Opinion: Papua New Guinea can take lead in blockchain technology

Papua New Guinea has the opportunity to take the lead in blockchain technologies, says the former Chief Information Officer at Kina Securities, Aaron Bird. Blockchain, he says, could be used in PNG for much more than cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Even if you aren’t in the technology field, you would have had to be living under a rock to have not heard anything about blockchain. Blockchain is the ‘ledger’ that enables cryptocurrencies like bitcoin to be bought and sold, and is increasingly being investigated for use in other financial types of transactions.

Aaron Bird

In the case of Papua New Guinea, it is being looked at as a method to bank the unbanked.

Eighty per cent of Papua New Guineans do not use banking facilities: some by choice, some by virtue that they don’t need it, and some just because they have no way of even getting to a bank.

There is also the requirement for banks and financial institutions to perform significant due diligence on their customers with the primary starting point being KYC (Know Your Customer).

When you open a bank account, you must have some form of approved identification, and that’s just the first hurdle. What happens when you have regionalisation of registries (e.g. births), but you have moved location?

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‘Eighty per cent of people in PNG may not have access to any clear form of identification’

What if you happen to have more than one name? Or have been married in accordance with tribal or religious beliefs, but never registered that marriage—but taken another name?

Identification

Eighty per cent of people in PNG may not have access to any clear form of identification, making the governing principles of simply opening a bank account extremely difficult for the majority.

Yes, there are other forms of obtaining identification. One is the ‘vouch for’ system (highly dubious at best). There are statutory declarations but just because a Commission of Oaths has signed and stamped it doesn’t make it true.

The superannuation funds could provide a single source of ID. However they too are only just capturing the formal sector and only companies registered with the funds. Some smaller companies don’t have to contribute to super and, as we well know, SMEs are generally the backbone of any nation.

‘The National ID program was set up to resolve some of these issues.’

So, any financial inclusion program to get the unbanked banked is going to have to address how to correctly identify Papua New Guineans.

At the moment, driver licences, birth certificates and passports are the main IDs. The National ID program was set up to resolve some of these issues, but ultimately is a siloed system and it doesn’t change the PNG identity system.

It doesn’t make it easy for banks, it doesn’t make it easy for anyone.

Blockchain

I think blockchain represents a lost opportunity for PNG. The focus is certainly around financial inclusion, and the Bank of Papua New Guinea is driving a program to investigate monetary transfers via blockchain.

But we already have lots of methods to transfer monies; some have failed and some are succeeding. The Bank of Papua New Guinea-led National Payment Gateway is going to create more and more choice.

‘At its heart, blockchain is a record and customer management tool.’

Adding another choice may create more confusion for people. Unless we look seriously at internet/computer literacy we could be opening ourselves to plenty of other issues.

At least with the formal banks and microfinancing units, people have a place to point the finger if things go wrong.

At its heart, blockchain is a record and customer management tool. If we were building a new National ID system today, and using blockchain principles, the following agencies and sectors could use it:

  1. Births, Deaths & Marriages
  2. Customs
  3. Inland Revenue Commission
  4. Immigration
  5. Passport Control and Issuing
  6. Drivers Licensing
  7. Superannuation Member ID
  8. Credit Bureau
  9. Finance
  10. Banking
  11. Telecommunication Companies
  12. Companies Office
  13. Elections
  14. Health

It could create a single source of truth, a vehicle to allow real-time, verified payments integrating banks to customers.

IT investment

Users could apply for a passport online, because they are NID verified. They could vote in national elections with an NID authorised mobile app.

They could pay their taxes automatically; apply for finance without needing to see someone; connect a mobile phone number to the NID; and of course be able to open a bank account via a mobile phone.

There is a lot of hot air about blockchain, not only in PNG. No one wants to reinvent the wheel, especially when they have already spent millions on API (application program interface, or software protocols ) to allow integration.

The challenge is to make these companies see that IT investment, especially in technology like blockchain, isn’t a cost—it’s a priority to ensure their business is going to be around in the future.

Papua New Guinea is in a unique situation, having jumped the PC generation.  It can take advantage of technologies such as blockchain to create an integrated government/commercial record system that would be the envy of the world.

The rest of us are playing catch up. PNG has an opportunity to take the lead.

Aaron Bird is former Chief Information Officer at Kina Securities. A version of this article was first published on kiwiexpat.com and is published here by kind permission of the author.

Comments

  1. Daniel Kanini says:

    i for one strongly believe png needs to tap into such technology .Time is changing , how can we be left behind while other parts of the world are with the technology at present.
    cryptocurrencies are on high such like bitcoin.
    Png needs to start and use the system ,it will definitely save a lot of time and money doing the same thing over and over .
    Records will be kept save on all sectors .

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