and meet with the leaders of companies there. Many people haven't looked to Papua New Guinea, and it's hard to get to, it's far away. But with more awareness of what this country has to offer, we should be able to see more private sector investment and that will mean more jobs for young people.

MR. TANDA: Jobs, definitely we do need jobs in Papua New Guinea. Now, just coming back to the establishment of the USAID office in Papua New Guinea. For our listeners who might not really understand the significance of having this office, what does that usually entail for a country? As soon as an office is established?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It is confusing, and it's confusing, in part, because we've been working here for years without an office because we've had people on the ground, and we've managed our programs here out of the Philippines. But as you know, well as your listeners know, well, the Philippines is really far away. And so what we're going to do is we're going to hire more Papa New Guineans, particularly who know their communities, who come not just from the capital, but come from across the country. We're going to, as long as we can get our Congress to support this, to expend more money annually each year on causes like electrification, disaster, resilience, education, strengthening the health system. We will try to enlist the diaspora and others – we know there's been a big brain drain here particularly of health professionals. And that's a major challenge for so many families. 

So basically, what you will see is more staff, more money, and more high level attention from Washington, which in turn, I think should mean over time, more bridge building with American stakeholders, like the CEOs I was just talking about. So it'll be stepping up our game in order of magnitude, and I hope the listeners will start to see USAID in more places. And maybe they've heard about it, but probably a lot of people in this country, despite the work over many decades, may not be familiar with it, but we really want to make our presence felt in listening to you, and trying to meet, again, particular health, climate change, energy, or education needs.

MR. TANDA: Thank you. One question, pardon me, one comment here, saying USAID will be very much utilized so that it really reaches the targeted population and providing much needed services when they, as much as possible, minimize administrative and management costs and maximizing the real tangible outputs. Job well done.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: This person knows what they're talking about. I don't know how they know so much about USAID, but we are very bureaucratic. And we have a long history of working with international partners more than we do local partners. And it's not because that's anybody's intention, it's because actually keeping up with our Congress's compliance requirements for how we spend our money is so taxing for us, and so taxing for our partners. So, many local organizations just don't have the accountants, the lawyers, the human capacity to be able to jump through those hoops, basically, in order to take USAID money. 

So we are trying to create dedicated pools of money that will be mainly for local organizations, we are trying to simplify forms. I have launched a crusade at USAID to combat what we call sludge, which is these paperwork, administrative burdens. You can think of what sludge is like in your life, and sticky, messy, you know, in the way. That is what has interfered, I think, with the ability to enlist more community based partners. So we're working on it –  it won't be an instant solution, but gradually we would like to grow the investments that we make directly in local partners.

MR. TANDA: Actually, you mentioned the Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce, and when the team from the Embassy, from the U.S. Embassy, actually mentioned that to me last week, I had no idea we had an American Chamber of Commerce.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: They just started. I think it was only in the last year. In fact, the previous U.S. Ambassador here, Erin McKee, who now works at USAID, she left beautiful Papua New Guinea. Get this, I recruited her when she was Ambassador here, because she's a superstar. But I recruited her to be our Assistant Administrator for Eastern Europe. And that looked like a really good job. And then not long after she got into the job, and got confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Putin invaded Ukraine and her entire life, your former American Ambassador here, and now her entire life is on managing the effects of Putin’s war in Ukraine. 

But Erin, I gather, when she got here she said, “well, let me host a reception for the Chamber of Commerce.” And her staff had to tell her there is no Chamber of Commerce. So she said, “all right, well, we better build one.” And so they have and, I think, what I found really useful in meeting with some of the leaders of the chamber and the companies that are part of it, it's like crowdsourcing an economic reform agenda, right? These companies that constitute the Chamber of Commerce, you just gather with them and you say, what would make your lives easier? What would make it possible for you to create more jobs? Or what would make it possible for us collectively to draw more investment to Papua New Guinea. And then they go through a list of the ten reforms that are needed. Well, that's really, really important to get that information directly from those who are trying to achieve things economically here in Papua New Guinea. And then go to the government and say, look, this is what the companies themselves are saying is needed. Is it possible for you to find unity across political lines to get some of this stuff done?

MR. TANDA: Thank you very much, on the Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show this morning none other than the Administrator for USAID, Madam Samantha Power, in the studio with us. Again, acknowledging our viewers also on Facebook, as well. I do understand that you attended a church service yesterday.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I did in Tatana Village, very moving. Gosh, the music here is something. I’ve got to confess, I bring my American bias, and I came in, I saw the men on one side and the women on the other part of the church. I thought, well, that's interesting, you know, that's not how it's done in mass I go to back in America, but then the singing started. And the way the men would come in at one point, and then the women would come in over the top and vice-versa, and the harmony, I mean, it was a really powerful experience. There's a lot of love in that church.

MR. TANDA: Amazing. You got to witness our Motuan choir. In this case – 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I also got to drive along the road that, I gather, the Marines had built in the Second World War that connected Tatana Village. 

MR. TANDA: Yes, yes, the little land bridge that they did.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Exactly, so that was very moving because my father in law actually fought in the Pacific. And so it was very resonant to imagine those Marines, you know, somehow jerry-rigging that bridge with probably not a lot of resources and with an awful lot of urgency.

MR. TANDA: That itself is amazing. I would urge you, if you would like to visit some of the military rigs or whatnot, do pop into eastern New Britain Island around the area where there's actually dive spots for sunken World War II fighter planes that are actually, it's a popular diver destination. We're a pretty diverse country, very amazing one too in fact, when it comes to our war history in this case.

For Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show we're going to take a quick break, and bring you back to wrap up our discussions this morning with none other than Madam Samantha Power. She is the USAID Administrator, and very soon we're going to be witnessing the establishment of the office of USAID in Papua New Guinea, which is pretty much something that we covered this morning. Stay tuned. 

[Commercial Break]

Welcome back to Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show, our special guest, our distinguished guest, USAID Administrator Madam Samantha Power in the studio with us. I wanted to touch on the fact that you did visit our museum as well, an art gallery. As such a very, very rich history that we have in the country, in this country. Over 800 plus languages, very diverse as such. Just your impression on taking a look around the museum and witnessing some of the art and culture there?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I mean, I could have spent a week, a month in that museum – it was spectacular. And, as you say, just the range of cultures, and tribes, and languages, and above all, experiences that people have brought to define this nation. I know it's not always easy. We have this great expression, national expression back of U.S. E pluribus unum – in many one. And I feel like that was quite resonant there. But yeah, I know I only scratched the surface though in my understanding, so a lot to read and learn as I head home.

MR. TANDA: Now, I wanted to get a message from you as well to women and girls in the country, particularly in the leadership space. Yourself, having been sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, I had to watch on YouTube, you were there with your two kids? This case of other family members as such, how important is it for women to have positive role models in their life and actually dream big?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It is so important, I certainly had them. My mother was a trailblazer in my life, and made me feel like I've had everything come to me very easily given what she went through. She moved to Ireland the U.S. with me and my younger brother, when I was nine years old, left a difficult situation and just started anew, just with her guts, basically. And I had the chance, yesterday, to meet with several female leaders here who are fighting gender-based violence, really trying to encourage their peers to stand up, and to accept that what seems normal is not normal, it's not okay. To try to bring back the anger around violence of that nature. And so I'm incredibly inspired by them. And I kept thinking last night after I left them, how many women, young women, peers, older women, even, are inspired when they hear others raise their voices in that way.

I also had a chance to meet with one of the rare female parliamentarians politicians here. We're not doing so great in the United States, but I know how difficult it is to increase representation. But every time a woman stands up or is encouraged by the males in her community to run for office, to take that risk, that makes it seem possible, not only to the girls who see that happen, but also to the boys who may now think that it's just normal to have an all male leadership team in front of them. So, changing a sense of what's normal definitely takes time, but it only happens when individuals are willing to step up and raise their voices. So I feel like I've had it easy, but as USAID Administrator, I also feel like we can use our resources to support women who are willing to show that strength, and willing to be brave, and raise their voices.

MR. TANDA: So far, we've got the two female representatives of Parliament, that’ll be Governor Rufina Peter and Kessy Sawang who’s now our new Minister for Commerce – hopefully that's the one you met, in this case. And when it comes to GBV, thank you very much for touching on that here on FM100, we – particularly in my case – we appeal to the male population, our men. Telling them to teach their daughters and their sons not to be perpetrators of GBV. And secondly, to teach their daughters not to accept any form of violence against them from their partner in this case. So I keep replicating for men here, unfortunately, we are basically the major offenders, particularly when it comes to gender based violence. Thank you very much for raising that point. I think it's really important coming from a figure such as yourself.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It's actually, it's much more important coming, I think, from you. And as somebody who has a platform like this. It’s a very uncomfortable topic, people don't like to be told what to do generally, I think, no one does. But when this topic penetrates culture, media, when it is talked about in settings where people may not have expected it. They might have thought they were just going to get to talk about rugby, or talk about this or that, but that is what can give young people the strength to do things differently and to break from what they've grown up with, what they've seen. And as these women said to me, again, to know that they are entitled to feel angry, to express that anger, and to demand accountability. It takes a lot but I really appreciate your voice – that can make a profound difference. You don't know who you're touching, who you're reaching, who you're making feel less alone out there by raising your voice.

MR. TANDA: Madam Power, I'd like to thank you – Madam Samantha Power – I'd like to thank you so much for your time on the Nasfund FM100 Talkback Show. And in Papua New Guinea, as any gracious host, it is a common courtesy for Papua New Guineans, especially when you have a new visitor, to extend an appreciation as you paying us a visit. I've had my CEO Mr. Bill Wartovo in the studio with us to make a small presentation to you, nothing to be reciprocated, It's part of our Melanesian tradition to give gifts wholeheartedly expecting nothing in return but to say thank you for gracing us with your presence this morning. And we will bid you a safe, safe travels in your visits coming up and leaving our shores of Papua New Guinea. I hope you take this momentum from us here at FM100, and remember us in the rest of your career, and when you do head back to America.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I will, and I hope to get back here and to get to see some of the progress we make in our partnership together. Thank you so much.

Administrator Power travels to Papua New Guinea and Fiji


In August, Administrator Samantha Power will travel to Papua New Guinea and Fiji to emphasize the U.S. government's commitment to the region and highlight USAID's efforts in the Pacific Islands to make an enduring, positive impact across the diverse countries where USAID works. 

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