Menckens Ghost
Lifestyles of Powerful Political Potentates  

Several days ago I wrote a commentary on the extravagance of our overlords when they stayed in palatial digs in Morocco to attend a United Nations conference on climate change.  Below is a story published yesterday in the WSJ about the world's potentates attending a conference in impoverished New Guinea, the government of which bought 40 Maseratis and three Bentleys for the attendees to use.


Mencken's Ghost

Leaders Head for a Pacific Island---

Don't Expect Them to Hang Around

Papua New Guinea, host of global forum, has lots of crime and disease, few hotels


Rachel Pannett

The Wall Street Journal, Updated Nov. 12, 2018 2:06 a.m. ET

Papua New Guinea is plagued by gangs, carjackings and kidnappings. Embassies warn their citizens not to leave hotels after dark, certainly not without armed guards. The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated its capital, Port Moresby, the fifth-worst city in the world to live in, beating out Lagos, Karachi and Damascus.

Sounds like a perfect place to host an international conference of global leaders and business titans.

Maseratis for global leaders

This Thursday, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is scheduled to kick off in the capital—not that many of the participants plan to stay there. Thousands will stay on cruise ships moored nearby because there aren't enough hotels. Vice President Mike Pence plans to lodge in Cairns, which is in northern Australia, more than an hour's flight away.

Australia, for its part, is so concerned about security that it is taking the unusual step of deploying navy, air force and army troops to the conference, hosted by a warship. The U.S. Coast Guard also will provide security.

"Just finding something to do on your days off that doesn't revolve around having a bunch of security folks with you" is a challenge, says Kenneth Clinton, a Floridian who builds camps for workers in the liquefied-natural-gas industry.

Mr. Clinton has been carjacked twice in his eight years there. On both occasions, he drove away unharmed after he rolled down his window and the masked assailants recognized him. "Hey, Ken. Sorry, go ahead," he recalls hearing.

Not to worry, authorities say.

Papua New Guinea's police commissioner urged residents to "not be alarmed" by aircraft flying overhead day and night, including Australian air force F/A-18F Super Hornet jets.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill declared on the forum's website that the nation would provide a "secure environment where leaders, ministers and delegates can advance APEC's policy agenda, and can leave Papua New Guinea knowing they have visited a culturally rich economically modernizing country."

Eager to put on a good face, the government bought 40 Maseratis and three Bentleys for use during the summit—a lavish acquisition in a place where many people lack access to safe drinking water. Thousands of people participated in a one-day strike last month to protest the purchase.

"I've always said the best way to steal the people's money is by spending it," said opposition lawmaker Bryan Kramer, who helped organize the strike. "The bigger amount spent, the bigger the amount stolen."

Papua New Guinea's minister to the forum, Justin Tkatchenko, defended the purchase, saying in a television interview the cars would be sold to the private sector after the conference.

With one of the smallest economies among the 21 nations attending the summit, Papua New Guinea took on this year's hosting rights at a time when a $19 billion Exxon Mobil Corp. -led natural-gas project looked set to transform its economy. Hosting the Pacific Rim leaders would help put Papua New Guinea on the map, Mr. O'Neill said in May.

Then gas prices turned down and the economy stalled. Papua New Guinea is still one of the world's least developed nations. Gross domestic product per capita was just $2,745 in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund.

World leaders, should they choose to tour the capital, will see a low-slung, spread of shantytowns, marketplaces and a handful of upscale buildings ringed by scrubby hills along the Coral Sea. Many residents lack electricity and running water. The more affluent live behind high fences protected by armed guards.

Papua New Guinea has one of the world's highest rates of tuberculosis. An earthquake in February left thousands homeless. In June, health authorities declared the country's first polio outbreak in 18 years.

Then there is the crime. The U.S. State Department said the crime rate is among the world's highest—and the police-to-population ratio among the lowest. The nation's hundreds of ethnic groups often prefer to deal with criminals than the police. If something unwanted occurs in a village, people often are accused of committing black magic, or of being a witch. 

It isn't the first time an international summit has landed in a gnarly place. The Group of 20 large economies met in 2012 in Los Cabos in Baja California Sur, Mexico, which until recent government intervention had a frightening murder rate.

Delegates attending the forum will travel on a six-lane road and meet in a convention center that were both financed and built by China. Papua New Guinea has increasingly turned to China to help revive its economy.

Robert Irish, an American who came to Papua New Guinea nearly two years ago to work as a technical adviser on elections, says the summit will have very little effect on people living in villages and getting by on a few dollars a day.

"It'll be a week of a lot of activity and checkpoints and convoys, and it'll all be over," he said recently in a hotel room overlooking Ela Beach, a stretch of white sand that was made over for the summit. "This is not a thriving country."

Corrections & Amplifications 
Port Moresby is the fifth-worst city in the world to live in, beating out Lagos, Karachi and Damascus. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Port Moresby's ranking as sixth-worst and misstated its comparison to those cities. (Nov. 9, 2018)