The Papua New Guinea economy has grown significantly in the past 20 years and some estimates say it could reach 20 per cent next year, although a recent slump in commodity prices may cut that back sharply. But despite the growth, half of Papua New Guinea’s population are still at or below the poverty line.
Associate professor Glenn Banks at New Zealand’s Massey University recently wrote a United Nations Development Program report on the challenges this poses for PNG. In it, he identifies the "paradox of plenty" and the "resource curse" of the PNG economy.
The report reviews the state of human development in PNG in terms of the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. It examines the ways in which the extractive industries have contributed – positively and negatively – to these related but distinct pillars.
Professor Banks told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific that there have been some measurable achievements with the money coming into government coffers for the nation’s resources. "The starting point is to recognise that there are some really good initiatives that have begun and in some senses those just need to be reinforced.
"One of the things the report highlighted pretty clearly is that it is down to the government to make a difference. The government is not just the duty bearer but also the institution that receives significant revenue flows from these extractive industries and has the potential to be the institution, really, that turns resource wealth into human development for the poor within Papua New Guinea.
"There are some really good initiatives in terms of improving the quality of aid posts and basic primary education. "The initiative of the current government to introduce free education across the country at primary and secondary levels is a really important initiative, so that needs to be built on.
"By that I mean actually following up to make sure that the schools actually are there, that they have the resources, that teachers get paid, and improving the systems to build on this free education policy can make a huge difference. "It’s not going to happen overnight, but in the next decade if it’s done well – and the report suggests small improvements around the margin for improving service delivery.
"If that’s done well, then over the next decade you could see a real transformation in the delivery of health and education to the 85 per cent of Papua New Guineans who live in rural parts of the country.
"I’m reasonably optimistic that things are going to get better – that Papua New Guinea is going to be able to provide some benefits from this resources boom to the bulk of the population," he added.