Sea Cucumber Fishery in Papua New Guinea

Tropical sea cucumber, called béche-de-mer (BDM) in its dried form, is a luxury seafood and health food, with its main market in southern China and smaller markets in Singapore, Malaysia and other countries. Regional markets for BDM have existed for centuries, and they have expanded greatly since the 1980s with growing incomes in China. Sea cucumbers are relatively easy to harvest and process, even in remote coastal and island locations in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Once dried, BDM is shelf stable and high value relative to its size and weight, so it is an ideal cash-earning commodity for communities where cash-earning opportunities are extremely limited. Increasing prices and an influx of buyers entering the trade seeking BDM led to overfishing in PNG in the 2000s. In 2009 the government instituted a moratorium on the fishery, banning exports, and the PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) closed the fishery. Since then the NFA has revised the sea cucumber fishery Management Plan and conducted stock assessments in preparation for re-opening the fishery in 2017.

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Special Agriculture and Business Leases

Last updated: August 2017

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a nation of landowners. Under its Constitution, people are guaranteed legal ownership over the land they have traditionally lived on and used, and the forests that grow on it. But by 2011, more than
12% of this land had been handed out by the government as large agricultural concessions known as Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs). Under these leases, Malaysian-controlled companies began logging and clearing vast areas of rainforest and exporting the valuable timber.

A government inquiry concluded in 2013 found that most of the SABLs reviewed had violated laws meant to protect people’s land rights, but the government failed to act on its recommendations. The leases have been associated with a range of human rights and environmental abuses. Police on the payroll of logging companies have harassed, arrested and beaten landowners who try to speak out.

In August 2016, the Supreme Court struck down an SABL that had accounted for roughly 10% of all logs exported under the leases. The Court found the SABL had been issued without the consent of indigenous landowners, in violation of PNG law, and declared all operations under it illegal. Yet in the months following the decision, at least six more ships carrying millions of dollars of illegal timber cut under the lease set sail for China.

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Papua New Guinea Sovereign Wealth Fund

Last updated: December 2017

The Papua New Guinea Sovereign Wealth Fund (PNG SWF) is an important mechanism to manage external shocks to the economy, to support the budget to fund priority areas such as education, health and infrastructure, and to invest for the benefit of future generations.

The Organic Law on the Sovereign Wealth Fund was passed by the Parliament in July 2015 to come into operation in 2016. According to the 2015 Budget, from 2016 onwards all mining and petroleum taxes were to have been deposited into the Sovereign Wealth Fund instead of flowing directly to the government’s consolidated revenue fund (CRF). However, a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that the SWF was not yet in operation as at the end of 2016.

The SWF will comprise of two funds: the Stabilisation Fund and the Savings Fund. Tax revenues received from mining and petroleum projects, including the PNG LNG project, will be directed to the Stabilisation Fund, and be available to be drawn down into the budget, in accordance with a five-year moving average, to fund expenditure needs. When revenue flows are large, the excess will be deposited into the Savings Fund.

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Solwara 1 Deep Sea Mining Project

Last updated: April 2018

The Solwara 1 project, being developed by Canadian company Nautilus Minerals, is intended to extract high-grade Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposits of copper, gold, zinc and silver from the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea. The project is set at 1,600 metres water depth and if developed would be the world’s first deep sea mining project. Solwara 1 is located approximately thirty kilometres from the nearest coast (New Ireland Province) and fifty kilometres north of the international Port of Rabaul (East New Britain Province).

Solwara 1 located in the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea

The project is expected to start its operations in 2018. It has been granted an operating license by the Papua New Guinea Government without having been given free, prior and informed consent of nearby coastal communities. Continue reading “Solwara 1 Deep Sea Mining Project”

Marriage, Polygyny and Bride Price in Jiwaka Province

Lasted updated: May 2018

While key informants spoke of the decline of tradition or ‘pasin bilong tumbuna’ as it is called in Tok Pisin, they said that marriage customs remain strong (kastam bilong marit i strongpela). However, the marriage customs of today are different from those of the past and there have been a number of significant changes, especially changes to the magnitude and meaning of the exchanges that mark marriage and the expansion of polygyny. Such changes have had important ramifications for women and in some cases women are worse off.


Polygyny, referred to as ‘dubal marit’ (double marriage) in Tok Pisin, was a precolonial practice among the peoples of Jiwaka. Most men aspired to polygyny, according to the anthropologist Marie Reay, who undertook 15 months fieldwork, from November 1953 to March 1955, in what is today Anglimp-South Wahgi. Reay said that nearly every man hoped to have at least two wives but the goal was to have 10 wives, which she says was the largest number that can be indicated by a single gesture using both hands. Polygynists were admired and a man with three or more wives was judged to be important and wealthy.

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Human Development in Papua New Guinea

Last updated: May 2018

In 2015 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked PNG as being the 158th lowest of 173 countries on the Human Development Index (UNDP, 2015). This composite measure of human wellbeing is based on a person’s ability to lead a long and healthy life, their life expectancy at birth and their ability to acquire knowledge (ibid.). The state of human development in PNG has subsequently been described as being at a low level (UNDP, 2015). Other multilateral and bilateral organisations have also reported on PNG’s poor state of human development. According to AusAid (2013), 30 to 40 per cent of the seven million (plus) population in PNG is believed to be facing hardship and living with either limited or non-existent access to basic health, education and sanitation services. Health related development indicators further signal that PNG has a high level of infant mortality and maternal mortality (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2013), as well as a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS (Dinnen, Porter, & Sage, 2011), malaria, and tuberculosis (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2013). Table 1 identifies a suite of human development indicators relevant to PNG, as recorded by the World Bank.

Table 1: World Bank Development Indicators for PNG

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Public Service in Papua New Guinea

last updated: January 2020

Like some other countries in the Pacific Island region, the public service is the largest employer in PNG, with 105,000 people employed as public officials (Pryke and Barker 2017). The public service includes administrative and “frontline” staff (such as teachers, who make up 52% of the workforce). Ten percent work for provincial administrations, while 12.9% work in national departments. In mid-2014, when the public sector employed just over 98,000 people, administrative positions (which are the focus of this chapter) included those working in executive (0.1%), senior (1.3%), middle (5%), and junior (26%) levels (Haley 2016).

Public servants are operating in a rapidly changing economic, political, and administrative environment. PNG’s fiscal crisis is arguably the biggest challenge facing the public service. Academics have painted a dire picture of PNG’s economic situation noting, “falling government revenue, large expenditure cuts to basic services, evidence of negative economic growth, and a fixed, overvalued exchange rate, supported by foreign exchange rationing” (Fox et al. 2017, p. 1). The public service has felt the effects of this fiscal tightening. Cash flow crises have meant public servants’ pay is often late, and some departments have not received promised funds (Garrett 2016).

Decentralization is the next greatest challenge facing the public service. PNG has three tiers of government (national, provincial, and local) with four levels of administration (national-, provincial-, district-, and local-level government). The country’s 1995 Organic Law on Provincial Governments and Local Level Governments provided a framework for decentralizing service delivery to locallevel and provincial governments. Many have questioned the effectiveness of this reform: a review found inadequate funding, poor capacity and oversight, and political manipulation has undermined decentralization efforts in the county
(Kalinoe 2009).

Nonetheless, recent reforms have reinvigorated the country’s decentralization agenda. The District Development Authority Act (2014) devolves administrative and financial powers to the country’s 89 districts. Provincial-, district-, and locallevel constituency development grants (known as Service Improvement Programs [SIP]) have also increased over the past 5 years. SIP funding arrangements have increased political interference – particularly at the district level through newly instituted District Development Authorities – with members of parliament (MPs) often personally involved in deciding how this money is allocated and implemented; this has exacerbated concerns about corruption and poor administration (Kama 2017). Decentralization has also led to greater opportunities for public-private partnerships, which are set to increase in number due to the increased powers granted to District Development Authorities to engage with the private sector. While the PNG government has lauded this development, many are concerned it has the potential to increase corruption (Davda and Walton 2017; Walton and Jones 2017).

In 2019, citizens in Bougainville province will likely go to the polls to vote on whether it will become independent from PNG or have greater autonomy. The Prime Minister (PM) at the time of writing, Peter O’Neill, has agreed that three additional provinces – East New Britain, Enga, and New Ireland (which is included in this study) – have greater control over their administration and finances. The PM has suggested that this arrangement could be replicated throughout the country. These renewed efforts to decentralize government make understanding the views of public servants working at the subnational level (as this chapter seeks to do) even more important.

Other recent legislative changes have put pressure on the country’s bureaucracy. The Public Services (Management) Act (2014), passed under PM O’Neill’s government, led to a restructuring of the process for appointing senior public servants. It established the Ministerial Executive Appointments Committee chaired by the Minister responsible as well as other government ministers and public servants (Kama 2017). Kama (2017) argues that this arrangement has increased political interference, and Haley (2016) notes that the act “gives MPs a formal role in hiring and firing decisions at the subnational level.”

The challenges brought about by these reforms exacerbate other pressures facing public servants. In the absence of a welfare state, the wantok system (a system of reciprocity between friendship and kinship groups) provides important social protection for many citizens. However, it also means public servants are pressured to provide unofficial favors to their wantoks, which can lead to the sometimes-illegal redistribution of state resources.

Marquis de Rays

Charles Marie Bonaventure du Breil, Marquis de Rays (1832-1893), French financial speculator and swindler who attempted to establish the “Free Colony of Port Breton” at Port Praslin, on the southwest coast of New Ireland, between 1879 and 1882. His scheme was to colonize eastern New Guinea and the Solomon Islands into a “New France” of which he proclaimed himself King. Although European governments denounced the project, about 1,000 gullible French, Belgians, Spaniards, Germans and Italians believed in his promise of cheap land and labor (Chinese and Malay), and markets for tropical crops. De Rays never visited the region and made no preparation for any of the four parties which he sent out. The land was unworkable and the majority of would-be colonists died of starvation or disease. Most of the survivors escaped to Australia. In 1882 de Rays’ fraud was exposed and he was sentenced to six years in jail for criminal negligence.

Josephine Abaijah

Dame Josephine Abaijah (1944- ), health worker, politician, administrator, businesswoman and founder and leader of the Papua Besena movement. Born in Wamira Village, Milne Bay, she was educated in PNG (where she was the first girl to attend Misima government school and the only girl in her class throughout her schooling) and at an Anglican boarding school in Queensland, Australia. Abaijah holds certificates in Health Education, Public Health, Education and Rural Reconstruction, and Teacher Training. She was one of the first Administration trained nurses in PNG. Abaijah has been secretary to the Papuan Medical College, Regional Health Educator at Lae, Senior Health Educator in the Department of Public Health and Principal of the Institute of Health Education. In 1972 Abaijah and her Australian advisor Dr Wright founded the Papua Besena (“hands off Papua”) movement to fight for independence for Papua. In 1972 she became the first woman to be elected to the House of Assembly where she served until her defeat in 1982. She has successfully managed retail businesses and in 1989 became the first woman chairperson of the Interim Commission (governing body) of the National Capital District. In 1991 she became a Dame of the British Empire. Her novel, A Thousand Coloured Dreams, based on her life, was published in Australia in 1991. This is the first published novel by a PNGan woman. Abaijah was an unsuccessful candidate for the House of Assembly in 1992.

Charles Abel

Charles William Abel (1862-1930), London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary in British New Guinea (later Papua) 1890-1917, founder and director of a technical education scheme, the Kwato Extension Association. Abel arrived in Port Moresby from London in 1890, after ordination and a year’s medical training. In 1891 he and Rev. F. W. Walker established a station on Kwato Island, near Samarai, in what was then the Eastern District. In 1892 he married Beatrice Moxton. At Kwato Abel established a boarding school which developed an “industrial branch” to train Papuans in manual skills such as Western-style carpentry for house and boat construction and furniture making. In 1911 he established coconut plantations for the production of copra. These activities were opposed by LMS missionaries such as Dr W. G. Lawes who believed Abel was pursuing practical education at the expense of religious studies. In 1916, when the LMS withdrew financial support, Abel resigned, became an honorary LMS missionary, and established the Kwato Extension Association. The work of the Association was subsidized by the Administration and partly funded by supporters in Australia and America through the New Guinea Evangelization Society. The Association flourished and in 1927 the properties were handed over to the LMS which had by then accepted the importance of this form of education.