THIS speech was made by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill as the “2017 Prime Minister’s Back to Business Breakfast” in Port Moresby on February 2, 2017.
AS we near the end of the Parliamentary term, it is timely that we look back on the past five years.
It is good to look back and review what we promised the nation in all of our core policy areas when we came into office in 2012.
I would also like to give you an overview of our plans for the next five years of Government…Should it be that the voters of the nation judge us favourably – of course.
Over the past five years of our Government, I hope you will agree – that we have been a business-friendly Government.
We have sought to provide strong confidence to the business community.
We have worked hard to ensure that there has been a level playing field for business.
This is in terms of fiscal policies that are transparent and sound.
Very importantly, and tax positions have not changed over the past five years.
The outcome we have sought – is to ensure certainty and stability for the business community.
Business do not need uncertainty in taxation laws and government regulation.
We are maintaining this certainty.
Certainly, we have faced challenges.
The dramatic fall in commodity prices placed strain on economies around the world.
Commodity producing nations faced recession and serious hardship – but in Papua New Guinea we have ridden the storm quite well.
We did not increase taxes and we did not cut core services.
Our Government was proactive in cutting waste in the public service, and we put some non-priority infrastructure projects on hold.
These pressures all occurred at a time when our country was facing one of the worst drought in recent memory.
This affected food supplies in communities vulnerable to extreme weather that is made worse by climate change.
Drought not only had a negative impact on agricultural production, but undermined our exports.
We can now see light at the end of the tunnel.
Commodity prices are rising, and the drought has passed.
Agricultural production is rebounding, and mineral and petroleum sector projects are increasing production.
But this does not mean the Government is taking it easy – commodity prices remain fickle, and climate change means another drought could be right around the corner.
We are ready for the next challenges that might confront us, and we will get on with delivering the core policies of our Government.
Our Government came to office with some very clear and straight forward promises:
First and foremost, we promised that we would get children into schools so that we can create an educated nation;
- We promised to expand universal healthcare around our nation;
- We said we would stabilise law and order in the country;
- We promised to repair rundown national infrastructure that had been so badly lacking;
- And we said we would devolve power and decisions, and services, from Waigani to the districts and provinces of our country.
Looking back on the past five years – how have we done?
Improving education in Papua New Guinea has been one of the most important areas for our Government.
Over this term of Government, we have invested more than 3.5 billion Kina in our free education program, which is in addition to the 3 billion Kina in ongoing education expenditure.
We wanted to reduce the burden on families around the country – many of them large families that could not afford to send all children to school.
This was particularly hard for young girls in some families who often missed out on schooling.
By removing school fees, our Government has placed an additional one million children in school.
By investing over K3.5 billion in direct funding to schools through our Tuition Fee Free Education Program.
Today, we have two million children in school – close to half of them are girls.
We know there have been problems in getting so many children into school in a short period of time This has meant more children are in each class, and student to teacher rations have increased.
But these inconveniences are very temporary.
We are building more classrooms, and more teachers are being educated through our teacher training colleges throughout the country.
We have trained and assigned an additional 4,711 primary school teachers and 2,144 secondary school teachers.
Over the past five years our Government has also invested substantial funding in areas of higher level education.
We have provided direct funding to our universities, but in facilities such as nursing colleges, and in technical training colleges.
Our emphasis moving forward is on improving quality and expanding higher level institution capacity.
The outcome of our free education policy is that we will have a more capable workforce and healthier communities.
Children in our communities will be able to make better informed decisions with their families, including in areas such as family planning.
When it comes to healthcare – we have advanced a policy that is saving lives.
More than 1.2 billion Kina has been invested each year, more than 6 billion Kina, in improving healthcare.
For the first time in our Nation’s history, we have a National Healthcare Plan.
While we still have a lot of work to do, universal healthcare is becoming a reality around Papua New Guinea.
The amount of money a person has in their pocket – should not determine if they can see a doctor or receive healthcare.
Over the past five years, working with our partners, including churches, we have expanded medical services to remote areas and rebuilt hospitals.
We are building new facilities including nursing schools, and we are working to establish a standalone medical university.
We have trained 592 Nurses trained, assigned more than 400 doctors around the country and currently we have 415 clinical health workers enrolled and in training.
The changes at Port Moresby General Hospital, Angau, Mt Hagen, Kerema, a new hospital in Popondetta, hospitals at Goroka and Boron, and many other hospitals, are a great examples of advances in healthcare.
Port Moreby General, as an example, has transformed from a run-down mess only a few years ago, to the functional hospital it is today.
This is happening all throughout the country.
As an example Malaria Prevalence Rates have reduced from 171 per 1,000 people a few years ago, to 109 per 1,000 people.
At the same time the TB Prevalence Rate has reduced from 475 per 100,000 people to 320 per 100,000.
Around the country we are delivering changes to healthcare, and this will continue to be a priority for our Government.
In the area of law and order, our Government has implemented a program that has delivered results at three levels of enforcement areas: police, the courts and prisons.
We continue to expand the numbers of police who are out on the streets.
For ten years before our Government came to power, the Bomana Police Training college had not graduated a single recruit.
Our Government reopened the college to recruits – and the Bomana Training College is producing police that are now on our streets.
We continue to build capacity through strengthening leadership and discipline in all of our uniformed services.
This includes improving the welfare and living conditions of service men and women, and providing better training and clear career structures.
Our Government is also developing a generous pension system for service personnel – but it will be tied into discipline.
We will not tolerate bad discipline amongst our uniformed personnel.
We have implemented a one-strike and you are out policy.
This has seen serving officers leave their services for ill-discipline, and others are now being processed as we speak.
We have invested more in the court system than any other Government.
This has seen an improvement in buildings and infrastructure used by our courts, but very importantly we have seen a large improvement in court processes.
This has seen court backlogs being reduced, and it has seen the recruitment of more judges and a rise in the professionalism of court staff.
This means people appearing in courts experience a more organised and transparent process in having their cases processed brought before the courts.
We are strengthening our Correctional Services centres to be real centres of rehabilitation Not much is achieved when you lock someone up and do not give them the chance to turn their life around.
Our Government is expanding skills-based training so that people can come out as functional members of our communities.
In the area of infrastructure, the amount that we are investing is increasing
Critical infrastructure around our country is changing – it is being rebuilt and we are building new buildings, roads, airports and sea ports.
This infrastructure is making lives better for communities around the country – and is enhancing supply chains for business.
You can look around the towns and cities of our country and see big change in less than a year.
Around 3,000 kilometers of road has been improved to maintainable condition.
With a total capital expenditure of around 3.2 billion Kina invested in roads and bridges, this is unprecedented and by far the biggest increase in road maintenance funding in history of the nation.
In the past five years we have also refurbished Jackson’s Airport and other national airports, including Mt Hagen Hoskins, Vanimo, Popondetta, and expanded the number of sea ports around the country.
We have built the Lae Port, and expanding Port Moresby and other ports.
We have certainly seen change national infrastructure in the past five years.
When it comes to the rural areas of our country, our Government has delivered on a promise of decentralisation.
We are devolving power from Waigani to the people of our districts and provinces.
For too long, the majority of people have suffered when decisions were made about their area by officials in Waigani who had no local knowledge of the issues affecting our communities.
Funds were distributed in Waigani and often did not make it to the districts throughout the country.
We are changing all of this.
Our Government has been empowering district and provincial administrations to make decisions at a local level, then receive funding direct to their local projects.
We have also introduced the District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) and Provincial Services Improvement Program (PSIP) programs that are delivering tangible outcomes for communities.
Over the term of this Parliament, DSIP and PSIP expenditure is more than 6 billion Kina.
This is funding that is going straight into development at the local level.
It is important to highlight that these funds are not given to politicians – but are managed by district and provincial administrations.
Community interest and oversight ensures the dispersal of these funds it open and transparent.
I urge you to attend the upcoming Leader’s Summit, here at the Stanley Hotel next week, to hear first-hand the proud achievements that have been made through these programs in these districts.
The stories and briefings are not told by politicians, but delivered by district authorities and people involved.
This sums up the foundations that we are laying for the country well into the future.
These are the core policies that have been undertaken by our Government, and we will use the following five years to strengthen these polices.
Our country has the opportunity to build on these core policies that are starting to produce outcomes for people.
The management of a country as challenging as Papua New Guinea is not an easy task.
One of the main reasons our Government has been able to deliver on our core policies is our political stability.
Against backdrop of a very determined opposition that has been characterised by personality over policy, our Government has remained united.
Looking around some of the parties that we have now or are forming we see a lack of substance, a lack of meaning and a lack of attention to detail.
When there is no policy to draw on, and these parties tend to resort to high emotion and more circus-like.
Our people have had enough of this and expect professional Leaders in both Government and Opposition.
As we have seen in the past, if Leaders do not have the necessary experience, who are not equipped with sound and clear policies – they will to manage the country in an ad-hoc manner.
Business leaders and our citizens must continue to demand higher level of commitment from Leaders that aspire to higher positions in our country.
From the Opposition, you have to demand more than just anti-government rhetoric.
Our Leaders have to stand for something, and share their vision with our people – not be just an empty vessel.
While we are still going through challenging times – it is important to retain experience and stability in the leadership of the country.
But sadly we have so few Leaders who have had the experience of leading a significant political party for extended periods of time
Other than Sir Michael Somare, Sir Julius Chan and myself, no other leader has led a political party continuously for 15 years or even 10 years.
Leaders retired or retiring, several of them having had illustrious political careers.
Now is the time where we will continue to promote and guide our young leaders of tomorrow.
Many of them, for the first time in their lives, have experienced a period of political stability never seen before in our country.
We have had only two Prime Ministers in 15 years.
During that time, most of the ministry has remained intact.
And over the past five years we have experienced public service stability, by not constantly been changing the heads of departments and statutory authorities
This is the first time in our country’s history that a government has been able to have its core policies continued for an extended period without any change.
It is important that the Government of the incoming Parliament continues to build on this stability.
Looking Forward – the Next Five Years
Looking forward to the remaining months in this Parliament, and beyond the formation of the next, our Government has a policy agenda that continues to evolve.
High in our priorities is population control.
The size of our population is already too high, and a national budget of 13 billion Kina is not enough as the years go on.
Some estimates have the number of our people ranging from 8 million to even as high as 13 million right now.
We must reduce our population growth, or in the years to come by placing considerable pressure on future Governments.
We must work to cap annual population growth to well below 3 per cent.
This will be achieved through a range of measures.
This includes increased family planning support, through education and making sure girls are aware, and public awareness, and incentives for maintaining smaller families.
Our Government is already investing in expanding public housing programs.
We want to transform communities away from unplanned to planned housing developments.
With better housing our people live in healthier conditions, there is greater opportunities to improve the delivery of education, and we can build more cohesive communities.
Through the right policy measures, and working with the private sector and communities, we will dramatically increase the percentage of our population living in better housing.
Our Government has already stated its commitment to Taxation Reform.
We have established a task force to review the taxation agenda in our country.
They have submitted a report to Government, but the report has made some very hard recommendations which we believer the people and the business community cannot afford.
Recommendations, for example, such as increasing VAT from 10% up to 15%.
While it is tempting for a government in power to try and increase revenue, it is not good for families who are struggling to make ends meet.
That is one area where I believe the Government, after the elections, can be able to try and have taxation reform.
This is taxation reform that is not about generating additional revenue for Government – but is intended to reduce tax on people and business.
Our plan is to put money back into the pockets of our citizens.
While at the same these taxation reforms are aimed at boosting investment and stimulating business by creating a more attractive economic climate.
We will continue to focus on and place more emphasis on enhancing the ease of doing business in Papua New Guinea.
We are cutting red tape, and we are removing outdated regulations that undermine business potential.
Our bureaucracy still needs to respond better to the demands of a growing population and a growing country.
Related to this, our Government has already initiated measures to make business travel easier.
Visa and work permit requirements are being reformed so that legitimate workers, who can bring skills that are needed, will have better access.
We are bringing immigration processes up to international standards that reflect the dynamics of the global business environment.
At the same time we are cracking-down on people who come for the wrong reasons or try to manipulate the immigration processes.
A task force will meet in the coming weeks across many areas of Government.
In the area of immigration and border control, this year we will also ensure that dual citizenship measures are properly implemented.
While this has been approved by Parliament, this has been held up by bureaucracy, and dual citizenship will become a reality in the coming months.
To remove bureaucracy and wastage, a broad process of reform is already underway.
We will continue to introduce measures that make our public service more productive and relevant to the needs of our country.
There is no doubt that our Government in the current Parliament, and in the Government of the next Parliament have a lot of work to do.
But we are up for the challenge, and our successes and achievements over the past five years will demonstrate that we are up to the job.
As I conclude, I hope I have given you greater insight to the approach our Government has taken to date – and you can appreciate the future we are charting for the nation.
As a Government, we have approached our tasks with determination in implementing our policy agenda.
You have my word that for any proposed changes to important legislation, you will be consulted. These changes would not be proposed for this term of Parliament.