Business Council president David Toua retired at the annual general meeting last week. He had been president for four years and led several initiatives by the business community to have greater dialogue with the government on areas of mutual interest. Business reporter MARK HAIHUIE spoke to him about the future of the council.
HAIHUIE: Can you please give a brief overview of the Business Council?
TOUA: The Business Council of Papua New Guinea is a peak body that represents all of business and includes in its membership private companies, sectoral associations and statutory bodies – a very broad subscription base.
Our byline is “the voice of the private sector”.
Our primary objective is to engage in meaningful dialogue with the government and bureaucracy on matters of economic policy and reform.
We also represent Papua New Guinea business in dialogue with international governmeCoffee industry tapping into sports marketingnts and agencies.
HAIHUIE: How important to the council is its engagement with the Government?
TOUA: The government is our most important partner.
They formulate and implement policies that has direct impact on businesses and manage the regulatory and legal framework within which we operate.
The focus of the council has been to have high level engagements with the prime minister and his cabinet, to allow real time feedback on policy and law reform that has business implications.
We’ve worked hard to establish that dialogue.
An example of that engagement is the Prime Minister’s Back-to-Business breakfasts that started in 2014.
This event allows the Prime Minister to inform businesses first hand of his main legislative and policy priorities for the year as well as allows him the opportunity to hear our priorities.
The other feature of this event is the private engagement, immediately following the breakfast between selected executives and the Prime Minister and his
key economic ministers to discuss key challenges facing businesses.
HAIHUIE: What are some of the government’s policy areas the council considers important for the growth of businesses?
TOUA: The early engagements with the Government has laid the foundation for the council to coordinate dialogue around several significant policy reform agenda items, specifically the proposed SME policy and draft land reform. Recognising the importance of the proposed Land Act amendments and the SME strategy, in terms of both opportunity and unintended consequence, businesses was united in the desire to have dialogue ahead of such significant policy considerations.
The council coordinated a coalition of 20 associations to make a representation to the Prime Minister and his cabinet team.
The act of collectively engaging with the political leadership was in many regards the first of its kind.
And the results have been pleasing.
There is now a functional engagement framework between leadership and business to ensure robust discussion of intended polices and amendments ahead of any implementation.
HAIHUIE: What are some priority areas for businesses and the Government in the future?
TOUA: Six months prior to the 2017 general election, we undertook a comprehensive engagement with our members and non-members to develop a development priorities report for the next five years for the new government to consider.
The critical feature was the dashboard and the action items matrix which expounded four priority areas of infrastructure and basic services, government regulation, broadening the industry base, and productivity and employment.
This report was breaking new ground.
Never has a collective and comprehensive paper been drafted for a new government by a private sector entity.
Our work is not done and we continue to actively pursue public-private working groups with officials, ministers and MPs to further advance the issues in the dashboard.
This is the exciting part of the initiative.
We now have a game plan for the next five years.
HAIHUIE: What are some undertakings the council has made to forge international business relations?
TOUA: An important feature of our council is our international engagement with counterpart organisations and economies in the region and afar.
We have organised events for two heads of state – Japanese Prime Minister Hon Shinzo Abe and Indonesian President Hon Joko Widodo, Duke of York Prince Andrew, and ministers and heads of foreign missions of 15 countries including Turkey, Pakistan, Chile, Israel, China and Malaysia,
along with their business delegations.
Similar to our national engagements, business associations have collaborated in these engagements to ensure our friends have maximum exposure to our landscape so our collective membership can benefit from joint venture partnerships.
In addition, to our growing constituency in our business landscape are Indian, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Malaysian, and Indonesian, Chinese and Singaporean operators.
Through the efforts of long-serving board member Kee Lim, we have had series of meetings with these businesses and they are keen to participate in our activities.
A key event we are exploring is a PNG-Asia Business Forum to promote this emerging relationship.
HAIHUIE: Businesses in Papua New Guinea are operating under a very challenging economy with the ongoing foreign exchange shortage and other adverse conditions. What are your views on the development of the business community going forward?
TOUA: The major issue for businesses at this time remains the shortage of foreign currency.
Since the market became aware of this challenge in 2014, we have organised over 20 meetings with the Treasurer, Central Bank Governor, Bank and Financial Institutions as well as other business associations to explore strategies we could employ to address the foreign currency shortages.
There is a strong spirit of collaboration and this in part has assisted the market to adjust to the new normal and work actively to source investments to drive the economy.
A permanent solution is still not at hand and we continue to press for the same.
I’m sure that we can work through this challenge and others.
The important thing to stress is that the long-term outlook for Papua New Guinea remains positive.
There are several significant projects under consideration and in our Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation year we have the opportunity to showcase the many assets we possess that will attract considerable foreign direct investment.