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How to make service delivery work in Papua New Guinea


A report based on two surveys 10 years apart has been released by a team of researchers from Papua New Guinea’s National Research Institute and the Australian National University.

In 2002, NRI, in collaboration with the World Bank, surveyed 330 primary schools and health clinics in PNG from the national capital to the most remote districts.

In 2012, NRI, this time in collaboration with the Development Policy Centre at ANU, went back to many of the same primary schools and health clinics in the same eight provinces, this time surveying about 360 facilities.

The end-product is data of unprecedented detail in relation to service delivery in PNG.

The NRI-ANU research team has spent the last two years analysing the data, and this week released the results at the NRI campus in Port Moresby.

The report, A lost decade? Service delivery and reforms in Papua New Guinea, shows that PNG’s primary schools have expanded rapidly over the last decade but that fewer services are now provided by its health clinics.

Since the difficulties of service delivery in PNG are well-known, what is perhaps more interesting are the areas of progress shown in the report.

There were 89% more children enrolled in the average PNG primary school in 2012 compared to 2001. Whereas there used to be one girl at primary school for every two boys, now there is almost one girl for every boy.

The number of teachers has grown by one-third over the decade, and the share of female teachers has grown from a quarter to a half. The number of teachers claiming pay but not actually working has fallen dramatically.

The average school has more and better classrooms, teachers’ houses and textbooks. More have drinking water and electricity.

Of course, PNG’s primary schools and – to a much greater extent – health clinics still face many challenges. One-third of classrooms require rebuilding: the same as in 2002. Class sizes have increased a lot, and there are broader concerns about the quality of education. And although the number of children in school has increased, absenteeism has risen.

Nevertheless, the positive results revealed by the survey show that progress in service delivery is possible in PNG and how progress can be made.

Much of the report is devoted to understanding the effects of recent reforms, such as free health and education.

Getting finances to the service delivery frontline stands out as critical.

About 40% of health clinics receive no external support, whereas nearly all schools receive the twice-yearly subsidy payments.

And schools receive more than twice as much funding than they did 10 years ago, even after inflation. What they have lost in school fees they have more than made up for through generous government support.

Local governance and supervision also matter. Schools have mature and increasingly powerful Boards of Management which provide local oversight. They receive community support through P&C Committees. And most schools are inspected.

The Education Department has been able to hire new teachers, whereas many retired health workers continue since there is no-one to replace them. Significantly, about half the health workers interviewed felt they were not being paid at the correct grade.

In summary, getting funding to the frontline, providing community and administrative oversight and sorting out human resource problems seem to be the secret for the success of PNG’s primary schools.

It is a recipe that could be applied to primary health care, perhaps starting at the bigger district-level facilities.

Regular monitoring of basic data across PNG is critical for understanding what is working, what isn’t working, and why. Without it, we will be in the dark about service delivery.

We look forward to the discussion that we hope our report will generate.

Professor Stephen Howes is Director of the Development Policy Centre. Andrew Anton Mako was a Research Fellow at NRI for most of the duration of this project. Dr Grant Walton and Dr Anthony Swan are Research Fellows at the Development Policy Centre. Dr Thomas Webster is the Director of the National Research Institute. Colin Wiltshire is the Project Manager for the PEPE project at the Development Policy Centre


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Lindsay F Bond

My salute is in support of both the Report itself and the endeavour of all who contributed to it.

Bring on the discussion that ought be generated from its evidential presentation.

Respondents will likely endorse the intent in the words "regular monitoring of basic data…"

To that objective, for Northern (Oro) Province, my input is by gathering of photographs of education and health buildings.

This is to assist in asset monitoring. Maybe other people are doing something similar, and I will be grateful at learning of any.

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