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Customs History

History of Customs in PNG

The Customs organisation in PNG that we know today has undergone a lot of transformation to becoming what it is now and more changes are imminent to ensure Customs in PNG remain on par with changes being implemented by other Customs administration in the world in the concerted effort to manage new challenges arising from transnational crime, pandemics and the increase in trade and travel, to name a few.

PNG Customs has a long and proud history in Papua New Guinea dating back over 130 years. The history of Customs can be traced all the way back to the colonial era where the introduction of travel, trade and commerce by colonial rulers brought about the need for Customs tax to be collected.

Actual trading records in PNG dating as far as 1884 when Great Britain claimed Papua for the Crown and Germany claimed New Guinea. These records state that with the subsequent increase in trading came laws to impose Customs duty on imported goods to raise revenue for the administration.

On September 20, 1888, Port Moresby and Samarai were proclaimed as the very first Customs ports. At the same time, a Mr. David M. Ballantyne, was appointed as the Collector of Customs on the Port of Samarai (Milne Bay Province) which was then part of the British Colony. Ballantyne, thus became the first Customs officer in Papua New Guinea.

Ballantyne was born in Scotland in 1868 but decided to seek his fortune beyond his native country and by the 1880s he was working in a store at Sudest Island on the Louisiade Archipelago in Milne Bay Province prior his appointment.

Customs had to be established in Samarai at that time because prior to World War II the town served as the principal port and chief mission station for most of the eastern portion of Papua and as a jumping-off place for miners heading for the goldfields of mainland New Guinea and the Louisiade Archipelago.

Samarai, and to a lesser extent Port Moresby, were by far the busiest ports in the territory at that time.

After WWII, the town was rebuilt and became an important commercial centre. After WWII both Papua and New Guinea were unified and administered by Australia and the current Customs Act dates from 1952, although it has seen a number of amendments since that time.

On 16 January 1966, 78 years after the proclamation of the first two Customs ports, the first six locals were recruited and trained as Customs officers.

Ports and staff numbers increased until independence from Australia in 1975 created the State of Papua New Guinea.

The year 1975 also brought about another milestone event when five local women were recruited to be the first female Customs officers. Prior to that, Customs was a male oriented occupation.