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Aid advisers in Papua New Guinea: a partial solution

Model of Australian non-citizen technical advisers employed by aid contractorsCARMEN VOIGT-GRAF, JOACHIM LUMA & MICHAEL ANDERSON*| DevPolicy Blog | Edited

THE reliance on non-citizen technical advisers is a contentious part of Australia’s aid program in Papua New Guinea.

It has been criticised for the significant costs associated with non-citizen technical advisers, the perceived ‘boomerang’ effect of this aid model, and the lack of effectiveness of advisory support.

Critics often point out that there is little evidence advisers have made any real contribution to capacity building within PNG’s public sector.

On the other hand, it should be recognised that Australia generally only provides advisers to PNG because of a (perceived) lack of local skills and capacity and because many requests for advisers are made.

The issue was thrown into stark relief when prime minister Peter O’Neill told parliament in July 2015 that non-citizen advisers were making PNG nationals ‘lazy’ and did not always have the best interests of PNG at heart.

The PNG government introduced a new law to impose tighter control over advisers employed by aid contractors and subsequently terminated the placements of a number of Australian advisers seconded from Australian government departments.

Most advisers funded by the Australian aid program are employed by third-party aid contractors, which are commercial companies. The contractors pay the wages, accommodation, transport, security and other costs associated with the engagement.

While funding comes from the Australian aid budget, the contractors manage the individual advisers who are placed in PNG government departments to provide technical assistance and capacity building.

Under this arrangement, there is no legal relationship between the adviser and their PNG agency head. The only legal relationship is between the adviser and the contractor via their employment contract (see diagram above).

Another group of advisers in PNG are Australian federal public servants who are deployed under the Strongim Gavman Program - a whole-of-government engagement program involving senior Australian officials from Australian government agencies placed in counterpart PNG government agencies to provide policy and strategic advice and capacity development.

Strongim Gavman Program advisers continue to be employed and paid as Australian public servants and report to their team leader, who ensures duty or care and reporting to the home agency.

Over time, the Australian aid program in PNG has become heavily reliant on non-citizen technical advisers. At the time of the 2010 Review of the PNG-Australia Development Cooperation Treaty (1999), it was estimated that 62% of Australia’s assistance to PNG was allocated towards technical assistance in the form of 360 non-citizen technical advisers, more than double the global average.

The dominance of technical assistance was identified in the review as the “most controversial aspect” of Australia’s aid program to PNG.

On 30 July 2015, prime minster Peter O’Neill told Parliament that the engagement of advisers has led to two things: “firstly, [it] is making our nationals quite lazy. They are not able to take ownership of decisions and are over dependent on consultants and advisers. … Sometimes the advice given to the Government are [sic] not in the best interest of the nation”.

In a surprise move, the prime minister then announced that the government had decided that the contracts of all foreign consultants and advisers would end by 31 December 2015.

In September 2015, Peter O’Neill said that he wanted to ensure that non-citizen advisers showed loyalty to PNG. The PNG government then indicated it would expel “foreign government employees” from the public service and announced a new regulation dealing with non-citizen technical advisers.

Of the 33 Australian Commonwealth public servants deployed in advisory roles in the PNG government under the Strongim Gavman Program in 2015, 15 adviser positions in central government agencies ended on 31 December 2015.

The Public Employment (Engagement of Non-Citizen Technical Advisers) Regulation 2015 came into effect on 1 January 2016. The regulation specifically dealt with non-citizen technical advisers who are employed by aid contractors and placed as advisers within the national public service.

Following input from stakeholders, including Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, a new regulation came into effect on 1 September 2016 which simplified the arrangements and removed many of the impediments that had been identified in the previous regulation.

A Performance and Conduct Agreement is the centrepiece of the regulation, which for the first time creates a legal link between the non-citizen technical adviser and their PNG agency head.

Model of Australian non-citizen technical advisers employed under new regulationThe agreement requires non-citizen technical advisers to comply with a code of conduct, be accountable to their agency heads for their work performance, and develop the capacity of their PNG counterparts (see diagram).

Under the regulation, which describes its purpose as being “to protect Papua New Guinea’s sovereignty”, employees of foreign governments cannot be engaged as technical advisers.

They can only be engaged as short-term advisers in the PNG national public service under “institutional partnership arrangements”.

These are formal agreements concluded between a PNG government agency and a similar agency from another country aimed at providing specialised capacity building assistance.

The regulation addresses the difficult issue of in-line functions versus advisory roles of technical advisers by officially recognising that non-citizen technical advisers may perform in-line functions.

Previously they were assumed to only provide advice to their PNG counterparts while in reality some were performing in-line functions. This means that they may also be delegated powers and responsibilities (including supervisory roles) that are necessary to perform these in-line functions.

In a future article, we will argue that the new regulation is a partial solution to the contentious issues of non-citizen technical advisers in PNG, and propose a model under which non-citizen technical advisers would be employed by the PNG government.

* Carmen Voigt-Graf is a Fellow at the Development Policy Centre. Joachim Luma was the Manager Executive and Legislative Reform Branch with the Department of Personnel Management during the development of the new regulation. Michael Anderson was a non-citizen technical adviser to the Department of Personnel Management during the development of the new regulation


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Dr John Christie

Thanks for your response Paul. Please note I said "controlled mechanism" with regard to medications.

Paul Oates

Thank you Dr Christie for more insight into the problem.

Yet even the tendering and supply and distribution of pharmaceuticals has recently been corrupted by the Minister and his senior Departmental staff, actively supported by the PM no less.

I wonder what would happen if all those responsible public servants actually had an anti corruption unit that would quickly and successfully prosecute all fraud and corruption that they see happening every day? Once an firm example is set, the house of cards will inevitably collapse yet who will start the process?

The inevitable problem is that who will 'finger' those responsible when they may be a 'wantok' or they are offered a piece of the action to keep them quiet?

Dr John Christie

Having grown up and trained as a medical officer in PNG and worked with the Health Dept. in senior roles from 1973 - 1984 and then coming back to PNG in 1994 as an AusAID funded adviser (Team Leader) for a ten year period, let me say that it is soul destroying work. Individual, well trained and motivated PNG health workers are battling to achieve change as corruption gains greater prominence and acceptance. PNG health workers are quite capable of taking advice; indeed are eager to receive help but have no sustainable mechanism to implement the advice. Technical assistance in the form of advisers should be abandoned until there is a sustainable platform for implementation of their assistance. Better to put the funding into the purchase and distribution of medications that are efficacious through a controlled mechanism. At least hospitals, heath centres and aid posts etc would be able to function without the chronic cry of "no gat marasin".

Paul Oates

When will everyone be prepared to recognise what the actual problem is?

Will Self's comment highlights the issue. More 'advisers' only leads to more expenditure for even less gain. The current aid system is simply not working. Tinkering with a broken system won't change the system.

Are the PNG political leaders too proud or too vain not to acknowledge this fact? Are those contributing the so called aid unable to accept the obvious?

Until everyone on both sides are prepared to recognise the actual issue there will be no solution since external 'band' aids can't fix the internal hemorrhage.

The answer lies in proactive leadership on either side of the Torres Strait. The problem is that the solution is clearly unpalatable in both Canberra and Waigani.

Until both sides are prepared to recognise the problem they will continue to try and bail out the sinking boat using thimbles. Sure each thimble maybe possibly be useful in what it was designed to do but is clearly and totally useless in fixing the overall problem.

Perhaps the millions of aid money being wasted each year should in fact be initially diverted to buying spectacles of the right variety and gratuitously donate these to the responsible political leaders involved?

Husat dokta em inap lo tok stret lo displa 'marasin'? Husat lida em inap lo harim displa toksave, daunim sem bilo en na wokabaut lo nupla rot?

Will Self

The best advice ever given to AusAID was from Mal Smith.

"We don't need any more f....g advisers. Buy them a house in Sydney and leave them there.

"Don't you think that if we had public servants capable of taking advice we would not be in the position we are?"

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've always thought that if you've got a leaky pipe you employ a plumber. If you need a genealogy done for an ILG you employ an anthropologist.

These people are essentially trades people and they deal in 'technical' matters.

The last thing you want to do is put them in charge of anything.

If PNG has a problem with a particularly tricky leaky pipe and hasn't got a technician to fix it they can employ someone from overseas to (a) fix it and (b) train one of their own people to do it in case the problem crops up again.

That to me is the essence of 'technical assistance'.

It certainly doesn't relate to things like policy development. That's something PNG can do by itself without outside help.

Paul Oates

Like you Peter, I can't see how any 'tinkering' with the old aid adviser model will in any real way change anything or improve the desired results.

Therein lies the real issue. What are the desired results and in whose eyes?

What PM O'Neill's dictum really meant was that he had no use for any aid adviser that didn't toe his line (read: do it his way or else!)

It should go without saying that if PNG employees are standing back and letting overseas staff do the work then the problem lies with the supervision of PNG staff all the way up to the supposedly responsible Minister and not with the overseas advisers who apparently are trying to make a difference. Clearly that aspect wasn't the PM's area of concern?

So what's the answer? We keep repeating to quote attributed to Einstein: "To keep doing something that you know doesn't work is a stupidity"... or something along those lines.

Peter Sandery

I suppose it is the cynic in me, that Paul Oates spoke about in an earlier blog that motivates me here.

I cannot however see why any sort of "technical assistance" is going to do any good whatsoever in a political system which has degenerated to such a state.

Provided you have the numbers on the floor of parliament, it appears they can be made up of citizens found guilty of electoral fraud and that you can flout ad infinitum any law or conventions.

This is an ideological and cultural problem and can only be remedied by the citizens themselves, perhaps, dare I say it, in the Pacific Way that Fiji seems to have done so? Unless we have a latter day Lee Kuan Yew lurking behind the dusty curtains of Waigani.

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