Papua New Guinea PM O’Neill looks for lasting policy legacy from APEC


In the second half of his exclusive conversation with Business Advantage PNG’s Andrew Wilkins, the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says the policies developed during PNG’s APEC year will have a lasting impact on the country. He says APEC marks a unique opportunity to market PNG as an investment destination.

PM Peter O’Neill looking for policy legacy from APEC. Source: BAI

Andrew Wilkins: APEC is a very exciting year for PNG. There is certainly a buzz. Next year, Chile will host APEC and the carnival will move on to another town. To your mind, what do you see as the lasting benefits to PNG of hosting this extraordinary event?

Peter O’Neill: The most important thing is not necessarily about the leaders coming to the meeting. They come to endorse the discussions that have taken place by officials and our business community, at the final meeting.

It is the policies that have been developed in these meetings which liberalise trade between our countries. Despite the rhetoric that is going on about protecting one’s country, global trade will continue to develop and adjust.

That is why it is important for Papua New Guinea to participate in these kind of meetings, where the focus for us is to try to engage with the CEO Summit—where you will see all the representatives from the leading banks and financial institutions being there.

‘Over the last six or seven years, we have almost doubled our GDP.’

All the big investment funds will be there. This is a great opportunity to showcase Papua New Guinea as a destination for investment. Many of them will be coming to Papua New Guinea for the first time.

Some of them have never heard of the country; they think we are in Africa somewhere. But we are a large emerging economy in the Pacific.

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Wilkins: What are the strengths and challenges in PNG’s economy?

O’Neill: Over the last six or seven years, we have almost doubled our GDP. I have absolutely no doubt that over the next 10 years we will double it again. I don’t think many countries around the world will achieve that.

The challenge for Papua New Guinea is trying to make sure our people migrate from where they are to middle class—and beyond. So they have the right skills, the right opportunities and a better standard of living.

‘This will be my 20th year in parliament.’

That is a challenge for us and we can only do that by investing in education. That is one of our top priorities.

Wilkins: What lessons have you learned from your time in business and how has that informed your government’s policies since you came into power? What do you think still needs to be done?

O’Neill: Coming from a business background and going into government is a huge shock. I can guarantee you that. The way they do business in government is not what (business people) would aspire to.

But we have tried to change that mentality. This will be my 20th year in Parliament. It has given me the opportunity to get our bureaucracy to try and rethink the way they do business, reducing red tape and making sure that things are attended to in a timely manner.

More importantly, from my experience of business, it is about living within your means. Governments tend to live beyond their means. That has always been the issue managing government resources.

On the back of very depressed and challenging times, we have been able to double the size of our economy and we are continuing to maintain growth. So I think the future of Papua New Guinea is very bright.

We have to maintain stability of policy and stability in politics—make sure there are no social issues that will get out of hand. That is a challenge for any government.

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