PNG minister apologises for calling daughter’s coronation critics ‘primitive animals’
Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister, Justin Tkatchenko, has apologised for calling people “primitive animals” after his daughter faced criticism for TikTok videos she made while accompanying him to London for King Charles’s coronation.
“I would like to personally apologise about my comments that were taken the completely wrong way and make known that these comments were solely directed to the individuals that made these disgusting and vile comments about my daughter,” Tkatchenko said in a statement.
“Ultimately, my daughter is a person of her generation, the online generation, where they like to post everything about their lives online. She realises now how the video was perceived, which was not appropriate.”
In one video Savannah Tkatchenko, 25, had shown herself travelling first class on Qantas and said she had done some shopping in Hermes and Louis Vuitton at Singapore airport. “For those of you that don’t know, Singapore airport shopping is so elite,” she said.
Another video showed her unboxing cosmetics and a handbag after a shopping trip in London.
The videos went viral on social media in PNG, with people questioning why taxpayer money had been spent on her attendance at the coronation.
Responding to the criticism of her on Wednesday, Tkatchenko told Australia’s ABC her critics were “primitive animals” who had “nothing to do”. He later reiterated the comments to the Guardian, saying they were “living in the dark ages”.
“I was officially invited by Buckingham Palace for myself and my spouse to go to the coronation representing the prime minister and the government of Papua New Guinea and for me that was an absolute honour and unfortunately my spouse could not attend, so I invited the next best person, who was my daughter,” Tkatchenko told the Guardian on Wednesday.
“So where they get all this trumped-up thing that we are misusing public funds and going overseas, what a load of bullshit.”
Prior to Friday’s apology, Tkatchenko had said that his daughter received K25,000 (£5,600/$7,100) in government funds as an allowance for the trip which she had used to pay for accommodation and meals. The flight was also paid for by the government.
“Is that misuse of funds when you’re going there on an invitation, representing the government and prime minister of this country?”
Tkatchenko said his daughter had not actually bought anything in Singapore. When asked about the London unboxing video, he said: “I have no idea of this.”
Savannah Tkatchenko was not available for comment and has since shut down her TikTok account.
The prime minister, James Marape, asked Papua New Guineans to accept the apology, saying in a statement that he too had been offended by Tkatchenko’s comments.
“I advised him that as ministers of state, and leaders of our country, we carry a huge responsibility in how we respond to public scrutiny of our conduct as well as that of family members,” he said. “I appeal to our people that we should rise above these issues and stand united as one people, one nation, one country, regardless of colour or creed.”
Critics of the coronation trip also noted media reports that 30 people were part of the delegation accompanying PNG’s governor general, Bob Dadae, and his wife. Other Pacific Island countries sent fewer than three people each to represent their country.
A local newspaper, citing a reliable source in the country’s finance and treasury department, reported that the trip cost taxpayers K3 million (£672,000/$851,000) and another K3 million was spent on celebrations in PNG.
About 85% of people in Papua New Guinea lived in poverty in 2020, according to the World Bank, while the national budget continues to be supplemented by loans and grants from donor partners.
As Apec minister in 2018, Tkatchenko was responsible for the controversial acquisition of a fleet of Maseratis and Bentleys that was supposed to ferry world leaders to meetings. Tkatchenko was criticised for wasting money on expensive luxury vehicles, which the government then struggled to sell.