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**** Speech by Hon. Peter O’Neill CMG MP, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea At the 2017 Leaders’ Summit "Our 5 Years Achievements: The Next 5 Years in the Balance” - 27 March 2017 ****
March 28, 2017
Former Prime Ministers, Rt Hon Sir Julius Chan; and,
Rt Hon. Pais Wingti;
Ministers of State;
Members of Parliament;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Provincial and District Administrators;
Departmental Secretaries and Heads of Statutory Authorities;
Public Servants from around Papua New Guinea;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for your presence on this 5th Leader’s Summit.
Our meeting each year provides us the opportunity to take stock of what we have achieved, and what more we can do to advance economic development in our nation.
There is no doubt that since the first Leaders Summit in 2013, we have transformed our nation over the past five years.
Now that we are going back to our people to judge us, before the next Parliament – it is good that we take this opportunity to take account of what has happened in the past few years.
And we are going to continue to build on those achievements in the coming years.
We have to continue to speak with our people, to tell them what we have done and what we will do into the future.
Ours is a Government that came to office with a strong mandate from the people, and with a sound set of policies that was aimed at advancing the well-being of our people.
But today is not the time to relax, but now is the time to work even harder to meet the challenges that are before us.
We meet again today so that we can share our experiences and knowledge that we have accumulated over the years. So that we can lay the foundations for the next five, ten and fifteen years of growth and expansion.
We have to share ideas on what we can do better, and how we can grow our economy and develop our country.
I know that together, we will make the hard decisions that are needed to make our country even stronger.
When we met to form Government in Alotau – especially many of our leaders in 2012– we had developed a core set of polices and commitments for our nation.
These were basic – they were sincere, and they were achievable.
We never promised to take every one the moon – we promised to improve lives of our people and for children to be in school through careful policy implementation.
I think when we take stock of what we have achieved in Education, healthcare, law and justice, infrastructure development and decentralisation of services – and growing the economy over the last five years was the focus we promised, and this is what we are delivering.
These were priorities that matter to our people – and every man and woman at this table – are all part of this reform.
And today, I can say, that the leaders that are present know that there is an important event coming up. This meeting is equally important event to tell the nation what we have done before we go to the election.
The best way for any country to develop and for anybody to build a nation, and the future generations for a country, is through education.
Building an educated nation is always challenge – but we have no choice but continue to do so.
It was only a generation ago, that most of our children never had any formal education.
Many promises have been made to educate our children – but have never delivered.
When our Government came to office there were only one million children in school.
We have invested more than 3.5 Billion Kina in our free education program over five years.
This is on top of more than 3 Billion Kina that we have budgeted for education in this term of Government.
Through our free education policy, over the past five years, we have put more than one million more children in school.
But more importantly there are more girls in school throughout the country.
Now there are more than two million children, a quarter of our population, who are receiving an education.
Some will go to university and become engineers or doctors, others will go to technical colleges and become mechanics, and others will go on to run businesses and we are building a national based on that.
We must continue to believe in education as a priority of any government.
Before our free education policy, many families could not afford to send all of their children to school
Quite often it was the girls that missed out on receiving an education and who suffered the most.
Today we have a good gender balance where for every 100 boys we have 95 girls in school.
Our students of today will gain life-skills – that will help them to manage their finances, to effectively plan their families, and play more active roles in their communities.
Our free education program is a long-term policy – that will continue to empower our young today and create great opportunities for them into the future.
We do face major challenges – such as increasing the number of teachers in our schools.
But we are working on this, and continue to expand our teacher training colleges, and to improve teacher skills development.
And we must continue with the program as the number of teachers and classrooms must not be a hindrance to educating our children through the free education policy.
We are also creating higher education opportunities to cater for the increasing student numbers graduating from our secondary schools.
This is not only about increasing university enrolments, but importantly we are building the infrastructure and the capacity of our universities.
We are also expanding our technical colleges, to deliver true skills training to our young people.
This will increase technical school enrolments in areas such as nursing, teaching and secretarial and administrative training.
One thing I can say for sure – is that parents around our nation want free education to continue, and we will make sure it does.
An educated population is one part of development, another is having healthy communities.
For too long we have promised to support the well-being of our people and for far too long we have let them down.
This was particularly the case in rural and remote areas.
But today we a giving them a new hope to our people right around the nation.
Extending universal healthcare to eight million people is an enormous task.
But we are on the right track.
We are opening more hospitals and healthcare centres, we are delivering more drugs, for the first time in many years.
We are working in partnership with the World Bank, with the ADB, DFAT and other partners, and working with our churches – providing the healthcare that is changing our nation.
We will continue to work harder.
Our healthcare budget is the largest in our country’s history – more than six Billion Kina has been invested during this term of Government.
That is 1.2 Billion Kina each year in funding, and for the first time in our history, we have a National Health Plan.
This investment is set to rise further in the years to come.
The results from our increased attention to healthcare in the nation are becoming apparent.
Take childbirth and maternal health as an example.
The number of births attended by trained health personnel has increased by one third.
Now 76 per cent of our mothers receive ante-natal care, while infant mortality has dropped by nearly one-third to 41 deaths per 1,000 live births.
These figures are still high by first-world standards – but we must reduce that and we are moving in the correct direction.
We will continue to train healthcare professionals.
Over the past five years we have trained nearly 600 nurses and more than 400 doctors around the country.
There are also currently 415 clinical health workers enrolled and in training.
It is also evident that many of our hospitals are seeing true reform and redevelopment.
This is the case at Port Moresby General Hospital, Mt Hagen, Angau, Kerema, and Madang, a new hospital in Popondetta, hospitals at Goroka, a new one planned for Boram, and many other hospitals.
All hospitals are receiving direct funding which is enabling them to build new facilities, employ more healthcare professionals and buy new equipment.
We will continue our work to establish true universal healthcare in Papua New Guinea.
Law and Justice
Having better education and improved healthcare does not amount to much if we do not feel safe in our communities.
That is why our third policy pillar is improving law and justice sector in Papua New Guinea.
There is no doubt that we have faced problems in this area in the past.
For decades, the disciplined forces of our nation were left to fall apart and become demoralised.
Our courts were in serious decline and under-resourced.
Our prisons were simply places where criminals were held for a period and then released – only to re-offend.
We need to take a holistic approach to addressing the law and justice sector.
We reopened the Bomana training college for recruits – after ten years of being closed.
We have developed more effective training programs, and we have placed more police on our streets.
The number of well-trained police in our country has gone from 5,700 in 2012, to 7,500 well-trained police in 2017.
The number of police stations has increased from 184 in the year 2012, to almost 300 police stations in 2017.
Over the past five years we have also empowered our courts.
We have increased court budgets, and we have built better facilities.
Right now, our judges and legal officers are working additional hours to clear court backlogs – some cases having been unresolved for two decades.
We have improved our correctional institutions to properly rehabilitate prisoners – so they can get a fresh start away from crime.
Skills and training programs have been introduced in prisons.
Underpinning all of these initiatives – we are restoring pride to our disciplined services.
This includes improving housing.
We are preparing to introduce a better pension system so that our officers can have more comfortable lives after they complete their service to our country.
But these benefits also depend on another key element for our disciplined forces – and that is maintaining discipline.
Our men and women in uniform know that we have taken a very hard line on discipline – one strike, and you are out.
We are administering this policy and we are seeing a change in attitudes.
Improving law and justice facilities is one part of the infrastructure we are deploying around the nation.
It is the key to bringing services and improving the quality of lives of our people.
We are moving more government services back in to Government buildings.
Successive Governments had let our offices crumble and some had become condemned.
When I became Prime Minister, I used to welcome foreign officials to my office and tell them how our country was improving.
Then they would get back into their cars and drive past broken-down buildings – such as what we called the Pineapple Building or the Central Government Offices.
They must have thought I was not being honest with them.
Well we are now restoring Government buildings.
The Central Government Offices have now been refurbished and re-opened and are operational.
This means we can stop paying millions of Kina in rent each year for private buildings.
We are building APEC Haus at Ela Beach, that after APEC will be a world-class modern museum and open to the public.
Around the nation, not just in cities, we are building new roads, new airports, new sea ports and new jetties for use by our people.
We are also repairing aging and damaged infrastructure.
We are doing this right around the country – not just in urban areas.
Our Government has been working to restore rural infrastructure – and we will continue to do so.
In 2012 only 23 per cent of national roads were classified as being in ‘good condition.’
This year, close to 50 per cent of our roads are classified as in good condition.
We have improved around 3,000 kilometres of roads to maintainable condition, but there are 10 000 kilometres of roads that need to be repaired in our country.
This has required a total capital expenditure of around 3.2 billion Kina on roads and bridges – and this is an investment in our future.
For the Highlands Highway we are concluding funding arrangements for 500 million US dollars with the ADB.
When approved, this will have enabled us to rebuild the length of the Highlands Highway.
The Highlands Highway is a top priority for the new Government elected by the people when we go to the Polls this year, but also include the Sepik Highway and Madang to Ramu road and others.
Our investment in rural infrastructure is unprecedented in history of the nation, and is by far the biggest increase in road maintenance funding.
In this term of Government, we have also had a one hundred per cent increase in the number of airstrips rehabilitated from ‘unused’ condition – to now meet appropriate safety levels.
We have refurbished Jackson’s International Airport and other national airports.
These include Hoskins, Mt Hagen, Vanimo, and Popondetta, which we are going to open soon.
This infrastructure improvement is creating opportunities for small business to transport and market goods.
This is not only roads, but is marine infrastructure.
It is the Port in Lae right through to many remote jetties in remote communities around our nation.
The infrastructure revolution that we have seen in our country over the past five years will continue into the next term of Government.
If you think infrastructure around the country has changed in the past five years – just imagine what we will achieve over the next five years.
We are a diverse nation – more than 800 languages and cultures.
We have a rugged terrain, and a diverse geography – from the highlands to the islands, and all villages in between.
We are introducing and strengthening city authorities, that have direct control over planning, spending and managing services in their cities.
We have empowered district administrators to more effectively advance economic development in their areas.
Our DSIP District Services Improvement Program, and Provincial Services Improvement Program, are delivering growth and development from the ground-up – not imposed from above.
We have spent more than six Billion Kina through these programs and we are seeing true results.
Over the five years of this Government, we have been delivering the tools for growth and development.
This funding is targeted – not by bureaucrats in the Capital, but by the people who know their provinces and know their districts.
In my own district of Ialibu-Pangia, before these changes I had been almost powerless to bring about real change.
We had almost no funding, and what little we had was not directed to the right areas.
Now every district and every province in the country can assess local needs, and direct funding to where it is needed.
Over the following two days at this summit, I am looking forward to hearing reports from the districts and the provinces on what you have achieved.
I want the real people doing the real work and facing the real challenges and needs of our people and seeing real changes to tell us these real stories.
This is why our Government is also empowering communities right through to the local and ward level.
Aside from the 22 provinces and 89 districts in the country, we are empowering our 313 Local Level Governments, and 6,131 Wards.
It is at the Ward level that we are seeing great change.
We are strengthening Wards through the funding of Ward Services Improvement Program.
As with the success of DSIPs and PSIPs, we are enabling people to improve services and infrastructure at a community level through WSIPs.
From this year, each Ward will receive ten thousand Kina to improve services at their Health Posts, Elementary Schooling and ensure the safer supply of water.
This is a modest start to WSIP program that will increase in the coming years – and it is a program that will change lives for the better.
We know the next 5 years is crucial and we cannot turn back the clock and we must go forward.
PSIPs, DSIPs and WSIPs area a fundamental policy platform in our Government’s program to rebuild Papua New Guinea from the ground-up.
We must continue to believe in the simple policies that we have.
We will advance this policy into the next Parliament and we will build on our successes.
The Next 5 Years in the Balance
The next 5 years is all about reinforcing our commitment in our core priorities – and creating new opportunities.
We have advanced our country too far now to turn back – we must stay the course, and we must continue to deliver for our people.
Our Government will continue to do all that we can to create jobs for our people.
While the past couple of years have been challenging, with global commodity prices at low levels, and Government revenue badly affected – but we have turned the corner.
We have been effective in managing our economy, in demonstrating our capability, to steer our country through the global problems that we have faced.
The global economic slow-down has caused problems not only for PNG but around the world, and harmed many economies, especially those that depend on the resource sector, but we have managed these problems.
The prices we receive our agricultural and mineral resources are now improving.
But we must also learn from the difficulties we have faced.
One of the most important lessons we have learned from the damage caused by low commodity prices – is that we have to truly diversify our economic base.
No longer can we risk our economy being so heavily reliant on commodities.
We have to step up our efforts to down-stream process our commodities and value-add.
We have to create jobs in petrochemicals, we have to process our own agricultural and marine products.
We must keep diversifying our economy and create new jobs and business opportunities for our people.
We must continue to develop our natural resources in a sustainable manner.
We must advocate for more participation of our people in this sector.
We have to increase their shareholding and make-sure the benefits go to our people.
We have done in Ok Tedi and we will do so in the new projects that are coming up.
We have to ensure that our people have a high say and stake in these project development.
This is important but we must also be mindful that we need partners to help us develop these resources and we need partners who will come and invest in our country.
These developments will cost us billions and billions of Kina and we simply do not have that kind of money.
That is why we need partners to come and invest in our country and when we have the ability to invest ourselves in the development of these resources, I can assure you we can manage our resources and we can create more jobs for our people.
Over the coming months and year, we will be of course hosting the APEC meeting which is going to be the focus of the twenty-one biggest economies in the world.
They control over 50 percent of global trade, and close to 50 percent of global GDP.
Present in our country will be thousands of leading businessman and women globally and that presents us a very unique opportunity.
This is a unique opportunity for our people to see what our country can provide to the international community, and international businesses, the investment climate and opportunities that our country can offer them.
Often we have been known for the wrong reasons, and every time there is a law and order issue, it is in the international media.
That is not what we are. We are a better country. Our people are peace-loving people.
We have an opportunity to display that to some of the biggest countries in the world like the US, Australia, Japan, China, Russia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and these are the leaders of these countries who will be here present as our guests, and we cannot simply allow that opportunity to slip by.
It is important that we stay focused.
We cannot be complacent like with the Pacific games where we have had waited for almost five or six years to properly plan, and many in the country told us to cancel the Pacific Games but we went ahead with it.
We cannot allow the reputation of our country to be questioned. That is why it is important that we deliver this meeting.
We can deliver to the Leader’s expectations, as the preparations are coming good so far, and our partners are also assisting us.
I think it will be a good Pacific APEC meeting where all the other pacific countries have been invited to come and join us at this particular meeting.
Another challenge before us is population growth.
We have to convince our people to have less number of children.
We must reduce our population growth to below 3 percent.
We cannot simply expect to develop if our population growth is much higher than our economic growth.
It simply means that we are pulling behind and every year we are under pressure.
And of course we must learn to tell our people that having far less children gives them the opportunity that they can give much better quality attention to their children.
The quality of life that these children deserve is the message that we have to continue to deliver to the people in our country.
We also need to ensure that we embark on an ambitious public housing program over the next 5 years.
It is important that apart from health and education, if we do not have decent shelter, if we do not have decent housing, then quality of life will not improve.
We have forests available, and we have the ability to use those resources to build affordable rural housing throughout the country.
Only few days ago I was in Morobe, in the Morobe patrol post in Bau Village, where the villagers have embarked on a rural housing program where it is changing the lives of the people.
If you see the quality of houses they have built with the resources they have and costing less than K5,000 to K6,000, you will be very surprised.
The teachers, the rural community doctors, nurses, and others are living in far better housing than what they were doing before.
As a result, the schools are performing better, the healthcare that is being provided to our people is improving, and in many other places we need to continue to embark on such housing programs.
We have started that by way of a partnership with the Bank of South Pacific-BSP, where our government has provided 200 million Kina as a funding arrangement for them to lend to our people at most affordable rates of 4 percent interest rate over 40 years.
This is becoming very popular, there are a lot of young Papua New Guineans who are now buying their own houses because they are participating in that program.
Whilst we are continuing to invest in that, we must also continue to expand on the rural housing program in the districts and in the provinces right throughout the country.
Again, Agriculture is a very important sector and over the last five years we have invested close to 700 million in the National Development Bank-NDB.
We have made some funding available, but is not sufficient as the demand is too high, and we cannot put more but it is a sector our people know best.
The people own the land and what we need to do is convert that into a production that is able to sustain their lives and also earn them disposable income.
We must continue to empower them, and they must be able to continue to commercialise their land and we must help them to revive some of the key commodities in our country.
The national Government some few months back set up the National Plantation Management Agency. This is not new in the country as it has been in the country since the late 70s and 80s.
It was a very successful management program for coffee, copra, cocoa and rubber throughout the country.
It was our own governments program, and for some strange reasons it was abandoned, and as a result you can see the decline in many of these estates throughout the country.
Some of our first multi-millionaires and businessman and women in our country came through that program, and programs like the National Plantation Management agency and programs like the Stret Pasin Stoa scheme.
And those business leaders have led a way for other business leaders as an example and way to follow.
That is why we must continue to invest in these programs and sector.
Our government’s aim is to ensure that the National plantation management agency is funded well through the partnership with the National Development Bank-NBD.
They will provide the funding with management support for plantations especially for family owned and individually owned by families throughout the country.
This is a sector that needs our support and as government we must work together to do so.
Public Sector Reform
Another area where reform is needed in our government system is Public Sector Reform.
This must be done with some level of urgency, so that we can provide greater efficiency in the way we deliver government services throughout the country.
In many instances, the private sector can do it better and that is why we need to get into partnership with the private sector.
That is why many of the government departments need to transform some of the functions to partners and in a way that restructures their core functions.
This is the classic example of what we are doing with the Department of Works.
There had been a decline in the maintenance of infrastructure so we have engaged a private contractor to work in specific sections of the roads.
This is because when we go to tender, or when a natural disaster or landslip happens, it is proving more difficult for government agencies to get their and fix it.
Therefore, we have to engage a private contractor to work 24 hours and seven days a weeks to ensure the roads and infrastructure are fully maintained and fixed in times of natural disasters.
That is the only way we can be able to maintain the level of infrastructure that can properly service our people.
We also need to undertake taxation reform in the coming term of Parliament.
We have not been able to reduce or an increase the level of tax rate as anticipated by the people in our country.
We deliberately did not increase any taxes because taxes are far too high already.
We need to in fact decrease those taxes but we can only do so when our revenue base is high, and where we can afford to give the savings, that we are going to sacrifice for the tax system that we have.
We have to be very mindful of the situation where there are far few people and businesses who are paying tax, or taking on the burden of servicing our revenue base and budget - and so it is important that we share the burden right across the country.
There are large number of businesses that are not paying taxes, and we are aware of that and we need to be more engaging with those sector of the community.
This is so that they too can share the responsibility of funding government infrastructure and government services for our people.
In the coming months of course we will be going to the elections, and let me assure you once again that there will be no delays in the elections and it will go ahead as scheduled.
The same short of debate was discussed in 2011, when sections of our community and some of our leaders wanted the elections to be differed, and I insisted that the elections must go ahead and that the people must have their say.
We will go to the elections, as indicated by the electoral commissioner, and the Writs will be issued on April 20, and whether we are ready or not, we are going to allow our people to have their say.
And of course myself and my colleagues will be seeking further endorsement of our people as to whether we will continue in our jobs or not, but the choice is entirely up to them.
But I am certain that what our country needs most today is political stability.
And I thank the parties and all the leaders that have supported our government over the last five years.
I want to assure you, it has not been easy.
It has been a challenging five years, and more challenging than many of my colleagues who have led governments in the past.
We have been under all sorts of political pressure, some warranted, many unwarranted, but we have endured and we have many set program that we have delivered and will deliver for our people in the next 5 years.
Our people will make their judgements, and I know they will make a fair judgement, but it is important that we have stability in our country.
It is important that there is consistency in our policy.
It is important that we have consistency in the legislative and political level but also in the public service and business leadership.
Many countries prosper when there is consistency in the level of political and business leadership.
There is no perfect style of leadership. If you are looking for one, I am sorry that you will all be disappointed.
We will all be disappointed.
But we have to be consistent and we have to continue to provide confidence.
We cannot do it on our own.
We are not going to be a country that can do it alone.
No country in the world has done it alone.
We need international confidence, we need their investors’ confidence. We need development partner’s confidence, and that is the only way we can continue to develop and grow our country.
Ministers, Governors, Department heads and statutory bodies, let me tell you one thing, we have done what we can within our limits and mandate as leaders and what has been required of us as leaders within our power and we have done best serving our people.
Can we ask ourselves – could we have done it better, and when we came into office, we told the people that we will deliver?
I think we have delivered.
We have promised to expand our education program to those who cannot afford it.
We have promised to expand our healthcare to those who cannot afford it.
We promised to improve the infrastructure in our country, and we have done so within the funding constraints that we have.
We have delivered on the promises that we have made to the nation.
We are moving the country in the right direction and we welcome every critic, and we welcome every challenge. This is a very democratic country where we exercise freedoms very well, but let me say this, those who have preached the doomsday cult mentality in our country, the got it wrong.
They said that we will never deliver the Pacific Games, they were wrong.
They also said we will never deliver free education program, they were wrong.
They said we will never improve infrastructure in the country, they continue to be wrong.
They continue to say that we will never deliver APEC, I can tell you that they will be wrong.
So when you look over the past five years, and when you look over the next five years, just imagine what we can do and achieve together.
When we are committed, we can deliver through our nation.
When we walk together, we are stronger and when we are steady and have political stability, we are even better.
Our time has been short, five years is not too long in anybody’s life-time.
When you look at the things we have done – it has been short but it has been most rewarding.
Thank you very much for your support and thank you very much for the work that you have put into our country.
I know that the future of our country is in your hands, and the future of our country is in good hands.