Note: PNG’s progress

A recent editorial in this week’s Canberra Times (“Election creates new bed mates“) wrongly described the O’Neill-Namah government’s performance as ‘a year of wasted time, inaction and serious delay in addressing PNG’s fundamental problems.’

Far from ‘inaction’, the last year has seen impressive progress on a range of fronts, which I was able to observe as an advisor to PNG’s Independent Public Business Corporation.

  • Legislation was passed to set up a sovereign wealth fund to manage mineral and LNG revenues and keep ‘sticky fingers’ off the funds.
  • A special task force stepped up investigations into alleged corruption: prompting one prominent minister to flee to Australia to avoid questioning.
  • There was a crackdown on procurement fraud in the health department, and legal action was taken to recover funds that had gone missing from public enterprises, most notably the K96 million that went to Australia-based Woodlawn Capital.
  • The government abolished fees for education and health care.
  • It also stepped up investments in infrastructure: commencing construction of a new port in Lae, rehabilitating the power stations that serve Lae, and openning a new optic fibre connection from Madang to Lae.
  • Draft legislation was prepared for a new independent authority to channel mineral revenues into much needed maintenance of roads, hospitals and universities.

In the context of the political turmoil of the last year–with the drawn out fight between O’Neill/parliament and Somare/supreme court–such progress is a remarkable achievement. It shows that reform is possible, even in a challenging environment. Moreover, it raises the bar on what should be expected from the new PNG government.

Matt Morris is the Deputy Director of the Development Policy Centre at the Crawford School, ANU.

A version of this note was publish as a letter here in the Canberra Times.

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Matthew Morris

Matthew Morris helped to establish the Development Policy Centre and served as the Centre’s first Deputy Director. Matt is a development economist with 25 years’ experience. He is currently an independent consultant.


  • Further clarification…the SWF legislation was already in its advanced stages with plenty of consulation with Australian treasury before Mekere became Minister; the Lae Port redevelopment also was in its advanced stages; the new fibre optic project (negotiated by the previous IPBC and SOE Ministerial regime) – already in its advanced stages; the draft legislation regarding a infrastructure fund – that too was already in advanced form before Mekere became Minister!

    We are yet to see any new development programmes initiated by the current IPBC regime which they can claim as their own initiative!

  • Thanks Geoff, that’s a very useful clarification.

    Economist, Lant Pritchett, has coined a handy phrase ‘flailing state’ to describe states where administrative capability is lagging. Announcing increases in funding and policy intent is the relatively easy party, implementing it through a labyrinth of legislation and layers of government is another.. These are the kind of issues that the public need to pay close attention to, supported by good policy analysis and monitoring.

    You may be interested in a research project that Devpolicy is doing with NRI. We are planning to conduct public expenditure tracking surveys in the health and education sectors–similar to those that the World Bank did in 2002. Potentially this research will highlight how much funding actually reaches to services at the end of the track, and what happens to fees and the quality of services. Devpolicy/NRI are just getting started and plan to conduct the surveys later this year.

    Thanks again for your comment. Perhaps we can tempt you to write a post for the Devpolicy blog..

  • For clarificaiton, the Government of PNG has not abolished fees for health care. The Public Hospital (Charges) Act 1972 and associated regulations which set charges for public hospitals and clinics is very much in force. As the National Government only has jurisdiction over national health with provincial governments having jurisdiction over rural health services (the bulk of the health system) they are not in a position to abolish fees for rural health even if the had the desire.

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