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PNG Pacific leadership: Is Fiji the start?

PNG Pacific leadership: Is Fiji the start?
Published 23 Apr 2013 

Donald Gumbis is a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Goroka and a Lowy Institute intern.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill (pictured) is acutely aware of the need to improve PNG's international reputation. Part of his plan to do this is to step up PNG's activities as a regional leader, as he explained during this interview at the Lowy Institute in November 2012.

This may explain his decision to extend a K50 million (A$20 million) in assistance to the Fiji Government for its elections in 2014. This grant, while not the first PNG has offered to a regional neighbor in need, is the largest in monetary value thus far. PNG has provided assistance to Solomon Islands, Samoa and even Australia in the past following natural disasters.

The irony of PNG, which itself needed significant international assistance to hold elections last year, offering its non-democratic Melanesian brother financial assistance to hold elections has not been lost on PNG's politically engaged citizens, who expressed some disbelief on the twittersphere. Since independence, PNG's elections have been marred by violence, guns, an improper electoral registry system and voting processes which could have benefited from more resources.

The PNG Government's decision to help Fiji  was guided by foreign policy considerations and regional leadership ambitions but it should explain this reasoning to its own citizens, particularly as this assistance is not for humanitarian purposes and given PNG's own troublesome history with inadequate resources for elections. It would be interesting to know whether this donation will give Papua New Guinea some say in Fiji's elections preparations or even on how exactly the money will be spent.

Photo by Flickr user Commonwealth Secretariat.

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