PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill used his opening address at the National Governors’ Conference to spruik the benefits of its review of organic law and to press the importance of ongoing political stability as commodity exports ramp up.

Opening the conference on 14 October, Mr O’Neill said the organic law review and the delegation of political authority to the districts and provinces were empowering Papua New Guinea citizens.

The review was one of the priorities agreed to under the Alotau Accord after 2012 national general elections.

Mr O’Neill said the review of the organic law on provincial and local-level governments (LLGs) would make it more relevant, consistent and easy to administer.

“I believe it is reasonable to say that relations between the national and provincial governments have never been better,” he said.

Mr O’Neill said the revised organic law would provide the platform on which district development authorities would be established to drive development and service delivery.

“For the first time in our political history, provinces and districts receive direct budgetary support for their developmental aspirations,” he said.

“In the last two years, the government has provided close to K3 billion, under (the district services improvement program) DSIP for 89 districts and 22 provinces including LLGs.”

Mr O’Neill said the move was a deliberate policy intervention to empower the provinces, districts and LLGs to better serve the people

“We believe by doing this, the leaders will work with the people to improve their own quality of life.”

Mr O’Neill said the government was committed to strengthening the program and stamping out the misappropriation of funding.

“We must weed out any opportunity for the mismanagement of these funds,” he said.

“All levels of government must work together in strengthening accounting systems so that the wastage of limited funds is eliminated.

“I can assure you of my undivided support for decentralisation and the devolution of powers to governments closest to the people.

“But we must do this without having to undermine our country and its unity.”

Political stability

Mr O’Neill made reference to the arrival in Japan of the first shipment of natural gas from the PNG LNG project in order to highlight the importance of political stability in the nation’s fortunes.

He said that without the steady presence of his government the project would never have got off the ground and implored governors to continue working together for the benefit of the people.

“The capital construction cost of the PNG LNG project that delivered our first gas exports was over K50 billion,” he said.

“The K50 billion did not fall off trees, or come from some massive underground reserve.

“It had to be contributed by shareholders, including the state – and much of that contribution had to be raised by loans from institutional and other lenders on the competitive and demanding international financial markets.”

Mr O’Neill said his government had made the necessary “bold decisions” that would lead the country into a new phase of growth.

“Next year our GDP growth will be close to 20 per cent – the highest in the world. That will largely be due to the impact of massive LNG exports,” he said.

“The key component we need to maximise for the economic opportunity we enjoy today is political stability and certainty.

Mr O’Neill said PNG’s real challenge starts in 2015 as it looks to maintain economic growth and increase job creation.

“It will not be an easy task in an uncertain global economy,” he said.

“We need to further develop our vast gas reserves – and we need to ensure there is maximum downstream processing so we can deliver affordable power to our people, and be competitive in attracting investment and growing our industrial base.

“We also need to revitalise agriculture, boost tourism, and above all, enable our people to grow our small to medium enterprise sectors, and that is at the heart of a genuine sharing in the benefits of strong growth.”