Before independence, our leaders chose and promoted a people-centred approach and enshrined this in our Constitution. But successive governments have steered another course
EDDIE TANAGO PAINE
PORT MORESBY – It’s Independence Day for Papua New Guinea, marking 47 years since a new country was born.
But while we celebrate 47 years of political independence, we must acknowledge that, as a nation, we have failed to fulfil our aspirations.
I want to reflect on the reasons why this is so.
Why have our social and economic development outcomes fallen so short of what we dreamed was possible in 1975?
Why has our nation so richly blessed in natural resources failed to provide the benefits of these to our people?
The answer is that our failure has mainly been caused by successive governments choosing to follow the wrong development model.
In the years leading to independence our leaders chose and promoted a people-centred approach and enshrined in our Constitution.
But successive governments have steered another course, which is to rely on foreign investment with natural resource extraction as the main economic driver.
This strategy has failed to deliver the promises made by governments.
And I need to tell you that, in their Constitutional Planning Report, this is just as our Founding Fathers warned.
PNG has opened numerous large-scale mines, increased export logging and commercial fishing and tapped huge oil and gas reserves, but the benefits have not found their way to the people and resource owners.
Profits made from large-scale extraction are banked offshore.
Companies evade paying tax and contribute little to government revenue.
Local employment is very low and projects operate as enclaves with little connection to the rest of the economy.
This exploitative attitude has also destroyed local communities, created inequality, spawned conflict and undermined good governance and the rule of law.
The theft of public funds and corruption has flourished while rural people have been starved of basic services.
But despite the evidence of failed promises, increased poverty and devastating environmental impacts, we have kept on doing the same thing for the last 47 years.
Our leaders constantly promise that the next mine or logging project will have a different result of bringing development for the people.
After 47 years of failure we need to reflect and rethink our development pathway and make changes before it is too late.
Large-scale extractive industries have caused more harm than good.
Human rights are being breached, cultural sites destroyed, people made landless, social and environmental damage accepted, including entire river systems destroyed.
Meanwhile promised riches, improved rural services and decent hospitals, roads and schools never materialise.
The change required need not be drastic or difficult. The pathway is already set out in our Constitution.
Let’s put in people back at the centre of our development model and concentrate on direct help to them to improve lives and livelihoods rather than focusing on the profits of foreign corporations and losing our birthright to satisfy their corporate greed.
Let’s halt these attacks on customary land, which is the foundation of our communities and which provides a livelihood for the majority of the rural population.
Let’s stop the export of unprocessed round logs, let’s stop issuing new logging permits to foreign owned companies and focus only on value-adding and downstream processing.
Let’s stop spending millions of kina of taxpayers’ money to help foreign corporations open new large-scale mines and focus instead on supporting and promoting PNG-owned businesses operating at a small and medium scale.
You can read more about why PNG’s adopted model of development has failed and how we can change course for a better future in Act Now’s report, ‘From Extraction to Inclusion’.
There’s also an accompanying short video you can watch here.
You can find more information and publications here on the Act Now website.