Will Simon Sia be PNG’s First Asian MP?
I recently wrote an article about how anti-Asian feeling could threaten the stability of PNG elections after an ugly incident happened in Rabaul last month between a Chinese-migrant shop supervisor and senior statesman Sir Ronald ToVue of East New Britain.
There is no doubt that there exists within PNG serious strands of anti-Asian feeling – and for understandable reasons, as the above incident demonstrates.
#PNG ppl are Not happy with#CHINESE influx so Vote for Candidate who can send them to Beijing.Who needs them in PNG?—
Howard Sindana (@HowardSindana) May 31, 2012
But to state that all Asian migrants are bad for PNG is incorrect and it ignores the considerable investment and contribution of those old and new Asian-migrants who have indeed played a constructive role in the development of PNG.
One such new Asian-migrant is Simon Sia, a Malaysian-Chinese migrant who has been in the country since the 1990’s, and is currently standing as the PNG Party candidate for the Eastern Highlands Regional seat.
Sia arrived in Goroka from Malaysia to try out his entrepreneurial skills and has since established his now famous and successful retail-centric Bintangor Trading business empire.
Part of the reason why Simon Sia is so popular in the Eastern Highlands is because of Bintangor’s sponsorship, since 2004, of the Goroka Lahanis – the provincial rugby league team which took part in the semi-professional national competition, the B-Mobile Cup, and now the Digicel Cup.
After winning his first championship as sponsor of the Bintangor Goroka Lahanis in 2010, Simon Sia stated:
“I’m now a celebrity. I didn’t not know that I would end up being elevated to the status of a celebrity, you know, I read and was aware of what rugby league does to a person. I thought that was for the players, I’m only [the] sponsor, the background, out of the limelight kind of person, but the Lahanis victory has really moved me. Its really touching”.
But Sia isn’t without controversy either.
In April 2009, the millionaire businessman was arrested and charged by the Organized Crime Squad for the alleged murder of a 16yr old girl in 2001 – after it was alleged she was beaten and locked in a freezer for stealing a sausage in Bintangor Supermarket in Goroka.
Later that year, Sia almost pulled Bingtangor’s sponsorship of the Goroka Lahanis after incumbent EHP Governor, Australian-born and also self-made millionaire Malcolm Smith-Kela (who Sia is now running against), publicly suggested the removal of Asians from PNG following a spate of anti-Asian riots in 2009, including in EHP.
Sia responded angrily to the suggestion and retorted:
“Not all Asians are bad people, some of us have been here, got married with kids and have followed normal business procedures to do business in the country and you as a Governor responsible for the people and affairs of EHP cannot go public and make comments like that.
If Governor Smith can come out publicly in the media, then why should the people of Goroka ask me to sponsor their rugby league team or any other social groups within the province?
The Governor has the power and not us [Asians]. We cannot do anything and coming out to the public like this is a slap in the face for some of us who had contributed so much for the development of Goroka and PNG.
The Governor has to do something for Lahanis now because he has the power and as governor he can look back to his people and help.
I might waste my time helping the people of Goroka and Eastern Highlands when somebody from above like Smith makes comments like that”.
A number of eyebrows were also raised when Simon Sia was granted PNG citizenship last month on May 18 – the same day as registrations closed – which allowed him to stand for elections for the first time.
Simon Sia is a very popular figure in the Eastern Highlands Province, but will be up against three very prominent individuals gunning for the regional seat.
This includes two-term and current governor, Malcolm Smith-Kela, Henganofi local and prominent businessman Noreo Beangke, and former governor, Peti Lafanama.
If Sia does indeed manage to win the regional seat – PNG will have its first Asian-born Member of Parliament.