Address by the Hon. James Marape MP, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
On 25 July 2019, the Lowy Institute hosted the Hon. James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, for an address titled "A New Book for Papua New Guinea."
Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you about the important changes, I am initiating in Papua New Guinea.
As you know, I was elected as my country’s 8th Prime Minister on the 30th May 2019. It is, without doubt, the greatest honour of my life, and I give thanks to God for giving me this opportunity.
Before I proceed, I would also like to take this opportunity to again thank Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Australian Government for the warm hospitality my delegation and I have received this week. As I said on Monday at our joint press conference, no bilateral relationship is more important than our relationship with Australia.
The fact that I chose Australia as the destination for my first official overseas visit, speaks, as Prime Minister Morrison himself said on Monday, great volumes about the closeness of our relationship.
The title of my speech here today is “A New Book for Papua New Guinea” and like all first chapter in any good book, it must provide the strategic context for what is to come in other proceeding chapters.
My government that includes the core group of young educated leaders who were with me to forge the recent changes of leadership in PNG will endeavour to write the first few chapters of this new PNG book.
Ladies and gentlemen, Papua New Guinea is at a crossroads. The old book of PNG belongs to the past 44 years and is littered with chapters of few success and more failures and that is history and their story. And we anticipate to anchor our new book for the next 44 years from lessons learnt in the first book.
Amidst many pronounced failures including systematic weakness of service delivery, PNG, a nation of over 830 tribal and languages groups have maintained unity in a democratic system of government, with a functional and independent Judiciary and has managed to survive thus far as a united democratic country.
We have developed a vibrant economy, we have refined our political systems, we have enhanced democratic process and the rule of law and made great headway in addressing the development challenges of the most geographically and culturally diverse nation on earth.
But it is clear to me, and must be clear to all who care to listen that the new generation of Leaders I lead on behalf of our people demand change of course for the better because what we have done thus far as Nation, has been inequitable and disproportionate to our natural resource extraction.
In a country where population growth trends above economic growth or GDP, our annual budget provisions continues to be far less than actual need for development, it is now time to do things differently. Generational change demands change in modus operandi.
Now is the time to embrace economic opportunity so that we can provide for all of our people, both today and for the generations to come. We have a responsibility to ensure that we invest in our future, so that our children, our children’s children and all those that come beyond have a strong foundation.
My generation of leaders must seize the tools and competitive advantages we have at our disposal like the use of ICT and digital economy platform, our strategic geographic placement in Asia Pacific and more particularly Indo-Asia Pacific region and our potentially high yield destination for investors and utilize it for the best interest of our people, otherwise the opportunity cost of wasted time will compound and haunt not only PNG but regional neighbors going into the future.
The simple fact is that for too long we have allowed external forces to dictate the direction that we take, but this will now change.
We will move from an introduced culture of dependency and complacency, where we rely on overseas aid and inward investment alone, to one where we become a vibrant economic powerhouse and are totally economically independent by expansion and diversification of our economic base.
This means that we must advance for the interests of our people. Create opportunities for growth. We must work with responsive economic partners and ensure a fair and equitable distribution of our resources.
We must embrace reform including policies and tweaking resource laws and institutions in all sectors that ensures our national net take home, whether in tax or equity or royalties for every resources adds up to above 50 percent. But gaining more for our national coffers without stopping wastage through corruption and complacency will be injustice and efforts in vain.
Therefore we must and will stamp out corruption. And we must and will build the institutional and governance frameworks that support sustained development, both now and in the years and decades to come.
Through all of this, it is my dream that Papua New Guinea becomes the richest black Christian nation on earth. This is because God has blessed PNG with abundant natural resources, and by investing in correct strategies today, we have the capacity to harness those resources for the benefit of all.
We must and will examine ways to harness and unlock our natural resources. We must and will make use of local talent from our human resource pools some of who are so competent that they are working internationally including Australia. In short, we must take back our country, our economy and seize our own destiny.
As with any maturing democracy, this means that we need to change our focus. This is why I am so pleased that during our discussions this week, Prime Minister Morrison and I were able to agree to a comprehensive strategic and economic partnership, where as equals we will work together to tackle the mutual challenges that face both our great nations, in the pristine Pacific region.
This is where Australia’s commitment to infrastructure support is sincerely appreciated, in partnership with us to enhance electrification and telecommunication capacity. These are the key economic enablers – enablers that will allow our economy to grow.
And of course, Australia’s continued partnership in a vast range of other areas to support health, education, policing, defence cooperation and so on continues to be warmly welcomed and received. All of this is evidence of the warmth of our relationship and our enduring historical ties.
But I don’t envisage this type of aid donor recipient relationship to last, in-fact within the next 10 years I want my country to grow into economic self-reliance and independence that we ourselves become a partner in the region. This is the new chapter of the new book I want to write for my country for the next 44 years if Jesus Christ has not come back yet by then.
Now is the time to take the next step where we achieve true economic independence and determine what our future should be.
We must and will invest in technology and embrace innovation.
We must and will develop downstream processing and manufacturing capabilities and develop the human capital with appropriate skills to drive and fully industrialize our economy. This is vital for our economic survival and an integral part of our plan for achieving long-term sustainable development.
We have a population of more than 8 million people.
We have a pool of committed and capable workers. Now is the time to harness that opportunity, create revenue, generate growth and enable wealth creation for all.
But to achieve full economic independence we need to change the mindset of our people, as well as those that seek to control or influence us. Developers must become more attuned to our unique needs. We must and will empower our provinces to raise their own revenue and stimulate economic growth. We must overcome the rural divide and the entrapment of our people by ensuring that we create equal opportunity for all, where any person, man or woman, can achieve his or her full potential.
This means that we must and will harness the collective contributions and capacity of all our citizens. We must provide an environment where quality education and health cares are available to all levels, and where all Papua New Guineans can fulfil their true potential, regardless of where they have come from or where they now live.
Embarking upon a process of substantial social, economic and structural reform cannot be achieved over night, and it cannot be achieved by one man alone. It requires a team effort, and as I have said many times, I do not have every answer to every problem that may arise.
That is why as Prime Minister I am consulting widely. I am reaching out across both sides of the political aisle to draw on and make use of the greatest talent available to us. The Ministers appointed to my cabinet have been selected on the basis of merit, and as Prime Minister I expect them to deliver on the challenges and the tasks ahead.
All ministers must have a sense of collective belief and an intention to do what is good and right for Papua New Guinea, and Papua New Guinea alone. Self- interest plays no role in the Government that I lead, and those that seek to profit from public office have no place in my Government and will be made to face the full brunt of the law.
Our people have had enough, and now is the time to tackle the cancer of corruption that has taken hold, using the power of prosecution and all other means that we have at our disposal.
As a first step, the Government is currently undertaking a comprehensive diagnostic on our law and order capacity, and other critical areas of social service.
As Prime Minister, I want to ensure that we have the right services available in the right places to meet the needs of all our people. This requires that we review our current law and order and service delivery footprint so that we can determine where new investment may be required, and where needs may have changed. I want to reform, reconstruct and rehabilitate a system of government that is so cumbersome with systematic and systemic service delivery impediments including corruption.
As Prime Minister it is my intention to reform the Public Service to be leaner, efficient, effective and ethical. The waste must stop. Services must be guided by economic drivers and social need, not by misguided or uninformed policy. Previously as Finance Minister I initiated a number of reforms to bring greater accountability to our public service and this process of reform will continue under the leadership of the Minister for the Public Service.
We must create a leaner public service that provides more joined up Government services and reduces unnecessary duplication and where necessary outsource or establish partnerships with the private sector and the Churches. Our public servants must be properly equipped with the skills that they need to do their jobs more efficiently, effectively and ethically, and we must place services and people where they are most needed.
By investing in our public servants, by ensuring that they have the skills and tools they need, we can truly make Papua New Guinea the country it is meant to be. A country where Children are educated, the sick are treated, infrastructure is developed and where the rule of law prevails.
A key priority for our new Government is to finalise the Organic Law on the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I have asked that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice treat this as a priority. I want the Commission established without delay and will ensure it has all power and authority to investigate and refer allegations of corruption. As a maturing democracy this is the right and proper path to take, and I intend to make sure it happens before the end of the Parliamentary year.
As I have already said, as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea I want to provide opportunity for all. It is a known fact that over 80% of our people live subsistence lives. We are blessed by fertile soil, and for so many, the land provides for their needs. But we need to be smarter. Papua New Guinea is endowed by enormous natural resources and it is time for us to harness those renewable resources to achieve maximum economic gain.
We must grow our primary producer sector and support our people to rise above poverty. We must create economic corridors that enable our people to get their goods to market which means we must continue to invest in roads and infrastructure. We must provide market opportunities, empower our people and open up PNG to the world. Most importantly, we must ensure income generation and job opportunities.
At the same time, we must work with our multinational commercial partners. I have said to our partners that they have nothing to fear by my election as Prime Minister. I recognize the importance of economic partnership and working together to grow our economy to ensure our people receive the benefits they so rightly deserve.
I have been clear that we will honor existing project agreements that are in full compliance with the laws of PNG. But I have also said that we will be reviewing our existing policies and laws, to ensure that future projects provide greater benefits to our people.
I already have a fresh team of PNG advisers in place who are looking at our policies and resource laws so that they can be tailored to provide the maximum domestic benefit and opportunity to our people.
This is the proper, right and fair thing to do. It does not mean that our partners cannot achieve economic benefits. Rather, the Government wants to ensure that there is a fair and equitable share of benefits of all our natural resources. This is the key for ensuring long-term project security, empowering our people and improving living standards.
The fact is, that under current benefit sharing arrangements we have witnessed minimal economic and social improvements. You simply just have to look at all the key economic and social indexes. Papua New Guinea is one of the worst in the world despite all our natural resources and world class operations by multinational companies.
What I am proposing is a new and holistic economic and social partnership. One that garners opportunity for all, not just a few. For as it stands, we have little to show for years of resource harvests and give away and little to celebrate today.
This has to change.
Foreign investors that respect our laws will be protected and we will work in partnership. But let me be clear, foreign owned companies that break our laws, exploit our people, or harm our natural resources will be held to account.
We will work with investors willing to develop meaningful downstream processing facilities so that we can truly harness the benefits that economic sectors, such as gold, copper, iron, oil, gas, forestry and fisheries can provide. But, we will no longer allow foreign companies to profit unfairly from our natural resources, and those that fail to adhere to regulatory requirements will suffer the full force of law.
PNG will turn 50 years as an independent nation six years from now in 2025. Many of the resource policies and laws we have now were developed earlier to attract investors and many of our present industry players have enjoyed the benefit of those generous policies and laws and various incentives we have conceded along the way.
Our government intends to develop and refine our policies and rewrite our laws for a new chapter in our new PNG book to be effective in 2025 and beyond.
Those promulgations will embrace world best practices where most global investors already know including my new focus on downstream processing, better definition of local content, domestic market and industry fed from our resources.
These policies embraces all sectors including renewable resources like sustainable harvest of agriculture, forestry and marine resources.
Agriculture and food industry will receive my special attention because PNG is closer to over 3 billion people in Asia, Indo-Pacific region who will need to eat food and especially organic food that we are capable of producing.
The need for energy and other resources in Asia is also good for PNG too and my government will tailor correct policy framework including tax incentives to ensure low cost of doing business in PNG like having cheaper and reliable power and communication. This will sustain our quest to grow our economy.
So for those investors who hold exploration licenses or permits and want to enjoy present terms, you are encouraged to progress your license conditions because regime shifts are coming to be implemented in 2025.
To conclude, I simply say this, PNG is shifting to a new gear for change. Change is coming. Majority of Papua New Guinean’s demand this change that not honouring them borders on treason against a national cause. We will take back PNG, empower our people and write a great new book with many successful chapters going into the future.
We will make Papua New Guinea one of the most successful countries and economies of the world. This will ensure the present global assets we house in PNG, like the 6 to 7 percent of worlds biodiversity and also our huge tropical rainforest that continues to contribute to global oxygen supply is not lost through unsustainable deforestation.
It is my desire to diversify PNG’s economic base and make it rich, from this perspective and utilize our global assets like rainforest and biodiversity.
Esteemed members of Lowy Institute and participants and media, you can help me sell the story of PNG better, for it is a global story too.
You need oxygen as much as I need it, we need biodiversity for world’s healing, we need our pacific oceans to be healthy and pollution free, such can only happen when a leading country in the Pacific in Papua New Guinea in which God placed such global assets to have a diverse and improved economy that is harvested sustainably.
For the world is littered with stories of irreversible environmental degradation where economically hungry people or nation plunder resources unsustainably. The chapters and book I choose to write for PNG has benefits not only for PNG but the world too.