Thursday, September 27, 2012

Committee looks into PNG's Natural Resource Wealth and its utilization for Development

Above: The Chief Secretary Mr Zurenuoc and I

Below are the points I highlighted today at the first meeting of the National Steering Committee on the National Development Report on Human Development and Natural Resources.

 

No doubt, there are various indicators that show great socioeconomic disparities in PNG. And there has to be a concerted effort to improve those indicators. Maternal and Child mortality rates are shamefully high.

In my opinion, the well being of this nation is determined by the well being of its women. Women in PNG take care of their husbands, children and relatives everyday. In rural areas, they do most of the gardening, sago making, fishing, water collection, laundry and cooking. In urban areas, they either work in the formal economy or are engaged in street vending apart from their household chores. Since women are essentially keeping Papua New Guinean society afloat, one asks: "Is Papua New Guinean society taking care of its women folk?"

The high maternal mortality rates say a lot about how uncaring Papua New Guinean society is. The high rates of various forms of violence against women say a lot about how uncaring Papua New Guinean society. The low numbers of women in politics show how women are unable to participate in making important decisions that ultimately impact upon their lives the most.

Understanding the important role women play in society is necessary in this Committee's deliberations on sustainable development. In my opinion, PNG's Big Men and their Egoes are the cause of the deficiencies faced by the nation and it is the Women who will take a lead in translating National Wealth in improvements in National Wellbeing as they have been doing exactly that for the past 50 000 years that this land has been inhabited.

The Big Man's approach to development is to create Monuments while a Mother at home washes her child, nourishes her child, sends the child to school and the Child becomes a Medical doctor who solves a medical mystery and saves millions of lives.

Getting an appropriate definition of sustainable human development is therefore a difficult task for this Committee. The same road that transports coffee out of a community will be used to bring alcohol, drugs, arms and diseases back into the community. It is therefore not good enough to builds road without empowering communities to handle the social impacts of the road project.

I cannot talk about Sustainable Human Development without reflecting on Papua New Guinea's Five(5) National Goals and Directive Principles that are enshrined in the Constitution. I find in them the full expression of Sustainable Human Development. The Goals are;

 

Integral Human Development

Equality and Participation

National Sovereignty and Self Reliance

Wise use of Natural Resources

Papua New Guinean Ways

 

The NGDPs are a roadmap for sustainable human development. They are a step by step guide to those in charge of running this nation to go by.

The Founders of this nation recognized the importance of people in the matrix of development. People are key as they may make good use of opportunities or squander those opportunities. It is therefore unsurprising that the First NGDP calls for Intergral Human Development. People must be developed to have the capacity to translate opportunities into meaningful progress in society.

With the achievement of Intergral Human Development comes the capacity of this nation to shape its own destiny. Citizen Participation in nation building in crucial for sustainability of developmental activities. The Second NGDP highlights this. It is important to highlight here also that women are not equally participating and this has allowed BIG MEN with BIG EGOs run amok throughout PNG, ruining opportunities for real change.

National Sovereignity and Self Reliance per the Third NGDP is therefore a reflection of citizen participation in all aspects of human development. This allows for the nation to make important decision in its own best interest, rather than being bullied by foreign corporations, governments or organizations. It creates a Government that reflects the wishes and aspirations of its people, instead of a weak Government that can be easily manipulated to make decisions that are contradictory to the National Interest.

A nation that has a strong sense of security as per the Fourth NGDP can then manage its natural resources to serve its short, medium and long term interests well. The rate at which PNG's natural resources are being extracted is unsustainable and there seems to be very little consideration for future generations. Indeed PNG's own long term national security is undermined by a lack of adherence to the Fourth NGDP. The current situation has arisen as a result of windfall revenues from natural resources being squandered by the Papua New Guinean ruling elite - the Big Men with Big Egos.

The Fifth National Goal and Directive Principle is perhaps the most misunderstood probably because it is associated with Bernard Narakobi's Melanesian Way. Yet unlike Narakobi, it calls for Papua New Guinean, not Melanesian which is region specific as opposed to nation specific. Papua New Guinean Ways are not stuck in the past. One only has to look as how much plastic is integrated in traditional 'bilas' these days. Papua New Guinea is a modern state created in 1975. Papua New Guinean Ways are the contemprorary cultural narratives that define societies throughout this nation. Understanding and addressing these cultural narratives is key to ensuring community participation and ownership of development thus ensuring sustainability.

As highlighted in the Concept Paper and by general observation, economic growth in Papua New Guinea has not been translated into improvements in socio-economic indicators. Despite increases in revenue from the resource sector, the Government has failed to translate these windfalls into improving general Wellbeing of society.

Why is this so?

There are obvious governance issues that prevent conversion of the benefits from the resource sector into socioeconomic outcomes. The voluntary reporting of benefits paid to the National coffers by resource companies is a good step forward. However, the money trail still needs to be followed and reported upon to the general public. The National Economic and Fiscal Commission has been trying to do that but it's information has a limited reach and there as to be greater effort put into improving dissemmination of information related to budgetary expenditure.

The Office of Rural Development has been conducting audits of the spending of electoral funds. However good this information may be, it still needs to be made widely available to the electorates. People need to know how their money has been spent and those who have a tendency to misappropriate funds will be weary of the public finding out about their corrupt dealings.

The opportunity to make such information widely available presents itself on the Internet. Blogs and Social Networking sites are increasingly playing a Dorminant role in disseminating such information. They are free to use and can be utilized by Government Agencies and other parties interested in providing such information about expenditure of public monies.

Whilst Internet penetration in PNG is relatively low, the demography that is online consists of the key movers and shakers of Papua New Guineas National Conversation. It is these influential people who are key to driving this nation forward. They hold influential positions in Government, Churches, NGOs and the Private Sector. With the information provided to this demography, they will be capable of causing events that will change the course of this nation. The challenge is to provide them with the information that is necessary to bring about necessary civil society demands and actions to help this nation forward.

Whilst the above suggestion may sound elitist, it is also a reflection of the cultural narratives that define Papua New Guinean societies. BIG MEN with BIG EGOs run most aspects of life. In a very Hegellian way, order comes out of the chaos they create when their BIG MEN EGOs clash. The BIG MEN will always want to do what's right by their people when they're in a contest as shown by the political events that unfolded recently.

But as I've stated earlier, it is the same BIG MEN with BIG EGOs who are the problem. Thus the above approach only perpetuates the cycle. What is necessary though is the creation of the distribution of power by distributing wealth to be done by creating both Equality of Opportunities and Equality of Outcomes for Papua New Guinean citizens.

 

Creating an Equitable Society

 

Free Quality Education is key to creating an equitable society and breaking down the elitism that exist. An equitable society is one that not only has Equality of Opportunities but also Equality if Outcomes.

Children may have equality of Opportunity presented by Free Quality Education but whatever the outcomes of the education may be are determined by the child's social background. A child who comes from a well connected, moneyed family may for instance, be able to start her/his own business while a child who doesn't have such a social context may have difficulties doing so even if the former and latter both attained similar academic qualifications.

One can also note in terms of Women in Politics that whilst the women may have the Equality of Opportunity to contest the Elections, they do not have Equality of Outcome when it comes to having seats in Parliament. Despite being given the opportunity to contest elections, the outcome is that they are still poorly represented. One must therefore still seriously consider creating equality of outcome via affirmative action for women.

PNG's natural resource wealth must be used to create Equal Opportunities and Outcomes for all its citizens in all aspects of life. Therefore, Sustainable Human Development in PNG must be defined as, the creation of a fair and equitable society where all citizens are able to meaningfully participate in all aspects of social, cultural, economic and political affairs of the nation.

In order for such ideals to be realized, PNG's natural resource wealth must be controlled by its citizens. The reality is that much of the nation's natural resource wealth is foreign owned. This committee is deliberating on the wise use of a minor proportion of the wealth of this nation that trickles down into Government coffers. In other words, we're talking about utilizing only a small proportion of Papua New Guinea's natural resources wealth.

Let me clarify that I'm not necessarily advocating Government ownership of all resource projects. What I do want to see is the Government and citizens of PNG taking the lion's share in order to realize their aspirations for Sustainable Human Development. We see this in a way, with how wealth generated from Ok Tedi is being applied following the changes of its shareholding from being foreign focused to being more PNG focused. Ok Tedi's unique shareholding arrangement allows the wealth generated from the mine to be applied in developing PNG.

Majority foreign ownership of natural resource wealth is not in PNG's interest as the aspiration of the foreign investors to make a quick return on their investments does clash with Papua New Guinea's longterm aspiration to utilize its natural resources for Sustainable Human Development. The Bougainville conflict and the world class environmental disasters of the Fly and Watut Rivers highlight how the profit interest of foreign owners are being placed ahead of Sustainable Development interests of PNG.

Papua New Guineans must be in control of their natural resource wealth so that they may then apply it to serve their best interests. Once again, the notion of Equality of both Opportunity and Outcome apply here. If only a few powerful Papua New Guinean elite have control of the wealth of the nation, they will be as bad or worse than foreign owners. We've seen this manifest over the past decade, where the Papua New Guinean elite have squandered the wealth of the nation.

It is therefore imperative that there be Equality of Opportunity as well as Outcomes in considering the distribution of national resources wealth to the People of Papua New Guinea. And the way to ensure this is to adhere to the roadmap set out by the National Goals and Directive Principles. The NGDPs are a step by step guide to achieving Sustainable Human Development or the Papua New Guinean model of Development.

One of the Key considerations now is for the delivery mechanisms for achieving SHD. The delivery mechanism obviously encompass all parties with vested interest in resource projects. Apart from the Private Sector and Non Governmental Organization, the Government and it's citizens lack capacity and/or have governance issues that currently make them very inefficient in converting the wealth from resources into SHD. NGOs and the Private Sector can deliver but the sustainability of their projects depends on the Government and the People.

The people can be partners in development if given Opportunities and Outcomes to be involved. The creation of those Opportunities and Outcomes to participate in all aspects of development is a necessary prerequisite for SHD. No matter how much economic growth is achieved or Donor Funds and Loans are accessed for developmental purposes, all will be unsustainable if the people are unable to ensure continuity either by their direct ownership/management once the project is delivered or through the effective running of their government.