Thursday, November 4, 2010

Coping with Tides of Change

Big Brother's Help is Social Protection
The big question asked now is whether Papua New Guinea needs a Social Protection Policy? I, like many others, think that after 35 years of Independence and Statehood our people have seen the tide of change swept their villages away, created a rift in the social and cultural fabrics of life, economic necessity has driven many a village folk out of town, and created an urban chaos that threatens to normalize tribal behaviors and attitudes against the ever changing, vulnerable, and fragile modernity that many have started to embrace in a reluctant way.

In the 1980s when we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of our Independence we seemed to have done so with a strong sense of assurance about ourselves as a nation, young, strong, free, and with a strong population of about 3 million people. Since then the populations has tripled and the social and cultural woes seemed to have entered the stage without us noting its double edge sword. This coupled with the fragile political and economic imperatives that drove through the eighties and nineties saw a swell in urban population, trendy urbanization, and infrastructural development that ate up what used to be ‘free land” with its hasty housing development, conspicuous commercial centres, and strengthened the resolve to crime by those deprived of social and economic equality.

I have lived through that period in Port Moresby only to reflect on it to see the need for Papua New Guinea to have a National Social Protection Policy.

The 35 years of rapid transition from stone-age through to the processes of colonization, modernization, and globalization has had significant negative impact on the traditional social safety nets and social protection systems in PNG societies.

In recent times concerns were raised on the development of macro resource projects such as the Ramu Nickel and the LNG projects. The development of these projects are widening the gap between the (few 20 %) haves and the majority (80%) have-nots. The country is becoming a wealthy nation—an experience, which in itself poses as a shock for those who are ill-prepared to encounter the surplus cash flow situation in their lives, particularly the resources owners. This is already happening to the resource owners.

If the abundance of wealth is mismanaged and distributed unequally throughout the whole spectrum of society, the poorer segments will continue to have fewer assets, savings, or opportunities to fall back on and advance in life. Such a scenario will increase the level of poverty among the majority of the country’s vulnerable population.

The rapid growth of the country, in terms of population and modernization, and the increasing demands on suppliers for basic goods and services has also increased risks associated with individual lifestyle, cultural identity, economic management, environmental dependency, good governance, and the overall impact of the development process.

The government’s efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals and the dreams outlined in the government’s Vision 2050 will fail if the trend described above continues.

On the 26th June 2009 the National Executive Council, based on a join submission by the Ministers for Community Development and Treasury, made a historical decision in terms of its general policy direction on human development and poverty alleviation initiatives in the country.

The NEC Decision No.97/2009 of its Meeting No.04/2009 established a National Taskforce, comprising eight key line departments to initially conduct an investigation and report on a suitable model of Social Protection policy for PNG. The recommendations contained in this report will form the basis of a new National Policy on Social Protection that will be developed in Phase Two.

The National Taskforce on Social Protection (NTSP) comprises the following economic and social sector ministries or departments:

Department for Community Development (Team Leader)

Department of National Planning and Monitoring (Deputy Team Leader)

Department of Treasury

Department of Education

Department of Health

Department of Agriculture & Livestock

Department of Labour & Industrial Relations

Department of Provincial & Local Level Government Affairs

The National Executive Council requires an investigation on a policy framework and a report submitted back to NEC with relevant recommendations on suitable forms of Social Protection Model (s) for this country.

The state has a mandated responsibility to intervene now by directly assisting families and communities in areas where their own resource capacities have been exhausted or depleted as a result of the ever-increasing demands from the poorer and disadvantaged members of their families.

Traditional social safety nets are weak in many parts of the country over time. External intervention is needed to revive it. In parts of the country where traditional social safety nets are still in practice, empowerment of the families and communities are necessary to enable them to sustain these forms of social protection models.

Safety nets are a highly recommended form of social protection model for traditional PNG societies.. Traditional safety nets have many advantages. Traditional safety nets are practiced nationwide. The basic principles, concepts, and their benefits are familiar to individuals, families, and the society at large.

The safety nets, according to the World Bank provides immediate redistribution of wealth and reduces poverty: “they allow households to invest in their children and their livelihoods, they help households manage risks, and provisions of safety nets can handle redistributive concerns thoroughly thereby enabling governments to make more efficient policy choices in other sectors.”

The decision to develop a national policy on social protection is also part of the government’s ongoing efforts towards meeting the 2015 MDG on Poverty Alleviation. It is not a one-off policy initiative, but an over-arching strategy to eventually alleviate poverty and improve quality of life for all Papua New Guineans, as spelled out in the Vision 2050 National Development Strategy.

Experiences from other countries indicate that social protection has multiple roles to play and hence contribute significantly to improving productiveness of the people and nation building. Social protection is a long-term investment on human productiveness for nation building.

We look forward to the outcome of the Task Force on Social Protection Policy in Papua New Guinea.


  1. A crucial topic, Stevie. Let's get this policy in place, sooner the better, so that we can save some aspects of our traditional means of control and protection. Our young are simply going everywhere, often quite undirected, and that is vulnerable.

  2. The questions I am asking are: (1) will this policy help in persuading the government to reduce its punishing tax regime because as a wage aerner you and I are not only paying the tax, but also financially supporting our kins and relatives, who look upon us to help. We are obliged to help as it is the burden we educated ones have. (2) I am confident the policy will become a reality in the next 6 months or so as you will note from the next article, my sense of things.

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