PNG’s Tkatchenko ‘stands aside’ after ‘primitive animals’ comment

Opposition, protesters had called for foreign minister to go after comments made in response to daughter’s TikTok video of lavish London trip.

Servicemen in PNG march in a Port Moresby stadium in a ceremony to mark the British king's coronation. They are wearing red tunics and black trousers
The government is under fire over coronation-related spending on the London delegation as well as a ceremony at home [File: Andrew Kutan/AFP]

Papua New Guinea’s under fire Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko has said he will “step aside” after apologising for calling people who criticised his eldest daughter’s lavish trip to London “primitive animals”.

Tkatchenko made the comment to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) amid outrage over a TikTok video his daughter Savannah released earlier this week of her taxpayer-funded trip to King Charles’s coronation.

The now-deleted short clip, bearing the hashtag #aussiesinengland, showed Savannah enjoying cocktails in the airport lounge, enjoying Singapore airport’s “so elite” shopping at designer brands Hermes and Louis Vuitton, cosying up in her seat in Qantas-issued pyjamas and checking into what appeared to be a luxury hotel in London.

According to the World Bank in 2020, about 40 percent of people in PNG live below the poverty line.

Tkatchenko, who was also at the coronation, told the broadcaster that his 25-year-old daughter had been traumatised at the response to her video and the criticism was the work of “primitive animals” with “nothing better to do”.

He said she had not bought anything from the two shops and had travelled with him on the trip because his wife was unable to go.

The scandal over Tkatchenko comes as PNG prepares to host United States President Joe Biden, and leaders of the Pacific Island Forum in Port Moresby later this month. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also due to visit.

Tkatchenko announced late on Friday that in consideration of the visits he had decided to step aside with Prime Minister James Marape taking on his duties as foreign minister.

“I’m stepping aside so that our country can move forward and that I can also clear my name and also clear the doubt and the misinformation that is out there,” he was quoted as saying by the ABC.

The foreign minister’s earlier comments drew outrage across PNG with opposition leader Joseph Lelang calling for Marape to sack Tkatchenko over the comments, which he described as an “insult” and discriminatory.

“Prime minister, you are a Papua New Guinean,” Lelang said in his appeal, according to The National newspaper. “The governor-general (is) a Papua New Guinean. I am a Papua New Guinean, (plus) all members of parliament. We are not animals or primitives.”

Earlier on Friday, as some students held protests, Tkatchenko issued an apology for his remarks.

“I would like to personally apologise about my comments that were taken completely the wrong way and make known that these comments were solely directed to the individuals that made this disgusting and vile comments about my daughter,” the foreign minister said in a statement.

He added that he made the comments as a “father protecting his daughter” and that Savannah had received ‘horrible threats of a sexual and violent nature”.

About 30 people joined the PNG delegation to London, drawing criticism over the cost to the taxpayer. PNG also held its own ceremony in Port Moresby to mark the occasion.

Prime Minister James Marape said he had also been offended by Tkatchenko’s words and had summoned the foreign minister to his office. He said he had expressed his concern and that Tkatchenko had “apologised to the country, to me, to cabinet and the government for his remarks.”

He urged the people of PNG to “rise above” the issue.

Tkatchenko is originally from Australia and became a PNG citizen in 2006.

Source: Al Jazeera