Opinion: Seven key challenges facing Papua New Guinea … and how to tackle them (part 1)


There are many challenges facing Papua New Guinea but which are the most critical to address first? In the first of a two-part series, Jenny Hayward-Jones outlines seven key issues that confront the nation’s emerging leaders. In the second part, she identifies which areas to target first. Trying to solve all of them at the same time, she believes, will not deliver the progress Papua New Guineans expect.

1. Governance

Inadequate skills and weak capacity in the public service are the most critical inhibitors to development in PNG. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) show little overall improvement in governance in Papua New Guinea in the period between 1998 and 2014.

Jenny Haywood-Jones

Jenny Hayward-Jones

A key feature of weak governance in PNG is corruption. Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Papua New Guinea 139th in a list of 163.

In the Asia-Pacific, where Papua New Guinea seeks to do more business, only four countries score lower in Transparency International’s Index: Myanmar, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and North Korea, all of which have experienced either civil war or long-term dictatorships.

There are no quick fixes, or indeed straightforward long-term fixes to improving governance and building capacity in the public service in Papua New Guinea.

2. Law and Order

Law and order challenges in Papua New Guinea are intractable. Levels of crime and violence are high and are a major obstacle to economic development.

‘Despite increased levels of health spending by the PNG Government, improved health outcomes have been incremental at best.’

Story continues after advertisment...

A 2014 World Bank report found that crime was increasing in a number of “hot spots” in Papua New Guinea, including: Lae, Port Moresby, Madang, East New Britain, West New Britain, Western Highlands, and Enga.

Violent crime was growing as a proportion of crimes reported between 2007 and 2010. Property crimes were also increasing in urban areas. The spread of firearms in the country has created further problems with violence.

3. Health

Papua New Guinea has major health challenges, although there has been some improvement in some health indicators in recent years. World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics show that some of PNG’s health outcomes have improved. The overall incidence of malaria declined between 2008 and 2013 and there has been a slow decline in under-five child mortality and infant mortality.

‘It is not only primary and secondary schools that need reform.’

Still, despite increased levels of health spending by the PNG Government, improved health outcomes have been incremental at best, and non-existent at worst.

4. Education

The average number of years of schooling achieved by adults in Papua New Guinea is four. This is the lowest level in the Pacific Islands region and is comparable to the levels of schooling attained by adults in sub-Saharan Africa.

Teachers and administrators need stability and support to deliver better education to the growing number of children attending school.

It is not only primary and secondary schools that need reform in order to deliver higher-quality education. Of the 23,000 students who completed Grade 12 in 2015, only 4700 (around 20 per cent) are continuing with higher education in 2016. Even this number is saturating the capacity of PNG’s universities and vocational training institutions.

5. Over-reliance on extractives industry

Papua New Guinea is blessed with a vast endowment of natural resources and a geographic proximity to rapidly growing Asian markets for those resources. But as many developing countries have found, such blessings can also be a curse. Although PNG policymakers are aware of the ‘resources curse’, they have been unable to avoid suffering from it.

The socio-economic impact of PNG’s extractives sector has been uneven at best. The resources sector will continue to offer opportunities to skilled university graduates but the majority of these jobs are largely dependent on favourable world prices and are limited in number.

6. Potential of subsistence agriculture

Papua New Guinea relies on subsistence agriculture to feed approximately 80 per cent of its population. The rural population’s ability to feed themselves from crops they grow means the country largely avoids the severe hunger problems that afflict much of the developing world.

A diet based on subsistence agriculture has also helped Papua New Guineans avoid the growth of diet-related non-communicable diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, which have afflicted neighbouring Polynesian and Micronesian states.

Urbanisation presents a complex set of challenges for Papua New Guinea.

While the government has focused on enabling opportunities for the extractives industry, it has ignored the very substantial job creation and economic returns that could come from investment in commercialising subsistence agriculture.

7. Population

The population of Papua New Guinea was recorded at 7.3 million in the 2011 census, a 40 per cent increase since the previous census in 2001 and a 160 per cent increase on the estimated population of 2.8 million at the time of Independence.

Urbanisation presents a complex set of challenges for Papua New Guinea. It offers an opportunity to drive GDP growth and improve human development but it also increases the burden on service providers in urban areas.

Jenny Hayward-Jones is the former Director of the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia. This is an excerpt from her paper, The Future of Papua New Guinea: old challenges for new leaders.

A second extract, in which she focuses on which issues PNG should prioritise, can be found here.


  1. Indeed, we are still recovering from all the major international events. The government really has to look into what resources we already have and invest in local business stakeholders, especially in agriculture and projects’s that will benefit the people of Papua New Guinea and increase revenues for the country instead of depending on donor countries to relieve us. “Are we a Independent country or depended country? ” “Donor agencies are now withdrawing funds to purchase ART drugs for PWHA in PNG and what is the government doing?” “Public Servants are experiencing decreased in their salaries and increase in taxes.!” Public Servants again though working for the government and for the people, are unable to survive because of the financial stresses of the ever increased taxes and prices on goods and services.

  2. Taubada says

    These sorts of posts encourage all sorts of excuse driven drivel in response. The facts are that there are serious issues in PNG and you need people of capacity and ability who will recognise the issues and stop making excuses and importantly do something about rectifying the problem. Alas if we are honest this is not about to happen anytime soon. Already we see grand pronouncements about APEC 2018 and how this is going to revolutionise PNG. This is just clap trap. Has anybody seriously analysed how PNG is going to pay for this without robbing the health, education, infrastructure, and other necessary budgets to do this. We are still recovering from the plundering of the Govt coffers to pay for the SP Games. Yesterday I saw a ridiculous article how APEC will change the face of PNG tourism. It won’t. Tourism is not about POM. I am staggered at the shallowness of the debate regarding the serious issues in PNG. Who is going to pay for APEC? Oh I just worked it out…..probably Australia and other donor countries after they bail out PNG from the current financial crisis. It is time for all leaders in PNG and all citizens as well as all who care about the future of PNG and the people to get real and stop living in a make believe paradise

  3. John Lora says

    One of the great challenges is to execution and Public, Private Partnerships in various sectors. Policies are well defined and address the available research data but many are tipped to addressing social issues, we are bringing an initiative, to through shared values, be able to bring a partnership that can be monitored and evaluated both qualitatively and quantitatively before both social and economic development of youth through digital enablers.

    We will not be the total solution, however, a focused solution and will collaborate with other sectors as PNG moves through the disruptive technology period.

  4. Ilaiah says

    It is already time to device new plan and strategies to tackle this issues at hand instead of emphasizing all the time the problems that we have..People from high places are the wheel for change, we require massive new courses of action, bar those practice corrupt activities thus more transparency at all levels…Drive innovative ideas, meaning supporting entreprenuers to build industries to compete in the global market “think globally act locally”…Hence, we got to start somewhere at least.

Leave a Reply