Papua New Guinea PM denies 'chasing" investors away

Port Moresby (AFP) –


Papua New Guinea's new Prime Minister toned down fiery rhetoric against foreign resource companies during a first address to the nation Wednesday, saying he was not trying to chase investors away.

"Our government is investor friendly our government is business friendly," James Marape said in a recorded message to the largely rural country.

The former finance minister had earlier threatened foreign logging companies and vowed to "tweak" resource laws that underpin a recently inked $13 billion gas deal with Total and ExxonMobil.

But on Wednesday he insisted "I'm not speaking about chasing our investors, I'm speaking about doing better for our country".

Addressing business leaders directly he said: "I will be ensuring that the environment in which you are doing your business is safe, secure and sound, so you can grow."

"We are the business of reconstructing the country for the better."

Hours after being elected last month, Marape had told parliamentarians the country's resource laws were outdated, a clear reference to the huge gas project, and warned outside conglomerates against trying to skew laws.

On Wednesday he was more cautious, saying "genuine investors in our country are very, very much welcome".

"They have been with us for a long, long time and without them we will not be where we are as a nation."

But he reaffirmed that there would be some changes.

"Our country needs urgent intervention in the space of the economy," he said, while vowing to stamp out rampant corruption and pick "low hanging fruit" of resource sector reform.

"That does not only mean in the oil and gas sector, (but also) in the mining sector," he said.

One of Asia's most impoverished nations, Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources, which include large gas fields.

The ExxonMobil and Total Papua LNG project, signed in April, would almost double Papua New Guinea's gas exports and make the country a significant global player.