Government of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. Four levels of government exist: national, provincial, district and local. The national parliament is a single legislature with members of parliament (MPs) elected for five-year terms. The prime minister is appointed and dismissed by the governor-general on the proposal of parliament. The National Executive Council, or PNG Cabinet, comprises ministers who are nominated by the prime minister. MPs are elected from 89 Open electorates and 20 Provincial electorates, sometimes called ‘regional’ electorates. Provincial electorates have the same boundaries as the provinces and the National Capital District. Provincial members often also serve as a provincial ‘governor’. Each province has its own provincial assembly, comprising district MPs, managers and some local level government appointees. Eighty-five Open electorates have the same boundaries as the administrative districts (the other four Open electorates cover the cities of Port Moresby and Lae). MPs usually chair a number of district-level committees responsible for service delivery and planning. These committees include selected members of local level governments and administrators from within the district.

In order to win government for his party, the prime minister must form a coalition from the fifteen or so unstable political parties usually represented in parliament. This results in a great deal of ‘pork barrel’ politics, including the granting of ministries to members of supportive parties and the sudden withdrawal of ministries to meet political contingencies. National ministries, as well as the seats on national commodity boards that national ministers can control, give access to monetary resources that can be diverted to local supporters or to personal use. Similar behaviour occurs at the district, or Open electorate level, where MPs can use their District Support Grant funds arbitrarily to gain and maintain the support of particular blocks of voters. This style of governance fails to address chronic problems that have been clearly identified by numerous investigations and also leads to the inefficient allocation of resources. Examples of these problems include the promotion of agricultural projects that will actually disadvantage village smallholders, and appointments to agricultural institutions of people who are incompetent.

The relationship between the national and provincial governments is governed by the Organic Law on Provincial Government and Local-Level Government 1995, the outcome of a reform of the Organic Law on Provincial Governments 1977. The Organic Law specifies which functions are held by the different levels of government. The stated aim of the 1995 reforms was to improve the delivery of services to rural areas by decentralising them to district and local level governments. However, the most important outcome of the reforms appears to be a dislocation of administration and service delivery at all levels of government. A 2005 review of the decentralisation process found widespread confusion over administrative and financial accountability, responsibility for service delivery, the transfer and funding of functions, the separation of capital and recurrent expenditure, and taxation powers.

Section 108 of the Organic Law provides for the National Government to enact a ‘National Planning Act’, but this has not happened, leaving PNG without a coordinated national planning system. The Organic Law does provide for coordination of planning and budgeting between national and provincial governments through the Joint Provincial Planning and Budgeting Priorities Committee and between provincial and district governments through the Joint District Planning and Budgeting Priorities
Committee. These committees are widely considered to have been a bottleneck in the funding process and to be controlled by MPs, who gained considerable powers under the 1995 reforms. The committees are preoccupied with spending the MPs’ District Support Grants (DSGs) and not with coordinating activities between districts. Many MPs only spend their DSG funds on new projects and not on district recurrent service delivery costs.

Other sources of funding leave most province and district health, education, agricultural extension and infrastructure maintenance programs chronically underfunded. Estimates of costs of service delivery and funding within provinces by the National Economic and Fiscal Commission in 2006 found that Sandaun Province receives only 20% of the funds required to deliver basic services; Manus 30%, Simbu, Central and East Sepik less than 40%; Milne Bay, Oro and Gulf less than 50%; Eastern Highlands 52%; Madang and Western Highlands less than 70%; East New Britain less than 80%; West New Britain less than 90%; and Morobe, Western, Enga, Southern Highlands, New Ireland and NCD more
than 100%. The cost of services was not assessed for Bougainville Province.

The Pacific 2020 review of national agriculture development policies also found that major constraints affecting agricultural development in PNG have been the complex Organic Law; an ineffective extension system; the lack of an effective national agriculture development plan; the lack of transport infrastructure maintenance; ineffective communication and marketing facilities; an uncoordinated and inadequately staffed national agricultural research system; a lack of credit facilities; an acute lack of
competency of staff in state institutions; and poor human resource training programs for the sector.

National Government

The Constitution, adopted in 1975, provides for a single chamber national parliament of 109 members elected by universal adult suffrage. Eighty-nine members are elected from districts within the provinces (open electorates) and 20 by all voters in each of the 19 provinces (provincial electorates) and the National Capital District. The Prime Minister is elected in an open vote by a majority of members voting, and appointed by the Governor-General as the representative of the Head of State, the monarch of Great Britain. The Speaker is elected by a majority in a secret ballot. The Constitution requires parliament to meet at least 12 weeks a year on dates set by the Prime Minister.

Parliamentary terms are limited to five years. All governments have had to face votes of no confidence within five years. This practice has had a destabilizing effect on government. On three occasions governments have been overturned by votes of no confidence. Under 1991 legislation votes of no confidence cannot be moved within 18 months of an election. Most sessions have been short (four, two or three week sessions per year) and parliament has frequently adjourned early to enable the government to avoid a vote of no confidence.

By October 1993 there had been five changes of government since Independence in 1975. In 1977, after the first elections held after Independence, Michael Somare‘s PANGU Pati formed a Coalition Government, first with the People’s Progress Party (PPP), and in 1978 with the United Party. In 1993 Prime Minister Wingti’s Government coalition included his own People’s Democratic Movement, the People’s Progress Party, the League for National Advancement and Independents. The national government fully owns 16 major enterprises (such as the Post and Telecommunications Corporation) and has interests ranging from 20 percent to 70 percent in 14 other enterprises, mainly in the natural resource sector. In 1993 steps were being taken to privatize some fully-owned enterprises.

Provincial Government

Provinces grew out of the 19 districts which Australia had established as administrative units. In the 1970s provinces replaced districts with few changes to either boundaries or names. Some districts were so concerned to win at least a measure of autonomy that they were allowed governments before Independence. In 1973 North Solomons established an interim provincial government. This action was legitimized by the Provincial Government Act of July 1974. In 1974 East New Britain and Eastern Highlands moved to establish interim provincial governments. The issue of devolution of power to the provinces was so contentious that detailed consideration was postponed until after Independence in 1975.

The Organic Law on Provincial Government, 1977, provided for the establishment of 19 provinces each with a Constitution and an elected Provincial Assembly of at least 15 members. The head of the Assembly, known as the Premier, and a Provincial Executive Council are elected by the Provincial Assembly. Devolution of power to the provinces was strongly supported where there were active regional movements but many districts were unenthusiastic and did not readily respond to the national government’s invitation to draft Constitutions. By 1985 all 19 provincial governments had been formed. A national government department was established for each province. These departments were under the control of a Minister for Provincial Affairs.

The Act allowed for political, administrative and financial powers to be handed to provincial governments in stages. The provinces were given responsibility for primary schools (except curriculum), health centers, minor public works, regulation of retail trade including liquor, sporting and cultural activities, and local government councils. From time to time the national government delegated other powers such as control over the development of primary industry projects. At annual meetings of the Premier’s Council attempts are made to coordinate provincial policies. In 1992 approximately 90 percent of provincial revenue came from the national government and the provinces raised the remainder by levying minor taxes such as retail sales taxes. Provincial governments have been given the power to establish development corporations, or ”business arms”, to raise revenue through business investments. In 1983 the Somare Government amended the Constitution to allow the national government to suspend incompetent and corrupt provincial governments. Between 1983 and 1991 nine provincial governments were suspended for alleged maladministration. When a provincial government is suspended its powers are assumed by the National Executive Council which appoints, through the Minister of Provincial Affairs, an administrator.

The provincial government system has not been particularly successful. Some provinces have demanded more powers and others cannot handle the powers that they have. The 550 salaried politicians and the provincial public servants are a considerable drain on the national purse. In the 1992 national budget the K1 17.7 million allocated to provincial governments represented 8.5 percent of total budget expenditure. Provincial governments have been unstable and frequently brought down by votes of no confidence. They have often been corrupt and incompetent. As at June 1993 ten provincial governments were suspended for malpractice or mismanagement. The two layers of government, national and provincial, have led to an unnecessary increase in the number of public service bureaucrats and confusion over the division of responsibilities. Most of the development corporations have been unsuccessful. It has frequently been necessary for the national government to pay debts incurred by provinces. In 1992 the national government established a bipartisan committee to recommend ways in which the provincial government system could be reformed.

Local Government

Attempts by the colonial Administration to involve PNGans in local government through the establishment in 1949 of Local Government, or Village, Councils, were mainly unsuccessful. The councils were given little power and, in spite of their name, were almost all in the towns, not the villages. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the councils were sometimes unpopular because they were seen as tools of the Administration. In 1977 the councils became the responsibility of provincial governments, most of which were unwilling to provide them with funds. Local government councils have operated successfully in Manus, East New Britain, Morobe and, until the declaration of a state of emergency in 1990, North Solomons provinces. In 1990 there were 160 local government councils which the government estimated covered approximately 90 percent of the population.