The National,Thursday August 20th, 2015
By Francis Hualupmomi
AS Papua New Guinea prepares for its 40th independence anniversary, let us reflect on our political history, learn from our past mistakes and improve in the years ahead.
Politics and administration
PNG as a nation-state gained its independence from Australia colonial administration without bloodshed compared to other developing countries – that is something we all must be proud of and thank God for. Uniting a country with a unique diverse culture and ethnic identity was a big challenge we have achieved this far – we owe much to our founding fathers. We have had political mishaps along the way but through our constitution we are able to manage issues despite its test of time.
Within 40 years, we have made some progressive changes to suit changing political and economic landscape. For instance, the introduction of Organic Law on Political Parties and Candidates allows for political stability. The Parliamentary (Constitutional) Westminster system adopted from Britain has worked for us keeping the country functioning in the international system. The three arms of government, an ideal democratic structure that ensures balance of power, have over time been tested on grounds of effectiveness and efficiency. Governance issues remain a fundamental challenge. The policy attempt made by the government to combat corruption is still a work in progress which is expected to make a difference.
The bureaucracy has been reformed on several occasions to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. The rural service delivery policy introduced by O’Neill government is working; services are delivered to the districts. More reforms are expected to transform the public sector.
On economic front, our economy has experienced a solid decade of growth and stability until a decline in 2015 due to external forces beyond our control. We have experienced fluctuations and interruptions since 1975. There were two important periods in which PNG witnessed a negative growth, first in 1975 and later in 1995. The former was a result of political transition process. Prior to 1975, the economy was stable then it began to decline as colonial administration winded down and prepared for transfer of self-government. The latter was due to lack of political leadership and volatile economic environment. In early 2000, the economy began to pick-up as political-economic reforms were introduced under Moratau’s regime and progressively strengthened by Somare and O’Neill regimes.
The Somare regime experienced a record steady growth due to favourable economic environment at that time; many political and economic commentators alluded to it as the fastest growing economy in the region. The current economy is facing a huge challenge due to unfavourable economic conditions, a challenge O’Neill regime is managing. We are currently experiencing a turbulent environment like many other economies around the world as we manoeuvre into post-LNG era. The economy is expected to pick-up again in 2016 with the sales of LNG and other mineral commodities.
As shown on the graphs, despite economic fluctuations and instability our economy in general is doing well. On average our economic growth since 1975 is about 3 per cent, this is not that bad. The current government has done well to invest in socio-economic infrastructures, never like before. Global economy is dynamic, uncertain and unpredictable therefore we must always be prepared to read signals in order to withstand surprises. What is important to learn from this challenge is that PNG is able to manage itself economically since 1975 and we have proven critics wrong on several occasions.
Since 1975 health and education indicators have shown signs of improvement. For instance, we have seen slight improvement on child mortality rate. There was a drop from 89 in 1990 to 61 in 2013 of death per 1000 live births (UNICEF 2015 Report). The O’Neill government performed well to improve these conditions by investing more in health and education compared to any other governments. The introduction of free education policy and free health care policy are major interventions. The same is done to reduce law and order issues such as reduce police brutality, family violence, etc.
Foreign relations and security
PNG’s prominence in the region and globally is promising given its economic transformation over the last decade. Multi-lateral and bilateral relations and foreign investments have increased dramatically over the last couple of years as a result of confidence in the macro-management of the economy. We are leveraging on this confidence to attract more high level international meetings as we assume regional leadership in the absence of a foreign policy and trade policy. The hosting of APEC meetings and other social events such as PNG Games, Women’s FIFA under-20 World Cup has demonstrated our international recognition. Our bilateral relation with Australia is a challenging one which needs thoughtful considerations as a sovereign nation.
PNG remains a vulnerable nation-state. National security is an ongoing concern despite improvements in our defence and security system to mend our sovereignty against potential threats. Continuous intrusion by Indonesian soldiers, illegal drug, guns and human trade and illegal fishing on our shore are security concerns that we must manage. We have a vibrant defence force, highly disciplined until the downsizing reforms. Intelligence community is weak in providing timely estimates to government concerning national security issues.
As we reflect back on our independence celebration we should take a step back and look into our political and economic system comprehensively and ask ourselves, what important lessons have we learnt and how can we transform our weakness into strengths and maximise opportunities from threats? The world as we know of is dynamically complex, turbulent and unpredictable as we manoeuvre into post-LNG era. We must have the ability to read environment signals and be prepared to manage surprises in an increasingly changing global economy such as the current oil volatility that is affecting our economy.
Some of the new approaches we need to consider:
- Radical political and bureaucratic reforms by strengthening the Executive Branch of government;
- introduce business management approaches in Executive Branch of government;
- strengthen and modernise Defence Force and National Intelligence Organisation;
- develop a relevant Foreign Policy and Trade Policy in Asian Century;
- improve Police Force condition and modernise its capacity and capability;
- establish a National Security and International Studies Center to provide quality and up-to-date policy advice on national security and international relations;
- improve higher and technical education institutions comparable to international standards and invest more research science and technology;
- diversify economic base and move away from import dependence. Support informal economy and agriculture through SME;
- allow a more pragmatic and incremental competition in energy, telecommunication and aviation industries; and,
- Move away from relying on foreign consultants as advisors and utilise our elites or academics in policy advisory role where necessary.
Our future prospects are promising, we must not be disturbed by external forces or criticisms – we can only take what is best for us as we transit into post-LNG era.
Francis Hualupmomi is a PhD student at the School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is a political scientist and a policy analyst in the area of geopolitics of resources, security studies, public policy and strategic management in public sector reforms. [email protected]