Uncertainty surrounds PNG’s local government elections

Voters queue to vote in PNG's 2017 elections (Flickr/Commonwealth Secretariat)

In August 2024, Papua New Guinea will conduct local level government (LLG) elections. The government has announced that voters will elect LLG presidents directly. Only once before, in 2013, have LLG presidents previously been elected directly. Usually, presidents are elected by ward councillors, who are elected by voters. LLGs are crucial in providing government services such as water supply, roads and health services jointly with the provinces, but are little studied.

LLGs were introduced as PNG’s third tier of government in 1995 when the Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Governments was passed — with provinces being the second tier. LLGs are further subdivided into “wards” or local-government electorates. Subnational governments, including LLGs, are overseen at the national level by the Department of Provincial and Local-level Government Affairs. LLGs are required by law to receive 15% of the province function grant (national government transfers) and, in practice, LLG elections have been held roughly mid-way through the national election cycle.

The precise number of LLGs is not known. This complicates policy planning and service delivery on the part of important government departments such as the Department of National Planning and Monitoring, the Department of Health, and provincial governments. The number of LLGs reported by different agencies varies. As the table below shows, the number of LLGs reported varies between 296 and 396. The national government has the authority to create new LLGs, acting on the advice of the provinces and the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC). Assessing the number of LLGs is further complicated by the recent creation of new LLGs.

Source: Auditor General, National Statistical Office, Electoral Boundary Commission, Commonwealth Local Government Forum, International Foundation for Electoral System, Wikipedia, Humanitarian Data Index, Department of Provincial and Local Level Government, The National, PNG Electoral Commission, Department of Treasury and National Economic and Fiscal Commission.

Earlier this year, the National Economic and Fiscal Commission published a list of LLGs to which it allocated function grants in 2023 — listing 349 of them. This list, however, did not include Bougainville’s 12 LLGs or the 2 new LLGs in the Hela and Oro provinces that were created by the EBC in 2022. Moreover, three new LLGs were created in Madang and five new LLGs in East New Britain following LLG grant appropriations in 2023. We have counted 370 LLGs (see our list here, which will also be added to Devpolicy’s PNG Elections database), although we are not completely certain this figure is accurate.

The new LLGs in Madang and East New Britain are interesting. Both provinces cited high population growth, the need for improved access to government services and better management of funds as reasons for splitting large LLGs and creating new ones. These provincial governments have noted, however, that the new LLGs will pose an administrative challenge for the districts of which they form part.

The EBC attempted, in 2022, to reduce malapportionment in districts on the basis of the 2011 census. Although the EBC did not publish a complete list of LLGs and the 2011 census was not well run, the EBC’s report still gives a sense of the severity of malapportionment among LLGs. According to the EBC, the largest LLG was Anglimp in Jiwaka province with 100,301 people. Anglimp was 69 times larger than the smallest LLG – Aua Wuvulu of Manus province with only 1,459 people.

While uncertainty about the number of LLGs, and their size variance, will likely pose problems for the LLG elections, the government’s own preparations also appear inadequate. K85 million has been allocated for the LLG elections in this year’s budget, which is far lower than the K230 million initially requested by the PNG Electoral Commission (PNGEC). Under-resourcing of the 2019 LLG elections by the national government left provinces having to pick up a large share of the tab for running the elections.

Another concern is that the LLG elections will be using an inaccurate roll of registered voters. The LLG roll typically used by the PNGEC is an updated version of the roll used in the national elections. Although little is known about the status of the LLG roll, the roll used in the 2022 national elections was severely inaccurate and problematic in many places. The PNGEC failed to update the roll properly in 2022, disenfranchising many voters and enabling others to vote more than once.

Although preparations for this year’s LLG elections appear slow, the risk of violence is lower than it is in national elections because the stakes are lower — LLGs control a lot less funding than national members of parliament do. Previous LLG elections were conducted largely without incident, relative to the violence, destruction of property, and high number of deaths in the 2017 and 2022 national elections. Notwithstanding the success of the 2019 LLG elections, the risk of violence remains high in provinces such as Enga where tribal fighting is ongoing.

In summary, the actual number of LLGs appears to be a matter of dispute, and more needs to be done to reduce the variation in LLG size. Under-resourcing of the PNGEC and an inaccurate roll will likely affect this year’s LLG elections, though financial contributions from provincial administrations should help circumvent resourcing issues. Finally, conducting the LLG elections is likely to be challenging in places known for tribal fighting and violence.

Disclosure

This research was undertaken with the support of the ANU-UPNG Partnership, an initiative of the PNG-Australia Partnership, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views are those of the author only.

Kingtau Mambon

Kingtau Mambon is currently undertaking a Master of International and Development Economics degree at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, for which he was awarded a scholarship through the ANU-UPNG Partnership.

Maholopa Laveil

Maholopa Laveil is an economics lecturer at the University of Papua New Guinea.

16 Comments

  • Like minded people, local, Citizens, NGOs and stakeholders are working on it to sort that out.
    As the president of PNG Rural Development Inc association, our local run NGO and my executives we have discussed this LLG thing over during our meeting and we table to the Nation Planning is attention for drafting 5 year LLG development plan will lead to and align with the Provincial Government and National Government five development plan via Medium Term development plan 4 for the National instability development goals and objectives for our country today.
    We also attended the Open Government Partnership and Action Plan 2022 – 2024 is our priority areas to consult with the National planning raising the LLG concern concept agenda regarding 3 arms or tiers of the Government. The two have recurrent budget while LLG misout so will get them to register very soon align with LLG 5 year development plan as per for your attention.

  • I am a current serving ward Councilor and had collected many informations concerning LLG funds, but had never at one time my LLG access the funds.
    The third tier government which plays some important roles in various communities carrying the metal batches or names on chest without proper funding.
    Many councilors in the country were having some good names in terms of business and employments, but when entering LLG, they are becoming very poor. They do not access funds from any sources, are using their pocket money to assist their respective ward areas.
    The National government should seriously address consider LLG funds.

  • I do agree with you with appropriate funding to the LLGs. The third tier government should be given funding directly from the national government.

    National Gov’t should now think of abolishing that DDA, another white elephant.

  • Hi, I would like to find out…..

    ● Will the LPV system used in this year for 2024, ward Council elections…..?
    ● What is nomination fee for the ward councilor….?

    Please do advise. Thank you.

  • Waste of time and money to elect, ward councilors and create new wards which the government of PNG does not fund.
    I was elected on last election and has not received any form of funding from the any government agencies.

  • Why did the LLG now not receiving LLG SIP as used to be in the previous?
    LLG is a third tier of the national procurement which hails its laws.

    • National government couldn’t sustain the LLG SIP funds, and its PSIP funds after national revenue collapsed in 2015-6.

  • LLGs were introduced as PNG’s third tier of government in 1995 when the Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Governments was passed — with provinces being the first tier and districts the second. I think there’s a correction to be made here..

    National government is a government, with a house of assembly with Provincial government being the second tier.. with the LLGs being the third tier.

    District was established as an administrative divisions (body) and does not have the powers to pass laws unlike those mentioned above.

  • LLGs are vitally important in the 3 arms of government, hence be considered a priority in financial aspects to keep the database up to date within the government organisations as well as NGOs.

    • Yes, you’re correct, Andrew. I think government should now be doing seperate budget allocation to the 3rd level government which is the LLGs. Because this level of government places a very important roles in the community its deling directly with the local people so I think is the best for the government to do seperate budget allocation directly to the LLGs.

      • I fully support the idea because currently political interference does appear when national MP handle these funds .

  • Inconsistency in the actual number of LLGs in the country shows lack of prominence given to our third tier system of government in respect to planning.

    LLGs already lack financial autonomy and this is only an affirmation of the degree of recognition given to the LLG system.

  • I think the underlying problem that’s causing all the hiccups when it comes to election, as well as budgeting and planning is the “Outdated Population Census.”

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