Opinion: Seven key challenges facing Papua New Guinea … and how to tackle them (part 2)


In the first article in this two-part series, Jenny Hayward-Jones outlined seven key issues that confront Papua New Guinea’s emerging leaders. In this second part, she identifies the long-term trends that will challenge PNG and four areas of reform that would—if focused on—yield the greatest gains for the country.

Jenny Hayward-Jones Source: Business Advantage PNG

Jenny Hayward-Jones Source: Business Advantage PNG

Without a serious effort to reverse some, or all, of the negative trends facing Papua New Guinea, and make more of the positive ones, the country’s future looks bleak.

It is not just that each of these trends will have a negative impact; the trends are mutually reinforcing.

Population growth

By 2050, PNG’s population is likely to be around 30 million people. Without substantial investments in commercialising agriculture, subsistence agriculture will struggle to meet the population’s food needs—leaving aside any impact of climate change.

There will be a growing need to import food, including processed foods.

The health system will struggle to cope with the increased population, particularly outside urban centres.

‘The resources sector has strong potential and can provide continued economic growth’

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On current trends, the police-to-population ratio is not likely to increase to the levels envisaged by the PNG Government by 2050 because of budgetary constraints. The performance of the police force is unlikely to improve markedly without significant institutional reform or sustained good leadership.

Poor law and order will raise significant barriers to entry for the creation of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and dissuade foreign investors, beyond the extractives sector.

The resources sector has strong potential and can provide continued economic growth for Papua New Guinea if managed well. But growth in the resources sector will also increase the opportunities for corruption.

Spreading too thinly

It will be necessary to think creatively about how these challenges are confronted. In the past, the tendency has been to attempt to address all the various challenges Papua New Guinea faces at the same time. It has meant distributing limited financial resources too thinly. The results have been mixed at best.

‘Rather than attempting to solve every problem in the country at once, future leaders should pick a few areas.’

PNG’s next generation of leaders will face an extremely complex set of challenges. They have a near impossible task in seeking to strengthen the nation’s institutions.

The risk is that, like their predecessors, they will not make national institutions sufficiently strong and effective enough to enable progress in development, or win the respect of the people.

‘Four areas hold particular promise as potential circuit breakers.’

Rather than attempting to solve every problem in the country at once, future leaders should pick a few areas where bold and innovative policy interventions can make a transformational difference and unblock barriers to progress.

Where to concentrate

Four areas hold particular promise as potential circuit breakers:

  • A new national investment in education.
  • A major electrification and telecommunications infrastructure effort in remote areas.
  • Tailored approaches to improve law and order.
  • A major effort to develop and commercialise subsistence agriculture.

PNG’s emerging leaders will face very similar obstacles to achieving progress that current and previous leaders have faced.

Rather than trying to solve all of the nation’s problems simultaneously, a new generation of leaders should focus on a limited number of problems first.

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.

The first extract, in which she focuses on the seven issues facing PNG, can be found here.

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