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**** Keynote Address by Hon. Peter O’Neill CMG MP, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, National Leaders' Summit Port Moresby, 17th February 2016 ****
February 17, 2016
Let me take the opportunity to welcome you to this significant event.
This is an event that we started four years ago to take stock of the ongoing management of our nation.
We cannot understate the significance of this occasion.
It affords us all, and I stress the ‘all,’ the opportunity to work together to build on our significant achievements over recent years.
This meeting gives us the opportunity to set new plans and new goals for the eight million men, women and children of our nation.
It also gives us an opportunity to look honestly at what we have done and where we are today as a nation.
In particular we need to look at our public sector – and how we can do better in 2016, and beyond.
This is a summit is really about the future of our people.
Our Ministers and Officials, will today give you a comprehensive update on the state of the national economy, the finances of the national government and many of our achievements over the past few years.
This is more important now with the slowdown of the global economy.
The low commodity prices are very much a reality-check for Governments around the world, particularly for emerging economies that depend largely on commodities as revenue earners for their countries.
With those challenges there are also opportunities and we must make the most of it so that we can deliver more to our people.
We are being affected by low mineral, low oil and gas prices, and lower prices for many agricultural commodities we need to put into perspective some of the issues that are affecting us.
To give you an example, the Government revenue from the oil and gas was almost billion Kina in 2011, last year and this year it was projected at around 260 million Kina.
So you see the significant drop in revenue levels that our country is experiencing.
Today, we are approaching this situation in a realistic manner – so that we can effectively managing our national economy in a changing global environment.
We are avoiding the shocks that are beyond our control.
In the 2016 budget, as we presented in Parliament, we have reduced spending to well below 2015 levels, this was done because we were very much of the changes that were happening in the global.
The 2016 budget the Government was careful to preserve the core policies of our Government. That is in areas of education, areas of healthcare, law and order and the critical infrastructure that we need to develop our country.
The budget maintains this spending and this was done without increasing any taxes on business, or any taxes to individuals.
In tough times it is vital we continue, as a Government, to maintain business confidence and encourage consumer spending.
We must be very proactive in seeking to boost investment and the economic growth that we want for our country.
The challenge is there for our resources sector, as well in other areas such as small to medium enterprise sectors, our manufacturing, agriculture and tourism.
These are challenges that we need to deal with today.
We are encouraging, together with our ministers, that investors continue to have confidence in the economy of our country.
I have been advised by the Central Bank, that over the past four years, from 2011 to 2015, we have experienced economic growth in our GDP at 9.4 per cent on average per year.
Last year alone was 9.2 per cent.
Let me assure you, you can have confidence in your country.
We are achieving growth that is unheard of anywhere else in the world.
This is because we are managing the economy, and investing in the right sectors of the economy.
This is a commitment that our Government gave in 2012, when we came into office.
We will continue to maintain that focus.
We have also committed governments to streamline many of the Government processes.
So that we can take stock of what has happened, so that we can learn form the mistakes that we have made.
We can plan ahead and prepare for the better delivery of services for our people.
We have a ready workforce, lower cost structure in the country, and strong bank liquidity in the system.
Now is the best time for investors to invest in every sector of our country.
As public sector officials, Ministers, will tell you over the next few days, our challenge is to reform the public sector.
Our challenge is to cut the red tape, and cut the processes that impede our businesses from growing.
It must be across the board, it must be to invest investor confidence in the economy.
We need a commitment ourselves to working together with investors and business an across the country.
We have to move away from the negative attitudes of some individuals when it comes to doing business – that goes for the leadership and the public service machinery.
We must find practical solutions to the challenges that we face today.
Throughout Government, our approach must be positive, pro-active and helpful.
It is very important that we are positive about our achievements, and positive about where we are going as a nation.
We need to be pro-active in sectors such as small and medium enterprises, and agriculture, and we must broaden our economic base.
The same encouragement we give to our big investors – must be extended to small and medium enterprises in our country.
We are needing to adjust how Government does business, the world is becoming very competitive
Time and time again, our country has been riding the boom and bust cycle of the resources sector.
We are not learning the lesson.
We must expand the sectors of our economy. We must do so now so that the foundations of our economy, are sound.
These are sectors that continue to employ millions and millions of Papua New Guineans.
We must take advantage of opportunities that we have from the economic growth that we have achieved, and the economic growth that we will achieve into the future.
We live in the fast growing region of Asia-Pacific.
We have some of the largest trading partners in our region, in China, India and Japan.
We must change our mindset, the world is out there for us to do business with.
Our personal, tribal issues and regional bias will not get us anywhere.
We must all work together can build a strong and proud nation for our children.
Also, it is equally important that we must cut the cost of the public sector.
This it is becoming a very serious issue for our country.
It is costing us more and more to maintain the public sector structure that we have today.
This is a structure that is not meeting the
The days of ‘Big Government,’ and of wastage and uncontrolled spending in the public service – have well and truly passed.
Today, with decreased revenue we have to reduce cost by increasing efficiencies in our public service.
This is not as simple as just downsizing departments.
As we saw what happened fifteen years ago when you just slash the public service structure, the decline in the services that we deliver to our people is very evident.
Today for the last four years we have been trying to build following the mistakes that were made 15 years ago.
Back then there was no plan in the way that we continue to maintain service delivery for our people.
We have to do more with the resources, and the people, that we have in today.
This summit will highlight to you some of the things that we have done, that will make you proud as a Papua New Guinean.
The innovative way in which Government has gone about delivering services.
We need to work together across all sectors of the Government.
As I have said in the past, now is not the time to point fingers or blame someone.
We must work together for the betterment of our country, and a better future for our children.
We need to take account of some of the important decisions that we have made – like free education for our children.
Today we only hear of excuses saying we have not been able to implement this.
The Government has been able to find the funding over the past four years.
This is seven hundred plus Kina per year without fail.
That shows that we can afford to maintain such a policy.
It has enabled an extra 1 million children, who were on the streets, to get into the classroom.
That is an achieving that we should be proud of.
Today you look across the country and the improvements in the health services that we are delivering to our country.
It is far better than what it was four or five years ago where hospitals were shutting down, where medicines were not available or where staff were not present.
Today you can be proud that some of the hospitals that were have are comparable to anywhere in the world.
It is not perfect but we are taking steps in the right direction.
Very important for what we have achieved is the devolution of power that we have done.
We have now empowered the provinces and the districts – empowering them by funding them appropriately.
For the first time in 40 years that such funding is making a difference.
Today you will hears some of the stories from some of the remotest districts – that have not seen Government services for the past 40 years.
They are here to tell their story, and you will see how proud they are about their Government’s policy of the devolution of powers truly down to the people.
It is the Government and the agencies that are closest to the people who will continue to empower our people.
We must continue to strengthen them, many of the CEOs and public servants who are here today with us might not be familiar faces among us, but these are amongst the hardest working people in our country.
That is why we have extended this summit for two days so that we can hear their stories.
We do not need so many experienced bureaucrats in Waigani.
The centralised way of delivering services has not worked for 40 years – again, when are we going to learn.
We need to get these experienced officials to the regions, and to the provinces and to the districts, so that they can use their experience to build capacity in those districts and the remote areas of our country.
We need to try to prevent duplication in our country – particularly in national departments and provincial departments.
We need to restructure them so that they better deliver for our people.
The role of the national Government and the national public service machinery is evolving.
We all need to be part of this change so that we can continue to deliver the services that are demanded by a very fast growing population.
Do not underestimate the challenge that is before us.
We have one of the fastest growing populations in the world – it might be more than eight million people in our country. Yet we are struggling to deliver today.
That is why we know that doing nothing, is not an option.
We must change the way that we conduct our business.
As a Government, we must change the way that we conduct our business with our people and our businesses in the nation.
Yes, this is a challenge, but I know that by working together that we are able to overcome these challenges.
I know that some people might think that this summit is a waste of time.
But is is important because when we share information on development around the country, you will notice that it is not only ort Moresby and Lae and the big cities that are changing.
Our communities in the remotes parts of our country are changing as well – because of the policies that we are implementing.
That is why it is important that we ensure that we meet regularly like this so that we can deliberate on important issues.
Over the next few days we will be delivering some new policies particularly in the SME sector.
There has been a lot of work into that and we want to increase the participation of our people in the evolving economy.
Yes, we have achieved world record growth levels in the past few years – but still many of our people do not actively participate in that growing economy.
It is our responsibility to structure the necessary policies that will continue to deliver more effectively for SMEs, for agriculture and for tourism, as well as small size manufacturing.
These are the areas in which we can be very competitive – because our labour force is competitive, our cost structures are low.
During the year we faced some extreme weather problems, we have seen it as a result of climate change.
We have seen the extended drought over the past three months.
But working together with our partners, many of them in the districts and in the provinces, we were able to attend to this much better than we have ever done before.
But as we speak today here, the heavy rainfall is creating more disasters in the country.
Again, for the first time, our agencies of Government are able to work through these emergencies in a far better way than we have ever been able to do before.
So those challenge swill continue to face us, but if we plan better, if we structure our services better, if we orgainse ourselves we can overcome any challenges that face us.
We must share the responsibilities, both at the district level and at the provincial level, and at the national level so that we can have a coordinated approach.
For Papua New Guinea we have a better chance of managing these global challenges than many countries in the world.
Despite the downturn in the commodity process, we still have confidence from companies like TOTAL, companies like ExxonMobile, companies like Oil Search who are continuing to invest billions and billions of dollars into our LNG projects.
Soon, the next 19 billion dollar project will be announced, that will create tens of thousands of jobs and will provide a boost to small business.
We are also seeing improvements in other areas.
I know that many of our critics were a bit doubtful that we will manage Ok Tedi.
It was never the Government’s intention to go into businesses such as that – but we were given no choice.
Either the previous owners were shutting down the mine, or we need to keep the mine open to continue its contribution to our country for many, many years.
So today I want to thank the management at Ok Tedi, who are going to resume operations on the first of March.
A major contributor tour economy providing almost 1,500 jobs
While the shutdown was not ideal because of the drought. It also gave us an opportunity to review some of the cost structures of that business.
We are in a much better position today, Ok Tedi will be much more profitable because of the measures that the management and the board has taken.
Even in the low-price environment of today, Ok Tedi will be profitable.
So again let me stress, the challenges are out there, but it is not all gloom and doom.
We need to face those challenges together, there is confidence from the business sector that we are managing the economy well.
The country is developing and moving in the right direction.
The infrastructure for service deliver and business is being built as we speak, and these are major contributions to the growing economy of our country.
To help, as a Government we need a good public service machinery.
As a Government, we have announced the appointment of our new Chief Secretary because of the retirement of one of our great Papua New Guineans, Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc.
For more than thirty years, he has served our people well.
From the outposts of Morobe, to the National Government, he has guided the delivery of public services for our people, and did so with the greatest diligence and commitment.
This is an example that many of our public servants should learn from.
Sir Manasupe took on the management of public policy during tough times, and he did it well.
For this on behalf of the Government, and all the Leaders, I again thank Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc for his service to our people.
He leaves big shoes to fill, and I know the new Chief Secretary, Ambassador Lupari, will continue to do this work. He has the experience to do so.
As I said earlier, there are also many Papua New Guineans who are here today who are unfamiliar faces attending this summit for the first time.
They are nervous like anyone else, but they are many of the hardest working public servants from the remotest districts in the country.
Thank you for joining us for this important event in the life of our nation.
They will share their stories with us, stories of nation building and making our country a better place.
Our people expect that and they deserve nothing less.
That is why in opening this summit today I thank all the leaders, I thank all the officials, I thank all the participants and guests who are here today.
With that I now officially open this summit today.