| Act Now!
PORT MORESBY – Papua New Guinea think tank and community advocacy group, Act Now!, has joined with Jubilee Australia and California’s Oakland Institute to publish a new report calling for an urgent change of course from PNG’s political leaders.
The report, From Extraction to Inclusion, analyses PNG’s economic and development performance since independence in 1975.
The main finding is that the PNG economy has relied on the large-scale extraction of abundant minerals and other natural resources under the illusion it will improve the lives of its citizens.
Yet on most indicators PNG is faring worse than its Pacific neighbours and any progress that has been achieved does not reflect the huge value of the resources extracted.
The report reveals that relying on the extraction of natural resources has failed to improve people’s lives for a number of reasons.
The extractive industries tend to operate as enclaves with little connection to the rest of the economy.
Foreign companies are allowed to externalise their enormous social and environmental costs while banking most of the profits offshore.
They also contribute relatively little to government revenues. And the growth of these sectors has been accompanied by poor governance, theft of public money, and corruption.
From Extraction to Inclusion also details how extractive operations often involve widespread human rights abuses.
Communities opposing extractive projects face repression, threats, and violence.
Projects have been forced upon the communities – or they have provided consent because of empty promises that are never delivered – while legitimate dissent and protests are often met with violence and abuses by police forces or private security operatives.
Through its comprehensive and objective review of the facts and figures, the report makes it clear that it is urgent for PNG to change course and put people back at the centre of its development policies.
This should start with a halt to the current attacks on customary land tenure, which is the basis of the village economy and the livelihood of most of the population.
The report calls on the PNG government to take other bold steps, including rejecting new large-scale resource extraction projects, halting the expansion of oil palm and banning round log exports.
Instead, the priority should be on public policy and investment in appropriate agriculture that benefits farmers, feeds the country, and uses natural resources in a responsible way.
The report also recommends that local communities should be placed at the heart of future forest management and that downstream processing of sustainably and ethically produced timber products should replace the current focus on round log exports.
Although the current government has made some moves in the right direction, much stronger action is needed to show that the priority is the people of Papua New Guinea, not the largely foreign corporations and financial interests, which have been encouraged to plunder the country for over four decades.