Interview: Kelly Naru
In the context of the improving national economy, what role can Morobe Province play?
KELLY NARU: Morobe is the country’s biggest province, with a population of about 750,000 people, and it has probably grown to over 1m since the last census. I would say that location is perhaps the province’s best asset, as it is located in the middle of the country and ideally positioned to connect to the other provinces via land and sea routes. In the context of Papua New Guinea’s economy, which unfortunately fell behind in terms of connectivity over the years, location is a tremendous asset. Consider Port Moresby, which has been growing quickly in recent years thanks to the implementation of the PNG liquefied natural gas project. The city continues to be one of the few capitals in the region that remains unconnected to any other major city.
This means that there are tremendous opportunities for growth in a province like Morobe, which boasts the country’s largest port, located in the city of Lae. It absorbs most of the import and export movement in PNG and offers an ideal platform for local manufacturing, as well as for fishing companies that have invested in canneries to reach the lucrative markets of Europe and beyond.
Economic diversity is also one of the province’s strongest features. Morobe is responsible for the production of many of PNG’s mineral resources and boasts two of the country’s most important mining projects: Hidden Valley and Wafi-Golpu. It is also a major source of timber, cash crops and tuna stocks.
Devolution is one of the most important reforms introduced by the government. How is Morobe taking advantage of this unique opportunity?
NARU: Our goal as an administration is to create a more conducive environment for business and, in order to do so, we will need to solve the biggest issue for the province and, perhaps, the country: the lack of power necessary to support industrial growth.
In my opinion, the present administration truly believes in the fundamental benefits of decentralisation, but at the same time more could be done to ensure increased independence in the management of critical assets. Independent power production has been widely recognised as a priority for addressing power shortages, but it would be much more effective if it was managed at the provincial and district levels. Local oversight would ensure that the additional capacity was used more efficiently.
The cost of supplying power through independent diesel generators continues to be astronomical in Morobe, and it hinders economic growth and poses a hazard to the environment. Similar models implemented in other countries like the Philippines, which used to experience frequent blackouts like we currently do in PNG, shows that the decentralisation of power generation and distribution pays dividends in the long run. This is what we should do in PNG.
To what extent should PNG’s provinces create their own models for economic development?
NARU: Diversity if one of PNG’s main assets culturally speaking, but also in geographical and economic terms as well. Each province should be positioned to develop its own unique economic model. In Morobe, our biggest challenge is the availability of land, as the majority of land belongs to landowners and little remains in state’s hands. Finding a formula that allows landowners to be participants in, and not just mere spectators of, economic activity would be beneficial to Morobe. The government often discusses the importance of public-private partnerships as the way forward for PNG, but we would like to also add landowners as participants in this model. We believe that including this dimension is key for the province’s economic growth and all its future projects, particularly in agribusiness, as it invites landowners into the development process. Hopefully, this example can be utilised by all the provinces.
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