Prof John Gibson of Waikato University giving a presentation at the INA on poverty trends in PNG
The Papua New Guinea Institute of National Affairs, or INA, celebrated its forty (40) years of existence as an Independent Research Institution, or public policy ‘think tank’ in January 2017; although not formally registered until 1979, it held its inaugural Council meeting on 26th January 1977, in the Seminar room of the Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research, IASER, (formerly the ANU New Guinea Research Unit and now National Research Institute - NRI). Initial progress was slow, with the withdrawal of the first Director before appointment, but the institute held its first public seminar (on Foreign Investment Policy) in August 1977, and its first research was commissioned in December 1977 on the “Structure and Adequacy of the Financial Institutions in PNG”. Its first director, Terry Pitt (later a European Member of Parliament –MEP) was appointed in 1978, when its series of seminars and public lectures also commenced.
Brian Brogan (rt) with David Hegarty Mike Manning (2006), Madang
PM, Rt Hon Sir Rabbie Namaliu & John Millet 1990
Although established a year and a half after Papua New Guinea gained Independence, the idea for the Institute had been circulating some years prior, but a key step was a letter from Neil Nicklason, MD of Steamships, on 16 June 1976 to Bruce Flynn, MD, SP Brewery, to establish an organisation to be “non (party) political, and representative of all sectors in the community. Desirably it should have the widest possible membership”. Although an independent body to undertake research and foster public dialogue, INA was clearly expected to recognise the private sector’s role in development, at a time when some in government and academia questioned that premise.
In the 1970s, PNG’s formal-sector economy was dominated by a small number of firms, many of which had a long history in the country. They largely became contributing members of the INA, together with some government entities, and there was also engagement with academia, churches and unions. Indeed the first Governor General, Sir John Guise, became one of INA’s initial Trustees, and the National Planning Director, Charles Lepani, one of the first Council members. The INA’s objectives were, and remain, to foster development of the national economy, by contributing to public knowledge through research and the preparation and Audemars Piguet Replica publication of information and commentary on the economy and public policy, and encouraging an exchange of information and viewpoints between private enterprise, the government and the national workforce. It has extended its scope to address wider development issues.
Ranu House in Port Morebsy (in 1911) IPA Haus, INA's current premises since 2010
Early priorities for research and public seminars covered investment, price control, wages determination, transportation, training, decentralisation and taxation. There was a high level of initial engagement from government, which then, perhaps more than currently, were ready to listen to research, evidence-based advice and consultation. The Finance (Treasury) Minister invariably attended early INA public seminars along with senior officials.
An early INA initiative was the establishment of the National Development Forum, which operated from 1981 to 1984, provide a public forum for policy discussion. Maintaining engagement with policy makers became increasingly challenging, but various subsequent mechanisms for needed dialogue were established, some longer lasting and more effective (like the PM’s Commerce and the Agricultural Sectoral Committees, and the Government Regulatory Advisory Committee, of the late 1980s and 1990s) and others, (such as the Council of Economic Affairs and Commerce Advisory Council in the 1980s) with briefer life spans.
Following consultation between INA, the Business Council and a group of experienced Ministers, the National Development Forum was re-established in 1998 to establish a routine dialogue platform between Government, Private Sector and Civil Society. The forum comprises an annual three day event, run under the auspices of the CIMC (Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Council), together with four Regional Development Forums and a range of economic and social-focused sector committees. CIMC was set up under a Cabinet Decision, but managed by INA, ensuring its operational independence. CIMC, which is also nearly 20 years old, comprises an unique PNG mechanism, with its own Council chaired by the Planning Minister, but entailing a strong sense of shared ownership and trust between government and non-government participating parties. Its sector committees cover diverse development themes from Agriculture to Budget Awareness and Tracking (notably at the District level) to addressing the major social and development challenge of Family and Sexual Violence.
Over the past 40 years, the INA has had 4 Directors, with former UPNG economics professor Brian Brogan, following Terry Pitt, then John Millett, Mike Manning and currently Paul Barker. The Institute has grown from a staff of one, to three for many years, including the energetic Jocelyn Millett churning out INA’s reports and Misa the cleaner, to a strong team now of Papua New Guinean staff, including communications and sector specialists, researchers, administrative and support staff now delivering the INA’s, including CIMC’s, extensive and very busy program. The current deputy Director is Marjorie Andrew and CIMC Executive Officer is Wallis Yakam. The INA’s President in recent years has been David Peate of Paradise Foods, with the three current Trustees being Sir Henry ToRobert (former long serving Central Bank Governor), Lady Winifred Kamit (long standing Senior Lawyer), and Gerea Aopi (General Manager for Oil Search and former Finance Secretary).
John and Jocelyn Millett, ANG Haus 1990 Cathy Gairo, Vavine Iamo and Daisy Pupdi 2017
The INA continues to perform its mandated role of undertaking independent research, analysis and facilitating frank feedback on public policy-related issues in PNG. Its studies and policy papers over the years have focused upon many of the country’s key challenges, related to law and order (including the key Clifford Report and 2004 Police Review), fiscal issues, agriculture and resource management, including addressing the so-called ‘resource curse’, land administration, public investment and State-owned enterprises, private investment and its constraints, trade, employment and skills development (including the major 2015 labour market report), financial markets, financial literacy and inclusion, energy, housing and urbanisation, transport and in more recent years climate change.
Finding ways to engage with policy makers, but also the wider public have been a central theme, and the challenge of making dry policy research accessible to these audiences. The INA has certainly influenced public policy, over the years, and at times provided almost a lone voice in stimulating wider economic policy discussion. It has used a variety of traditional and newer platforms. However, although there are many policies and public institutions which can be ascribed in part to INA’s sometimes significant influence, whether these initiatives have generated positive lasting social and economic change, consistent with INA’s objectives, is harder to determine. Certainly many of the country’s core challenges remain, particularly PNG’s principal development paradox , despite being highlighted in INA reports back to the 1970s, and clearly also forewarned against by some of PNG’s founding fathers.
This paradox is centred upon PNG being a relatively resource rich nation, but finding it difficult to translate especially non-renewable wealth into sustainable economic and social development, including steady and adequate revenue and public expenditure, jobs and opportunities, services and acceptable social indicators. The extractive industries have, instead, helped fuel unrealistic expectations and encouraged burgeoning, but often unproductive expenditure, and sometimes conflict and discord, whilst distorting the economy adversely against viable and more sustainable industries, which could generate broader-based employment and other opportunities. This scenario is not unique to PNG, nor wholly ascribed to resource wealth, but also to weak political and institutional systems, lacking adequate policy and accountability mechanisms; it remains disappointing, however, that, despite the level of research and awareness over these economic, social and governance issues over the years, and discussion raised by INA and other institutions, policy influence hasn’t seemingly translated into adequate impact in practice, notably over economic management and governance in practice.
It is a time of flux in PNG, where economic, social and political circumstances (both external and internal) are changing. Opportunities are there, but risks are high from poor policy directives or outcomes. The ‘PNG at 40’ Symposium hosted by the Institute in March 2016 explored the lessons learnt from the country’s 40 Years of Independence. It brought together some of the country’s most experienced policy makers, plus a few young thinkers and leaders of the future, to examine what has been done right, what could have been done and what should be done better to contribute to a positive future for the country, with a sound policy and governance environment.
Workshop on land use and forest management and climate change, held in Sogeri 2013
Many had hoped that PNG could avoid the pitfalls experienced in other developing countries before it. Despite geographical and other challenges, with the resources available, Papua New Guinea should perform much better, and public investment and benefits, including quality human resource investment, spread much wider through society. The country functions, partly thanks to self-sufficiency of households engaged in subsistence and other economic and social activities, and inputs, often voluntary, by churches and CSOs and some businesses, providing many of the public goods, especially in rural areas. Various factors are, however restraining PNG and broader-based opportunities. Minor and even extensive policy adjustments, such as proposed by the recent tax review, can help address issues, but, as highlighted in the ‘PNG at 40’ Symposium, much depends on a core commitment to law and order and good governance. This application has been deficient, particularly in the public sector and adherence seemingly weakened each successive decade. One can introduce any number of laws and adjust the institutional framework, but the key features are already in place in PNG; they must be applied meaningfully, and not by-passed, whether the annual Budget and procurement processes, or administering land and resource laws accountably in the public interest, including for customary owners.
Over its 40 years of existence, the INA has undertaken extensive research into public policy issues, and facilitated workshops, seminars and other public and private sector consultations, reaching out to Government to share the findings and conclusions. INA, and other policy analysts, certainly have no exclusive insight, but seek to use research and evidence to guide their contribution; policy analysis is needed and needs a wide hearing, contributing to broader public policy awareness and discussion. Unfortunately, some preferred policy options run counter to powerful vested interests within and outside government. Increased access to communications and education (however inconsistent) over the past decade provides opportunities for greater public awareness and empowerment, including more public participation and accountability, but with 2017 as an Election year, progress may be undermined, unless the public, individually and collectively, is ready to forego squandering their vote in exchange for opportunist reward.
The Business community in PNG has changed over time, with many long established companies, including several founding members of the INA, having moved on, or been absorbed. Perhaps the pioneering spirit of the locally-owned / based companies, fostering a business environment and contributing to a successful society, has weakened, with many businesses focusing exclusively on their corporate activities, and minimising their wider engagement. The concerns remain, and have perhaps increased, for example with respect to interference or malpractice by certain regulatory authorities, exclusive deals and lack of competitive conditions, and over substandard public goods, but there’s also greater anxiety by firms to speak out, where licenses, permits, land or work permits might be forfeited. Whilst industry lobbying or representation is the responsibility of various chambers and councils, the INA has a function to provide evidence from its research on economic, social, governance and political issues or actions, including those running contrary to the wider interests of the PNG economy and society, including anti-competitive licensing or tendering or land allocation, and other unsuitable conditions for business and investment, sustainable development, society or a healthy environment. It is a role of the INA to act in a politically impartial manner, but to raise issues and public discussion and facilitate policy feedback, even to highlight concerns, where individuals and businesses may feel reticent to speak out.
The INA has consistently urged Government to focus on core functions, both provision of public goods and regulatory functions, and perform them effectively, and avoid being induced to divert scarce public funds to commercial activities better performed by a well-regulated and competitive private sector or status projects of little public utility, especially where it entails the State borrowing against uncertain future revenue. With respect to economic development, the INA encourages government and the Central Bank to focus on ensuring suitable, consistent, stable and level conditions for diversified investment, including through lowering the risks and other costs of doing business, including ensuring reliable public goods (starting with law and order and well maintained highways and feeder access) and well-focused regulatory conditions. The 2014/15 tax review provides valuable recommendations for reforms for a fairer, more effective and less distortive revenue system. It generally needs early progress on implementation, but not cherry picking the tax measures, which would create unfair distortions or burdens on certain households or businesses; the Sovereign Wealth Fund(s) are critical mechanisms for sound future fiscal and monetary management, if meeting the highest standards of accountability, but they need to be operational in advance of future revenue recoveries.
A fair, equitable but dynamic society, which provides avenues for its citizens (men, women and youth) to use their talents to pursue meaningful economic and social opportunities, free of violence, threat or corruption, and where the natural resources are managed and safeguarded for long term collective benefit, is one that the INA has aimed over the past 4 decades to help foster, and hopefully will continue to do so, successfully, into future decades.
In March 2017, as well as 2 of CIMC’s 2 day Regional Development Forums (in Jiwaka and East Sepik Provinces, on leadership and governance issues), the INA is hosting a workshop and seminar on challenges of urbanisation: safety, security and good planning, for towns/cities, in settlements and in the public realm.