Interview: Jimmy Miringtoro
What sort of legislation will be introduced to improve services and streamline the ICT sector in order to attract more investment?
JIMMY MIRINGTORO: The current government is fully aware of the socio-economic benefits of a first-class ICT industry, and since coming to power in 2011 we have been prioritising investment in the sector. That said, plenty of challenges remain, and it is our duty to introduce new legislation in order to streamline the sector, make it more attractive for both foreign and domestic investors, improve services, and eliminate red tape.
One step we are taking in this direction is developing a full-fledged data centre to serve as a backbone for e-government services. The goal is to improve interaction between citizens and the state through the use of a single platform – a format that has been successfully implemented in countries like Dubai.
E-government has the potential to improve transparency and accountability, which is one of the administration’s objectives. A clear example is the Papua New Guinea National Identity Project, which could be of great assistance in planning and delivering state services. Phase one of the e-government project has already been completed with the help of Chinese vendor Huawei through a loan from the China Exim Bank, including construction of the main backbone for government information. So far, we have launched 50-plus government sites. Phases two and three will roll out the system to all of the provinces and local governments, while building the security layer. This will be developed preferably by a local partner, to prevent possible leaking of crucial state information, as we have seen happening in other countries in recent times. Our target is to have all three phases completed by mid-2016, thanks to an investment of roughly PGK400m ($151.4m).
What measures would you like to see introduced to address the issue of affordability in PNG?
MIRINGTORO: ICT prices continue to be high in PNG, and this keeps a large portion of the population from accessing vital services like e-medical, e-banking and e-education, as well as standard telecoms services. Some analysts like to describe the state of affairs as a private monopoly, but ultimately it is driven by market forces, as the government has already taken the necessary steps to liberalise the market since 2007, when it opened it to foreign investments. What we need to ensure is that profits can be made, and the only way forward will be to offer tax incentives to potential investors, as was done for the PNG liquefied natural gas project. A minimum tax holiday of five years is one option we are considering at the moment. In fact, we have recently commissioned a full review of the sector’s policies. The existing legislation was drafted in 2009, and we feel it is time for a policy revision.
What is the government’s position regarding the convergence of ICT and media in PNG?
MIRINGTORO: We have seen several mergers and acquisitions in the market lately, with Digicel launching its own TV station and Telikom absorbing EMTV, and these are changing the communications landscape. Although this seems to be a global trend and competition is healthy for any market, my personal view is that the two industries should stay separated. Ultimately this was a choice taken by the regulator, the National Information and Communications Technology Authority, because there are no laws in PNG preventing cross-ownership of mobile technologies, TV stations or newspapers. Again, this is something we are addressing in the revision of the act, in an attempt to fill gaps in the current legislation. Information is flowing freely in PNG; we should not stop it, but rather regulate it and create some boundaries. I believe the state should continue to enforce a certain degree of media control, as do advanced economies like the UK and Australia. Both countries have reputable state-owned broadcasting corporations. Too often we have seen unfair reporting on PNG, with emphasis on sensational news and little focus on the progress we have made over the years.
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