GE has opened its first office in Papua New Guinea. We sat down with Peter Loko, the newly appointed country lead, to talk about the opportunities and working life in PNG.
GEreports: Peter Loko, as the Country Leader for GE in PNG, how does it feel to start this new role?
Peter Loko: It’s exciting, it’s a new chapter in my life so I’m looking forward to the challenge.
GEreports: You have had many years experience working in PNG. Tell us a little bit about your professional background?
Peter Loko: In 1983 the first job I took up was with Telikom. Then I joined a mobile company for a short while, a couple of months, and then I went and joined the City Council Municipal Service, then back to Telikom. At one stage I started my own venture. Basically I’ve got 29 years in the telecoms industry and about 18 months in the Municipal Services. I also do a lot of other things, such as board roles, which are all voluntary.
GEreports: Describe the business culture in PNG and how it’s different to other countries?
Peter Loko: PNG is really unique. We used to have 867 languages, so when it comes to business or when it comes to anything you just have to be mindful that what is normal for you may not be normal for somebody else. So I’m a student of my own culture, my parents don’t speak the same language, my wife’s parents also don’t speak the same language, so we have to communicate in English or another language.
GEreports: GE has been in PNG for a long time, right?
it’s a sure sign that GE is deepening its ties to the country.
Peter Loko: GE has been in PNG since 1952 and managed through Australia. Now we have a presence in PNG, so I think it’s a sure sign that GE is deepening its ties to the country. It’s also a sign that GE is going to make a difference in Papua New Guinea, and that’s the thing that really touched me because GE is such a big, visible and bright brand coming into PNG and a lot of Papua New Guineans have taken it positively. They said, “Oh GE’s coming in, something must be happening!” So it’s been taken really positively. Right now PNG is going through a lot of change. There’s a lot of demand on power, electricity, water and things like that. In the power sector we’ve had challenges providing reliable and continuous power supply, and one of the things GE has done – in fact, just last weekend Papua New Guinea received two turbines from GE.
GEreports: Two turbines?
Peter Loko: Yeah – and that’s exactly what we need in Port Moresby and Lae, the two big cities in PNG that need reliable and continuous power. Right now that’s the priority. And there’s also a need for access to clean water – we have a lot of rivers, but the access to clean water is the challenge so GE can come in and provide solutions for water. Aviation is another. The country is so rugged and air travel is really important to go from one place to the other.
GEreports: And also dangerous!
Peter Loko: The risks, yes exactly. And I think one of the key ones is health services, we really need good health services. And in one of my voluntary jobs I’m actually a Rotarian. The thing that got me into Rotary was providing those kind of services to our people, and you know, Rotary is a voluntary organisation so we all enjoy what we’re doing.
GEreports: There’s a large LNG project underway. What does it represent for the country?
Peter Loko: LNG has changed the country. The revenue, the tax that’s going to be earned from LNG is huge. It also means there’s going to be a lot of employment opportunities for Papua New Guineans. The country will grow. And with the positives comes, you know, some of the challenges.Those issues need to be solved, but I think the positives far outweigh the risks.
The revenue, the tax that’s going to be earned from LNG is huge. It also means there’s going to be a lot of employment opportunities for Papua New Guineans.
GEreports: Is it true that the LNG project could boost PNG’s GDP by 50 percent?
Peter Loko: Yes. Earlier this year, the first shipment went to Tokyo, Japan. So the demand is there, in fact much of the gas has been exported so that’s a good sign that customers out there are asking for our gas.
GEreports: How many people work for GE in PNG now?
Peter Loko: For the moment, myself! We actually open the office later this month with a visit from GE Vice Chairman, Mr John Rice. We’re looking at starting with five people, and probably quickly going to 20, and then we’ll see; but I can say that we’ll probably need a bigger office! In fact one of the positives that will come out of GE coming to PNG is the opportunity it gives to Papua New Guineans to be employed. I think that’s a positive, it gives Papua New Guineans opportunity to work for a really great, visible brand. I’m excited about this!
GEreports: Large companies in PNG have historically had a very important role in the community as it relates to supporting social services such healthcare and education. How much of a focus is that for you?
Peter Loko: In my spare time I’m already involved in an organisation like Rotary, so it’s part of my DNA, and GE also supports and encourages volunteerism and you know, that excites me. It’s one way of trying to build a relationship with the land owners and with the locals. In the area of health and education it’s complementing what the government is doing.
GEreports: From experience, how do you think companies can best partner with the government to deliver better healthcare, better water, better education?
Peter Loko: Its about working closely with the communities, the government to identify challenges where we can make a difference, and saying, “Look, we can come in and help in those areas.” In that way we build a good relationship with the locals, and landowners; That’s one way of addressing it.
GEreports: How do you manage the areas around governance and risk, and making sure that everything’s above board?
Peter Loko: You know, that’s a very good question! One way I will see that GE can help is to continue to spread the word that GE is a company of integrity. You have to demonstrate your commitment to integrity and make sure you hold the highest standards. It will be a long road because of the way business is done in PNG, but as long as we are consistent and commitmed to our standards of integrity, and we just keep driving it in, eventually people will get the message.
GEreports: The political situation in PNG can be complicated at times. How you think you can get the best outcomes?
Peter Loko: I think for business to thrive, given the situation, we just have to rise above the politics. Politics will come and it will go, but for me ultimately we should have a goal and that goal shouldn’t change regardless of what’s happened in a political level or other levels, because once we start getting involved, it blurs the goal and the vision.
GEreports: How do you think PNG will have changed in five years’ time?
Peter Loko: Okay, the way I see it, a lot of Papua New Guineans will have access to the outside world. Access by way of social media, by way of the internet, they’ll be better educated, so they’ll be better informed. I can also see that our leaders, you know, because of social media, because of access to information, our leaders will becomemore accountable.
Papua New Guineans will have access to the outside world. Access by way of social media, by way of the internet, they’ll be better educated, so they’ll be better informed.
GEreports: So you believe telecommunications and the internet will have a powerful impact on this country?
Peter Loko: Oh definitely! Although, sometimes when we’ll to visit some communication facility in a very remote place that never had communications, I sometimes seriously ask myself, am I doing the right thing?
GEreports: Why do you say that?
Peter Loko: Because these people, they’re probably living a really peaceful life, they don’t know any other life, we’re going to go in there and change it. And I know it might sound like I’m being negative, but you know, sometimes you wonder would they be better off just staying as they are?
GEreports: Village life?
Peter Loko: Yeah, you know, some remote islands – I’ve been to a lot of places which are so remote, really nice peaceful places. But you know, in the end I’m happy that we’re bringing something to them, we want to actually improve their lives. There are other things that may come and some negatives, but overall the positives will far outweigh the negatives.
GEreports: Do you see yourself as a pioneer in that regard? You’re witnessing and being part of very significant social change in the work that you’re doing.
Peter Loko: I don’t see myself as a pioneer but I see a goal. For me I see a vision, and my goal is to make sure that Papua New Guineans benefit. I want to make a difference, and it must be significant. Papua New Guineans should be able to have access to the same services as people in other countries, like power and healthcare and even things like buying goods without cash.
GEreports: What advice would you have for Australian business leaders and companies that might think about doing business in PNG either now or in the future, what advice would you have?
Peter Loko: I think when they go in, they should keep an open mind and tell the Papua New Guineans, “I’m a student of your culture.” If they can be open to the culture they’ll go a long way. But if they come in and say, “Oh no I’m Australian, I’m American, this is the way we do things.” You know, they’ll hit some roadblocks. But if they’re going to be open, they’ll go a long way. There’s some understanding with the people and people will say, “Oh okay, these people are here, they’re interested in us.” So I always tell myself wherever I go I have to be a student of that culture, then you know, I can fit in or I can rise above some of the challenges that are in the way.