Opposition, protesters call for foreign minister to go after comments made in response to daughter’s TikTok video of lavish London trip.
Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko has apologised for calling people who criticised his eldest daughter’s lavish trip to London for the coronation “primitive animals”, amid calls for him to step down.
Justin Tkatchenko made the comment to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) after a TikTok video his daughter Savannah released earlier this week of her taxpayer-funded trip to King Charles’s coronation triggered outrage in PNG.
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.
Opposition leader Joseph Lelang called on Prime Minister James Marape to sack Tkatchenko over the comments saying they were 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.”
On Friday, as some students held protests to call for Tkatchenko to go, he issued an apology for the 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 more 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 remarks and had summoned the foreign minister to his office. He said he had “expressed concern about the use of these words” 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.
The scandal 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.