Sparks fly over Maseratis at South Pacific Apec meeting

Maserati vehicles are seen on the tarmac in Papua New Guinea. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Papua New Guinea has taken delivery of 40 luxury Maserati cars, valued at around US$300,000 (S$412,000) each, to ferry world leaders around its capital Port Moresby during next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooporation (Apec) meeting, sparking anger on social media.

The majority of the population in the South Pacific island nation live subsistence lives, and luxury cars are few and far between on its roads, which often require four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles.

Photographs of the luxury cars being unloaded from an aircraft which flew them from Italy, and reports that the government had bought the Maserati fleet prompted social media outrage on Friday (Oct 12).

"While Papua New Guinea struggles to pay teachers and deal with a polio outbreak, the government has purchased a fleet of luxury Maserati sedans for Apec leaders," tweeted a user named Liz.

Mr Keith Jackson, who tweets regularly on Papua New Guinea issues, said: "It's said Nero fiddled while Rome burned. But the ... government buys 40 million kina (S$16.9 million) Maseratis, showing to what extent #PNG leaders anchored in the bubble of Port Moresby have abandoned their people."

Seeking to placate the anger, the Minister for Apec Justin Tkatchenko said: "Maserati Quattroporte sedans have been secured and delivered, and are committed to being paid for by the private sector."

"Having vehicles paid for by the private sector is the smartest way to have use of the vehicles at Apec at no overall cost to the state," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Despite the authorities' insistence that the cars would be sold after being used to transport leaders such as United States Vice-President Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the arrival of the fleet of luxury cars comes as Papua New Guinea struggles to rebuild after a devastating earthquake and an outbreak of polio.

Australia, Papua New Guinea's largest aid donor, said on Thursday that it would donate A$6 million ($5.9 million) to the Pacific nation to assist with containing the outbreak.

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