OVERCOMING CONSTRAINTS IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA facing PNG. To avoid this, the Lowy Institute Conference
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Transcript of OVERCOMING CONSTRAINTS IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA facing PNG. To avoid this, the Lowy Institute Conference
OVERCOMING CONSTRAINTS IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY There is renewed concern among Australian policy makers about Papua New
Guinea, but discussion often stalls in the face of the enormity of the challenges
facing PNG. To avoid this, the Lowy Institute Conference “Overcoming
Constraints in PNG” took a new approach. We looked at how individuals, groups,
corporations and governments are succeeding in PNG - despite the obstacles.
We hoped to draw out some of PNG’s success stories to see what might be
The conference heard stories of success, in varying degrees, and report cards on
some promising reforms and initiatives. Presentations were made by successful
agricultural entrepreneurs, church representatives, the mining industry and PNG
Ombudsman Commission. The conference also heard presentations on electoral
reform in PNG, and on Australia’s aid program, including the recently inaugurated
Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP).
Drawing on these stories, the conference identified some of the ingredients of
success. Good leadership is especially important, whether in the public or the
private sector. More training and a firmer approach to corruption would improve
leadership. Successful individuals and organisations show a great capacity for
self reliance, individually and on a collective basis. They dig deep into their own
resources. Maintaining community involvement, a sense of ownership and unity is
also important to success in PNG, one of the most culturally diverse countries in
The conference discussed how PNG could best build on these positive
developments and whether these successes could be replicated elsewhere in the
country. Showing that it is possible to succeed within existing structures in PNG is
seen as important in itself. A greater emphasis on ensuring the flow of quality
information in PNG could spread knowledge of little-known success stories and
better combat the constant flow of misinformation. Increasing knowledge of
PNG’s Constitution in particular would be a step towards improving national unity.
And an increased profile for the Constitution would ideally also see an increased
role for PNG’s Ombudsman Commission which plays an important role in
monitoring government. As the state has withdrawn, organisations in PNG,
ranging from local self-help groups to large mining companies, have stepped in to
fill the gap. Given this, it was suggested that AusAID could benefit from forging
more partnerships outside the state. And re-energising Australia’s relationship
with PNG, particularly through people-to-people links, would also be an important
As the renewed debate about Papua New Guinea continues it will be important for
policy makers to remain mindful of positive developments in PNG, many of which
are reactions to previous failure. Success in PNG, as elsewhere, is more
commonly the result of trial and error than chancing upon a magic formula. State-
building is a long and complex process requiring patience and endurance. These
qualities and a readiness to draw the appropriate lessons from previous
experience will be essential for PNG to better realise its great potential.
(left to right) Dr Ila Temu and Stephen Pupune
There is renewed concern among Australian policy makers about Papua New
Guinea. 30 years after gaining independence, PNG has achieved only slow and
inconsistent economic growth. It faces growing governance problems, including
problems with law and order, corruption, and declining delivery of basic services.
PNG has by far the worst social indicators in the Pacific.
Discussion about what should be done often stalls, however, in face of the
enormity of the challenges facing PNG. Well-known constraints such as
geographic and ethnic fragmentation, the weakness of national identity, the strong
pull of local loyalties, and customary land ownership are too frequently cited
fatalistically as broad-brush explanations for developmental failure. Conversely,
many proposed solutions for PNG call for radical and often impractical measures
to overcome these constraints quickly.
The Lowy Institute Conference “Overcoming Constraints in PNG” (held in Sydney
18 February 2005) took a different approach. The Conference aimed to look at
how individuals, groups, corporations and governments were working successfully
within these constraints. In the process it was hoped that the Conference would
draw out PNG’s success stories: both as a corrective to the overly negative
reporting on PNG and in order to see what might be learned from these
The Conference heard stories of success - in varying degrees - and report cards
on some promising reforms and initiatives. Presentations were made by
successful agricultural entrepreneurs, church representatives, the mining industry
and PNG Ombudsman Commission. The Conference also heard presentations
on electoral reform in PNG and Australia’s aid program, including the recently
inaugurated Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP). Finally, it looked at what
might be learned from these successes for public policy development in Canberra
and Port Moresby.
The Conference was organised into three thematic sessions:
1. Dealing without the state addressed the limited scope of state penetration. This
session covered the development of new export industries with little state support,
the role of the churches in health and education, and the changes in Australian aid
policy feeding from this constraint.
2. Clans and commerce addressed the commercial constraint posed by PNG’s
clan system and the complexities of customary land ownership. It covered issues
such as agreements between major corporations and clan groups, commercial
mobilisation by clans and the tension between individual success and communal
3. Making Westminster work addressed the political constraint of an inherited
political system which is frequently claimed to be “culturally inappropriate” and
which has had mixed success in delivering stable, effective and accountable
The Conference was conducted under the Chatham House rule. Reflecting that,
this report is a synthesis of discussion. Part 1 describes the ingredients of
success identified during the conference. Part 2 is a discussion of the implications
for public policy.
Participants at Lowy Institute Conference “Overcoming Constraints in Papua New
PART 1: INGREDIENTS OF SUCCESS
Good leadership was identified as central to success in PNG in both the private
and public sector. Although PNG has produced good leaders there are problems
in replicating and “modeling” good leadership. Some Papua New Guinean
participants thought there were few external solutions to this problem and
emphasised the need for individuals to take up the personal challenge to be
strong, accountable and transparent.
The Ombudsman Commission plays an important role in policing PNG’s
Leadership Code (part of PNG’s Constitution) and itself offers an example of
strong leadership. It has recently taken a more prominent and pro-active role in
attacking corruption. It also plays a role in assisting leaders to understand their
duties and responsibilities and, more broadly, in addressing the lack of confidence
in the political system caused by corruption. The Commission has run into
problems, however, as a result of the lack of political support for reform and the
prosecution of corruption. Many politicians benefit from corruption and are
reluctant to support change. Very few parliamentarians attended a meeting the
Chief Ombudsman recently called to discuss their constitutional obligations.
Recent political reforms aim to improve the quality of parliamentary leadership.
The reintroduction of Limited Preferential Voting (LPV) 1 aims to produce a more
representative and accountable parliament. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) method
has led to a decline in the percentage of the vote obtained by winning candidates:
in 2002 there were an average of 26 candidates per seat and consequently half of
the winners scored less than 16% of the vote. As a result Members of Parliament
tend to work only for their base voters. LPV aims to broaden MPs constituencies
1 LPV means that voters may choose 3 candidates in order of preference, with second and third votes being distributed if a candidate is eliminated for having the lowest tally of primary votes.
but it is too early to say whether it will do so. LPV has been used in 6 by-
elections since 2003 with mixed and inconclusive results.