Looking ahead: The government launches a far-reaching national development strategy

Vision 2050, Papua New Guinea’s long-term national development strategy, is the most ambitious planning document in the county’s history. Introduced in September 2009, the plan serves as a blueprint not only for economic development through to 2050, but also addresses social and community development, foreign policy, environmental and climate issues, and spiritual and cultural growth. In short, Vision 2050 seeks to “reflect the aspirations of the people of PNG”, according to the document. Put together by the National Executive Council (the cabinet) and the National Planning Committee over a two-year period beginning in December 2007, Vision 2050 is the nation’s first longterm national development strategy.

AREAS OF FOCUS: Seven broad strategic focus areas, or pillars, underpin the document, namely: human capital development, gender, youth and people empowerment; wealth creation; institutional development and service delivery; security and international relations; environmental sustainability and climate change; spiritual, cultural and community development; and strategic planning, integration and control.

Progress in these areas will be benchmarked against domestic targets developed by the government, in addition to a number of international indices. For example, the strategy aims to turn PNG into one of the top 50 nations in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) by 2050. Similarly, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) figure heavily in the plan.

LONG-TERM VISION: Implementing Vision 2050 over the next 40 years represents a major challenge. In January 2011 the government announced that the plan would be carried out by the Vision 2050 Development Centre (VDC), a new government body. In February 2012 the government announced that the VDC had been “lagging behind with funding in 2011”, and so would be replaced by a new entity, the Office of Vision 2050. This small bureaucratic reshuffle is perhaps representative of the work that lies ahead. To successfully implement the strategy, the Office of Vision 2050 faces the task of coordinating strategy, financial planning and implementation across all of PNG’s governmental offices, departments and ministries. Considering the recent political volatility in the country (ongoing as of May 2012), this is a daunting task. Despite the fact that the plan is set to play out over a four-decade period, PNG has a lot of ground to make up. In 2011 the nation was ranked 153rd on the HDI, out of 187 countries in total. Similarly, according to the Vision 2050 document itself, in recent years “PNG has either not made progress or has lagged behind on seven of the eight MDGs.”

Despite these challenges, the government remains optimistic. PNG’s economy has expanded substantially over the past decade, primarily due to a series of largescale energy and mineral projects. Additional growth is expected through at least the next five years.

Notably, in 2014 ExxonMobil’s PNG liquefied natural gas (LNG) project is projected to begin producing, which will likely result in an increase in government revenues. The 2012 government budget projects the project will bring in PGK1.5bn ($714m) over the first 3-5 years of production, with increased revenues thereafter.

A substantial percentage of this new income will be put toward initiatives laid out in Vision 2050. Taking into account PNG’s rapid economic expansion in recent years, the strategy might very well be feasible. Provided the government can muster the necessary political will, Vision 2050 may eventually transform PNG.

HISTORY OF DEVELOPMENT PLANNING: While Vision 2050 is PNG’s first long-term development strategy, the country has an extensive history of economic planning. In 1962 a UN mission led by Hugh Foot, a British diplomat, visited PNG. The resulting paper, known as the Foot Report, urged the Australian government to fast-track the decolonisation process. It is widely regarded as an important catalyst for the nation’s subsequent independence in the mid-1970s.

In the years before PNG achieved self-rule in 1973, the young government, picking up where the Foot Report left off, introduced a broad strategy known as the Eight-Point Plan. Developed in part by Michael Somare, who would later serve as prime minister, the strategy sought to boost indigenous participation in the economy and government; encourage equality among the provinces, ethnic groups and genders; and increase development in rural areas, where the majority of citizens lived, and still live today.

PAST ATTEMPTS: The tenets laid out in the Eight-Point Plan were at the core of the subsequent planning initiatives put in place in PNG. The first such initiative, known as the National Development Strategy, was launched in October 1976. Two years later, in 1978, the government introduced the National Public Expenditure Plan, which was in place until 1986. Since then, PNG’s economic and social progress has been charted in a series of five-year medium-term development plans.

Despite these planning initiatives, according to the Vision 2050 document, “PNG’s development experience over the past 34 years has been unimpressive.” In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the country posted low GDP growth figures in general, and occasionally slipped into negative GDP growth, despite the implementation of a series of IMF and World Bank-led Structural Adjustment Programmes beginning in 1990.

AWAITING IMPACT: In 2003, after a government-led restructuring effort, PNG achieved sustained economic growth on the back the burgeoning (and potentially massive) energy and mining industries, in particular. Since then, even as GDP figures have continued rising, the government has struggled to make an impact on social development. Some 37% of the population lives below the poverty line, according to data from the UNDP. Additionally, per capita income remains relatively low, at $403, according to government figures.

PILLAR BY PILLAR: The new plan contains seven pillars, designed to help improve PNG’s economic and social development outcomes by 2050. The first pillar is aimed at human capital development, which includes gender, youth and empowerment issues. With population growth in recent years estimated at 2.3-2.7% and more than half of the populace unable to read and write, according to government figures, developing PNG’s human resources is a major area of focus. The first pillar highlights the need for new education initiatives to increase both the quality and quantity of training available at all levels within the country. Literacy training, with a focus on women and the large youth population, is a priority here.

Wealth creation, Vision 2050’s second pillar, is focused on boosting business ownership and entrepreneurial activity among the native population. According to government data, citizens currently only own around 10% of businesses in PNG, with the majority being held by foreign entities or multinational players. The wealth creation initiative aims to develop new training and business opportunities for citizens, with a focus on sustainable industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, in particular.

The third pillar, which is centred on institutional development and service delivery, aims to streamline and improve the distribution of government services throughout PNG. According to the National Economic and Fiscal Commission, a government body that oversees intergovernmental financing arrangements in PNG, administrative spending accounts for up to 60% of annual budget costs in most provinces. With this in mind, the third pillar is meant to boost efficiency in an effort to streamline government service delivery.

The fourth pillar, meanwhile, addresses international relations and security issues, the latter of which, in particular, represent a major challenge in PNG. Under Vision 2050, the government plans to improve funding, manpower, training and intelligence gathering at the country’s security agencies, including the Royal PNG Constabulary and correctional services. Additionally, the fourth pillar includes a plan to restructure the nation’s foreign policy regime, primarily by forming a framework for a national foreign service, improving training for diplomats and expanding trade relationships.

The fifth pillar of Vision 2050, which is concerned with environmental sustainability, aims to insulate the country against the adverse impacts of climate change in the coming years. This will likely involve the creation of new resource management and conservation programmes with an eye toward protecting natural assets.

The sixth pillar, which is officially aimed at improving PNG’s spiritual, cultural and community development, is primarily concerned with supporting the country’s churches, many of which provide essential services to remote areas that have been neglected by the government. According to the Vision 2050 document, churches are responsible for more than 40% of education and health services provision in PNG. Under the strategy, religious institutions should benefit from increased financial and logistical support from the government.

The final pillar, which is focused on strategic planning, integration and control, aims to guarantee the correct implementation of Vision 2050 itself. The initiative calls for the creation of an independent organisation to facilitate and monitor strategy. The recently launched Office of Vision 2050 is designed to fulfil this need.

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The Report: Papua New Guinea 2012

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