Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Papua New Guinea report: almost every indicator in decline

Last year, the reputable Bertelsmann Transformation Index compared the performance of 125 countries aspiring to achieve full democracy and a market economy.

Here's a summary of PNG's report card, which you can read for yourself by following this link.

Throughout the period of review, Papua New Guinea made some progress in its political and economic transformation toward a more liberal democracy and market based economy…

Positive developments include continuity in government leadership, economic recovery, sound economic policies, stability in the exchange rate, an increase in reserves, peace on Bougainville and some elements of stability in political parties.

The country faces some deeply rooted problems, however, that may impede the transformation process. The level of socioeconomic development is low. Per capita income is now actually lower than it was at the time of independence…

The rule of law is still weak, corruption persists at the highest levels and there are continuing tensions between tribal groups.

Ethnic or regional bias, gender discrimination, gridlock in politics, a deepening gap in income equality, and polarisation between the political leadership and the general populace do not allow for a sufficient degree of consensus-building or for institutional efficiency in the democratic system.

The level of difficulty in governing a country like Papua New Guinea cannot be underestimated. Politicians are self-serving, and almost every socioeconomic indicator has declined since independence in 1975.

Poor governance, endemic corruption, the lack of infrastructure, a small and unstable economy, aid dependency, low levels of education, ethnic conflicts and economic recession have all taken their toll on the country.

The situation has become so bad that in recent years the country has been reported to be on "the brink of collapse" and has regularly been referred to as a failed state.

Strategic outlook

Although the country has some measure of political stability and has achieved economic growth, these gains are fragile and could easily be reversed. All key institutions, such as the parliament, the political executive, the bureaucracy and the private sector, are weak.

In the dimension of democratic transformation, five major issues remain: political stability, corruption, electoral campaign reform, gender issues, and law and order. These issues have been discussed again and again, and all past reform programs have either faltered or failed miserably.

While there is political consensus between the elite and civil society to deal with these five major issues, the mechanisms to implement reforms are either too weak or are hijacked by vested interests.

On the social front, the government must seriously tackle the problems of HIV/AIDS and income inequality. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has the potential to follow the African pattern, where the most productive segment of the population is being wiped out. In major coffee plantations in the highlands, many of the workers are HIV positive. HIV/AIDS is the now the leading cause of death at Port Moresby General Hospital.

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