Calls for Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister to be sacked – and even have his citizenship stripped – over “racist” and “derogatory” comments are intensifying ahead of U.S President Joe Biden’s historic visit to the country.
In an interview with the ABC on Wednesday, Justin Tkatchenko called people criticising his daughter, over a TikTok video she posted, “primitive animals” and “useless individuals”.
The video, made during a PNG taxpayer-funded trip to the coronation of King Charles III, was tagged #aussiesinengland and flaunted cocktails and lavish meals at first class airport lounges.
It triggered widespread anger in PNG where almost 40 percent of people live below the basic needs poverty line, according to the World Bank.
“[My daughter is] absolutely traumatised by these primitive animals. And I call them primitive animals because they are,” Tkatchenko said in the interview.
He said his daughter was selected to attend the coronation in the place of his wife, who couldn’t make the event.
PNG opposition leader Joseph Lelang said Tkatchenko’s response to the criticism was insulting to Papua New Guineans.
“It is racist … it is a very derogatory remark,” Lelang said.
“I joined the chorus of Papua New Guineans to call for the prime minister to sack Justin Tkatchenko and have him referred to the Ombudsman Commission for misconduct in office.”
Tkatchenko was born in Australia and became a Papua New Guinean citizen in 2006 before entering politics in 2012.
He was re-elected to the open seat of Moresby-South in 2022 and given the Foreign Ministry portfolio under Prime Minister James Marape.
The ABC has contacted Tkatchenko and Marape for further comment.
Pressure for the foreign minister to step down comes as PNG prepares to host Biden for an historic visit on 22 May.
It will be the first time in recent history a sitting .US president has visited a Pacific Island nation, excluding U.S territories.
Tkatchenko has in recent times been closely involved in negotiating major defence and security agreements between PNG and the United States.
The U.S has also vowed to double its development assistance to PNG to US$32 million, which includes US$25 million to address climate change.
Lelang said Tkatchenko was not fit to represent the country during the U.S visit.
“I’m very, very concerned about how can PNG’s strategic interests be best served by this person who has who has demonstrated that he’s got very little interest in Papua New Guineans,” Lelang said.
“I don’t think he has better judgement to lead the country in any ministry or portfolio at all, let alone the foreign affairs ministry where we now have the president of the United States coming over.”
Government MP Belden Namah, the chairman of PNG’s Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, said if Tkatchenko would not resign as a member of parliament and renounce his citizenship, he should be sacked and have his citizenship revoked.
“As to the TikTok video, it just reveals the kind of shallow mentality and disregard for Papua New Guineans that the minister must have inculcated in his family,” he said in a statement. “It is unfortunate.
“The name of the video says it all: #aussiesinengland. Send them to Australia if that is who they are.”
Deborah Telek, a fisheries liaison officer from Port Moresby, is one of several citizens who have filed complaints to the PNG Ombudsman Commission over the delegation sent to King Charles III’s coronation.
“I wanted the Ombudsman Commission to review the spending, the total spending, on the coronation of King Charles … and look at the guest list,” Telek said.
PNG local media have reported that about $6 million kina (US$856,000) was spent on the overseas trip and celebrations in PNG.
The ABC was told it cost $4.3 million kina (AUD$1.8 million) to send a delegation of 31 people to the coronation.
Telek backed calls for Tkatchenko to resign, but said she did not believe his comments were deliberately racist.
“I thought that he was probably reacting defensively as a father … it’s the type of language that we use all the time, you know, between ourselves, amongst ourselves when we want to put each other down,” she said.
“But he could have paused, he could have thought about his position before he made those comments.
“He did not, and we do not need a foreign affairs minister who represents us in that fashion very publicly.”
The calls have been echoed on PNG social media.
A WhatsApp group calling for the foreign minister’s resignation has more than 700 members.
SOURCE: ABC PACIFIC/PACNEWS