Development trends: Inside Track

TO get a real sense of whether an era of positive change is on the horizon, forget about what’s going on at the centre of government in Waigani.
Development trends: Inside Track Development trends: Inside Track Development trends: Inside Track Development trends: Inside Track Development trends: Inside Track

Published in the November 2012 PNG Report magazine

Waigani needs to be watched to see if it will mess up the almost ideal macro-economic situation now enjoyed in Papua New Guinea, a process that will occur with subtle shifts over a significant period of time.

For some years now this country has enjoyed strong levels of growth across various segments of the economy, supported by reasonably balanced budgets and moderating levels of inflation.

As intimated previously by Inside Track there are major concerns in this regard with an apparent penchant for excessive expenditures on many fronts and lack of adequate efforts to improve delivery of public services.

The bigger the spending, the bigger the proportion likely to fall through the cracks.

Inside Track for one will be keeping a close eye on some of the newcomers to the ninth PNG parliament, particularly the new squeaky clean governors of a number of provinces.

Top of our list, not unexpectedly, is the governor for the newly established Jiwaka province, Dr William Tongamp, who gave up a lucrative career as associate professor in the engineering department of Japan's Akita University. It is understood Dr Tongamp has a PhD in mining engineering.

Dr Tongamp has his work cut out for him as the inaugural governor of a province that is in dire need of better infrastructure and public services. High on the list of challenges will be a decision on where to locate the provincial capital, with three groups vying for their preferred location.

Among the first priorities he will need to address is ways in which the fertile plains of the Waghi Valley can attract investments and developments that will make agriculture a cornerstone of development and increased prosperity in Jiwaka.

Another governor worth watching is the man at the helm of Western province, Ati Wobiro.

The province has one of the worst social indicators, despite the tremendous wealth generated there by the copper-gold Ok Tedi mine, which has been paying millions of kina to landowners and the provincial government for many years.

Wobiro has a masters degree in economic and social studies and is considered something of a guru on management and planning. He is the author of many papers on the subject and has extensive experience in the arena.

In his most recent position, he was program development manager for World Vision International based in Washington. He has also been an economics lecturer, a provincial planner and a management consultant.

Wobiro takes over as governor at a time of great promise for Western province. Studies are currently underway for the development of two major gasfields for the purpose of planning condensate exports from the regional town of Kiunga, along with studies on a major gas-fired plant.

Further down the track, a mid-scale LNG plant is a possibility.

Another economist who has become a first-time politician and governor is Kelly Naru, of Morobe province, who regards law and order, and economic development as his top priorities along with the provision of more jobs for young people.

He has been critical of former governor Luther Wenge for his role in having the Supreme Court declare as illegal the Australian Government's Enhanced Cooperation Program in 2005, and particularly the role of frontline Australian police on the beat.

"We have to address law and order not on a piecemeal basis, but with other issues such as unemployment, youth, women, religion. I will sit down with our leaders and we will try to address this problem of law and order," The National newspaper quoted him as saying soon after his election victory.

Another governor to be watched is the former head of customs, Garry Juffa, who has been elected as governor of Oro province.

He has marked himself down as somewhat anti-mining, with virulent and emotional attacks on the proposal of Nautilus Minerals to undertake a deep-sea mining operation in PNG.

But many people from Oro have expressed optimism that he will turn the province around, especially after he took up residence in the province in contrast to the many governors and regional politicians who choose to stay at ultra-expensive hotels in the capital city.

Tongamp, Wobiro and Naru have not had much to say in public as yet. Hopefully, they will soon be charting out policies and plans that could make their provinces showcases for development and spreading levels of prosperity.

Inside Track is a columnist for PNG Report magazine.

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