Papua New Guinea is now 36 years old as an independent nation. This article looks at the country’s development record to see how well we have done. The figures quoted below are taken from official documents such as the PNG Vision 2050 and the PNG Development Strategy 2010-2030. Reference has also been made to a report published by the National Research Institute titled “Papua New Guinea Development Performance 1975-2008”, as well as reports published by various donor agencies and international organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations and Transparency International.
Eight basic development indicators taken from the above sources are quoted along with brief commentaries so as to show how PNG has fared since 1975. Please be forewarned that some of the data are a few years old.
1. The infant mortality rate, which shows the number of infants who die before the first birthday out of every 1,000 babies born in the country in a year, is 57. Infant mortality in Fiji is 18 per 1,000 births, and the whole of East Asia and the Pacific is 31. More babies die than anywhere else in this art of the world.
2. The maternal mortality rate is 733 per 100,000. This means 733 women die out of every 100,000 woman during child birth in PNG. This is four times higher than countries in the Pacific.
3. PNG’s current life expectancy at birth is 62 years. This compares with an average of 67 years for all developing countries and 72 years for East Asia and the Pacific. People in neighbouring countries live longer than Papua New Guineans.
4. Only 57% of adults in PNG are literate. This compares with 93% in the East Asia and Pacific region and 82% in the world. More people cannot read and write in PNG than elsewhere in the world.
5. Unemployment is very high. Only 500,000 people (13%) hold paid jobs out of a working-age population of some 3.8 million. The implicit level of unemployment is 87%.
6. School drop-out rates at Grades 8, 10 and 12 are 50%, 80% and 70% respectively. This means only half of Grade 8 students go on to Grade 9; 20% of Grade 10s go to Grade 11; and 30% of Grade 12s get accepted into tertiary institutions. The main reason for the very high dropout rates is lack of facilities and spaces in educational institutions.
7. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a measure used by the United Nations to assess countries in three areas of human development — life expectancy, adult literacy, and school enrolment. It also takes into account peoples’ standard of living as measured by the gross national product per capita. In 2010 PNG was ranked 137 out of 169 countries, making it the 33rd least developed country in the world.
8. The proportion of the population living below the international poverty line of US$1.00 per day (or approximately K1,000 per year) was 40% in 2010. Estimates in 1996 and 2006 respectively were 25% and 37%, meaning that an increasing proportion of the population has been progressively becoming poorer. PNG is a rich country full of poor people.
There are many other indicators of development but the above show that PNG has not done well in terms of its people experiencing improvements in their living standards. Commentators state that the country experienced many positive developments between the 1960s and the 15 years following independence in 1975, but indicators have either stagnated or worsened since the 1990s. Smaller and less-endowed countries like Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have done much better than PNG.
Some of the reasons advanced for this not so impressive record are the two international oil crises of the 1970s, the Bougainville crisis which started in 1989 and ensued over the next 15 years, political instability which resulted in changes of government every 2.5 years up until 2002, natural disasters like the volcanic eruption in East New Britain, the tsunami which hit Aitape, the cyclone which affected parts of Milne Bay and Oro Provinces, several structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank as a result of a high level of public debt due mainly to uncontrolled government expenditure, and the El Nino-induced prolonged drought.
One glaring issue which has had a direct negative impact on development and ultimately on the peoples’ living standards is corruption, which emerged in a more pronounced manner in the 1990s. Corruption has become entrenched and endemic, such as to cause former Prime Minister Sir. Mekere Morauta to describe it as ‘systemic and systematic’.
Transparency International, which issues a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) every year, has been tracking the extent of perceived corruption in nearly all countries in the world for many years. It scores countries from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most corrupt and 10 being clean. In 2010 PNG was given a score of 2.1, together with countries such as Russia, Laos, Kenya and the Central African Republic. PNG’s ranking was 165 out of 178 countries, making it the 25th most corrupt country on the planet!
The burning question is, “Can our people realize better and improved livelihoods in the 37th year of independence and onwards?” This question can best be answered by our leaders and bureaucrats.
The country has experienced consistent economic growth in the past 6 or so years but this growth at the macro level has not trickled down to make a real difference where it matters the most: at the micro or people level. In fact, the years of positive growth seem to have coincided with an increase in poverty among a large proportion of the population, unemployment, lawlessness, breakdown of infrastructure, etc. The situation can be summarized as follows: ‘The richer the country, the poorer the people’.
This, again, can be attributed in large part to corruption. As we have seen above, PNG is listed among the least developed and the most corrupt countries. There is a direct relationship between corruption and development.
The new O’Neil-Namah Government has made several very popular decisions since coming into office on 2nd August which are as a breath of fresh air to the people. In addition to free and subsidized education from next year onwards, the decision to fight corruption is the most significant in light of the development experience as highlighted above. We hope that the current investigations into corruption at the Department of National Planning are followed through with prosecution of those found guilty. We also look forward to the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Unless we take drastic action against corruption, our social indicators will continue to worsen despite the country being flush with cash from the proceeds of the LNG and other resource projects emerging all over the country.