Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Missing Reference

Street vending a sign of poverty and poor human development

I happen to have in my collection the book edited by Ila Temu entitled Papua New Guinea: A 20/20 Vision. The book was jointly published by the National Centre for Development Studies in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University and the National Research Institute. Among the contributors to this book are Rupa Mulina, who discussed the monetary and fiscal policy in Papua New Guinea; Miria Ume, who wrote about the development of physical resource development infrastructure; Kila Ai discussed the experiences of national planning, along with Desh Gupta and Henry Ivarature who discussed the political and economic issues on restructuring decentralization, and Lauatu Tautea’s interesting discussion of the missing link in human resource development.

I quickly checked the reference section of the Papua New Guinea 2050 Vision to see if this book was consulted. To my surprise this particular publication was not one of the books cited as a reference. I am usually fuzzy when it comes to references that people consult to form the basis of their arguments. The references in a paper, report, or book are usually the first indication that the author or authors are likely to make sense of what they are talking about. The references also act as a guide to the substance of the subject to be covered in the essay, report, or book. If a reference is missing then the obvious question is why was it considered as unimportant enough to be excluded from the list of works consulted?

Lauatu Tautea’s discussions on the missing link in the human resource dilemma strike me as a key ingredient in making Papua New Guinea develop. We can have all the natural resources and proactive leaders behind the wheel, but a nation with a poor human resource development index is one always in conflict with itself because those who are suppose to follow or do their part are not doing so. In a day so many laws are broken in deliberate disobedience. People drive through red lights, roundabouts, and crossings without stopping; people stop their automobiles right in the middle of the road, taxis, buses and humans use service stations as bus stops. People do not care if the national flag is in tatters, or if we shoot each other at the airport. I am beginning to think our nation is in the slumber mode as we navigate through uncharted future without taking with us the lessons of the past.

Tautea’s view is that the undue emphasis we place on developing Papua New Guinea’s natural resources and the failure to recognize fully the importance of human resource development in the development matrix is the source of our confusion and slow pace in moving forward.

Tautea argues that the recognition of the importance of human contribution to the production process is as old as economic theory. Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations, considered a man’s talent to be part of his fortune as well as that of the society he belonged. Ricardo’s labour theory of value, says Tautea, assesses the performance of a firm on the basis of three factors—land, labour, and capital and used factor prices to measure their relative contribution to the production process.

In classical Marxist theoretical explanation the output of capital is measured by the input of the raw materials, both in its quantitative and qualitative values. Tautea takes on this principle by aptly stating that the relative value of commodities are determined by the comparative amounts of labour required to produce them and that the different qualities of labour embodied in production value of the good depends on the comparative still of the labour and the intensity of the labour input.

To break this down for readers, the relative success and progress a nation enjoys depend very much on how much capital investments and in what manner or form it invests its capital resources in to get the output it desires. To follow Tautea’s argument here we must think of quality labour force as a human resource which requires sufficient capital investment to develop it to a qualitative standard, as an input into the production process to get a quality output. The progress of a nation is measured also by the quality of its labour force as in the economies of South and East Asian countries such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. These countries share the common characteristic of not having access to natural resources, but capitalized on the investments they made to develop and effectively use their human resources.

In the same book that I draw my discussion here, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Honourable Chris Haiveta, writing in the forward pages declared his cautions of Papua New Guinea: “While we certainly have plenty of policy challenges to work through, I do not accept assertions that we are completely on the wrong policy path or that major deviations from the current path are necessary. We are but a small way along the path of what will be many further years of hard policy slog.”

Aside from outlining the government’s Vision 2020, Haiveta said that since Independence various regimes have had their day in designing and declaring their own visions or strategies for the progress of the nation: “There has been no shortage of views on either Papua New Guinea’s long-term vision or its short to medium term objectives and strategies. All governments since independence have consistently published these at least annually (and often more regularly) in annual Budget and planning documents. Perhaps at different times we have had the wrong set of visions, objectives and strategies.”

The skepticism I have of Vision 2050 is perhaps foreshadowed in this Haiveta statement in 1997. Many policy statements, visions, and development strategies were developed in PNG. Some of these include: Look North Policy, The Matane Report, the Green Revolution, Vision 2020, and the so-called short-term to medium term development objectives and strategies. The lessons learnt then should be our reference.

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