Obituary for Simon Tosali

Simon Tosali.
Written by Paul Flanagan

PNG has lost one of its greatest public servants ever.

Simon Tosali was Secretary of the PNG Treasury from 2002 to 2013. Behind the scenes, and working with others in his quiet, wise, influential way, he helped shape the best economic times ever experienced by Papua New Guinea.

As Simon was buried on Sunday in his home village, many people would have told stories of his greatness, his humility, his humour, his wisdom, and his love of PNG with all of its complexities.

Let me focus on the numbers.

While Simon Tosali was Secretary of Treasury, the key parts of the economy grew at the fastest rate in PNG’s history. As Simon understood, the real measure of growth was the non-resource sector, setting aside the resource sector which is largely foreign owned. In 2001, PNG’s real non-resource GDP was K17 billion. By 2013, it had nearly doubled to K32.8 billion (2015 Kina prices).

While Simon Tosali was Secretary of Treasury, the non-resource economy grew at over 6% every year – double the population growth rate. In the decade before he was Secretary, the real non-resource economy did not grow at all – indeed, it slightly fell. In the years since Simon left as Secretary, the real non-resource economy has only grown by 1% per year.

The economic growth story:

  • Before Simon, economic growth of 0% per year for a decade.
  • With Simon, economic growth of 6% per year.
  • Since Simon, economic growth of 1% per year.

While Simon Tosali was Secretary of Treasury, employment levels grew at the fastest rate in PNG’s history. Formal sector employment grew from 231,000 in 2002 to 395,000 jobs in 2013. This was a growth rate in the formal economy of an extra 15,000 jobs every year. From 1991 to 2002, the growth rate in jobs was 1,500 jobs per year – only one tenth the Simon rate. Since 2013, formal sector employment has gone backwards by 9,000 jobs per year to 350,000 at the end of 2018.

The jobs story:

  • Before Simon, jobs growth of 1,500 per year for a decade.
  • With Simon, ten times higher jobs growth of 15,000 per year
  • Since Simon, job numbers going backwards by 9,000 per year.

While Simon Tosali was Secretary of Treasury, PNG’s debt levels reduced by the largest amount in the country’s history. The key debt to GDP halved from 70% in 2002 down to 34% in 2013.

While Simon Tosali was Secretary of Treasury, inflation fell from 12% per year to less than 5% per year.

As a nation, let us celebrate the life of one of PNG’s greatest public servants.

I have lost a dear friend – I miss his wisdom and friendship. I enjoyed our lunches together since I was allowed back into PNG. I was so saddened to see him in the Port Moresby General Hospital after his stroke. I am angry that his abilities were not properly respected in the years since he was forced to leave the Secretary role. I will miss our sharing of a good bottle of red wine together. Tonight, I will open a bottle of Wolf Blass Shiraz that I had bought for what I had hoped would be another good time together – a State of Origin label in blue. Not many of us in PNG would have gone for the blue label rather than the maroon label!

In honour of a great PNG public servant. My condolences for his wife, his children and his broader family and friends.

With the greatest of respect to a dear friend and great leader in PNG.

This article was first published by PNG Economics.

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Paul Flanagan

Paul Flanagan has a longstanding interest in public policy issues in Australia, PNG and more broadly. His 35-year public service career was evenly shared between Treasury/Finance and AusAID. He headed up Treasury’s International Finance and Development Division from 2008-2011 before being seconded to a senior advisor position in the PNG Treasury until August 2013. He is Director of Indo-Pacific Public Policy and Economics, a leading commentator on economic developments in PNG, and a frequent contributor to the Devpolicy Blog.

8 Comments

  • Wow… Thanks for writing commerating one of the best, and honest public servants of our time. I like that you gave credit to his patriotism for the country through his work.
    Thank you.

  • Hi Paul

    Like you I was very sorry to hear of his death.
    As a cruising yacht, I visit his island every year I visit PNG.
    Never saw him face to face, but we spoke on the phone, to see if my volunteer project could help his people.

  • Thanks Paul for a very fitting and well summised tribute to a humble and wise man. He managed well the pressing political expectations and expenditure appetites during his tenure and it was an absolute priveleged to have worked with him and you at the Treasury

  • Thank you Paul for putting real numbers and confirming my thoughts. I knew Simon was the best Treasury Secretary of our time but didn’t have numbers to justify my conclusion.

    He truly had the country’s interest at heart.

    May he rest in eternal peace.

  • Thank you Paul, and well said. I believe all of us who worked for Simon in the PNG Treasury during ECP, in my case in 2006 and 2007, came to respect him greatly as Secretary and as a person. He will indeed be missed.

  • Paul, many thanks for your comments about Simon. I remember working with him and other outstanding PNG public officials attempting to establish in 2013 and 2014, unsuccessfully, the then proposed IDA. His advice was very well considered. He was a fine colleague. He will be missed.

  • Thank you Paul for this obituary. I wasn’t aware that Simon had sadly passed away. I loved working with Simon during my National Planning days (2010-2012) and he will be sorely missed. My thoughts and condolences to his family.

  • Thanks so much Paul for this obituary. I had not heard that Simon had died. Very sad news. I was able to work with Simon in the period 2000 to 2003. Spending time with Simon was always a pleasure and rewarding. He had such a positive outlook, in such difficult circumstances. Combined with his hard work ethic, he was a very effective Treasury Secretary and dedicated civil servant. I do recall how earnestly he took on challenges, looking for the best outcome for PNG. He will be missed.

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