My dear People of Papua New Guinea.
What a year 2023 has been.
As we settle in to celebrate Christmas with our families, let me take some of your time to review the efforts your Government has made this year in the new direction I am taking to write a New Book on PNG, as we continue our fight to ‘Take Back PNG’.
We opened 2023 with Australian Prime Minister Hon. Anthony Albanese addressing our National Parliament in January, and we closed the year with Papua New Guinea and Australia signing a historic K455 million security agreement in December, this month.
In between January and December, a number of major events took place. These have included visits and ensuring meetings with the United States President Joe Biden (Washington DC) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Port Moresby), meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Port Moresby), Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Port Moresby and Jakarta), French President Emmanuel Macron (Port Moresby, Paris and Dubai), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Jerusalem), South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (Seoul), and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Beijing) and Premier Li Qiang (Beijing). These were beside my meetings with the Australian leadership (Port Moresby and Canberra). I also met the President of Hungary when she visited us in October.
These high-level bi-lateral collaborations have yielded the following immediate results this year (so far):
• The signing of the Bi-lateral Security Agreement worth K455 million.
People’s Republic of China
• The Opening of direct flights by Southern China Airlines between Guangzhou and Port Moresby beginning this month, December;
• A K50 million grant from the Chinese Government to build business and technical facilities in selected schools in the country;
• Metallurgical Corporation of China, Ramu Nickel’s developer, to begin downstream processing in PNG;
• PNG’s membership to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the world’s second biggest multi-lateral financial and development institution.
• Very strong bilateral government-to-government collaborations
United States of America
• The signing of two Defence agreements (the Defence Cooperation Agreement and the Shipriders Agreement) to secure our external borders
• The opening of the US Aid office in Port Moresby, and;
• An enhanced cooperation and stronger dialogue between PNG and United States.
• Opening of PNG Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel;
• The undertaking by Israel to train more Papua New Guineans in specialist Agriculture including a visit by an agriculture team to gauze needs in 2024.
• Direct air service between Bali and Port Moresby;
• 2,000 student scholarships offer by Indonesia to PNG for study in Indonesia
• K344 million ‘country package’ in forest management
• France’s recognition of PNG as a ‘Forest Nation’, besides Amazon and Congo.
• France’s backing and advocacy for PNG as a Forest Nation at European Union, G7 and G20 forums.
• K210 million funding by European Union for Forestry, Climate Change and Biodiversity Program launched in Port Moresby, coordinated by French President Emmanuel Macron.
As we came out of grieving the loss of one of our first prime ministers in Sir Rabbie Namaliu in April, we launched our Fourth Medium Term Development Plan in July, which should direct our efforts in a streamlined manner over the next four years toward the vision we have created for our country.
In August, we took PNG to sit at the Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit in Vanuatu; in September we opened our embassy in Jerusalem, Israel; and in October, I opened the first PNG-Asia Mining & Petroleum Conference in Hong Kong China to tap into the growing Asian investor market; and was welcomed in China in a State visit and attendance at the 3rd Belt & Road Forum.
We were also represented at this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ summit in San Francisco, USA; and the Pacific Islands Forum Summit in Cook Islands, both in November. Both of these meetings are important for us to consolidate our collective and individual strengths in growth and development within each of our respective regions. At the beginning of this month, December, I opened the PNG Resources & Energy Investment conference in Sydney to continue retaining and drawing in Australian investors, who, to date, make the top of our list in business investments in Papua New Guinea.
A number of major announcements were also made. We handed down our National Budget of K27.377 billion, the highest to date, for next year 2024 in November.
Barrick Gold Corporation announced the reopening of Porgera mine for 22nd December this year, beginning this new direction in PNG ‘Taking Back’ more in resource ownership in our natural resources. Under the renegotiated terms, New Porgera has 51 percent ownership by Papua New Guinean stakeholders while the remaining 49 percent will be shared by Barrick and its co-developer, Zijin. This is truly groundbreaking and a feat that was never before achieved under any government since Independence in our natural resource benefits sharing.
This year too, we fully staffed and commissioned the Independent Commission Against Corruption – a most significant step in our continued fight against corruption, something that was mooted in the ‘80s but missed seven prime ministers before me.
This year 2023, we also witnessed our Internal Revenue Commission and Customs operate at their maximum output level, delivering to us the highest revenue and contributing a significant sum to our 2024 National Budget. PNGIRC and PNGC continue to beat their revenue collection targets year after year since we put in two dynamic people at the helm which has seen a redouble in their efforts. I commend them.
Our flagship Connect PNG Program continues taking roads into our rural communities and connecting districts, making this the third year since we grounded this much-needed program into our legislation in 2020. While delivering roads to our remote communities, Connect PNG has also successfully engaged well over 300 local contractors who continue to provide over 15,000 jobs to Papua New Guineans in the country. This is unlike previously when most of the Works contracts used to end up with outside contractors with little impact on Papua New Guinean families and households.
This year, we also opened several infrastructure projects in the country, including Nadzab Tomodachi International Airport, and Tari Airport. We thank Japan, and Asian Development Bank and its partners for continuing to upgrade our national airports, as we thank Australia for continuing to rehabilitate our national ports under another program agreement.
In Agriculture, the mainstay of our people’s livelihood, our Coffee has increased productivity significantly this year, hitting the 1 million bags mark in export. We have dropped from the 1 million bags in export for over 10 years, so this is excellent news, especially as our growers have had to contend with Coffee Berry Borer over the recent years since its outbreak.
In reforming and rehabilitating our legislative structure, Parliament has amended and enacted the record number of legislations this year. Many of these old laws have been refreshed to suit our growing needs better, while new ones have been enacted to complement the existing ones.
As we are on the verge of turning 50 years old as a country, we begin to see a number of our State institutions celebrating their Golden Jubilee ahead of our national celebration. This year, we witnessed Bank of Papua New Guinea and National Broadcasting Commission celebrating their 50 years of existence. For that, let me congratulate them once again in contributing to building our nation over the last 50 years.
All these are work in progress, but the aforementioned are what we have immediately achieved this year that are worth noting as we continue to make progress on the global and national fronts.
My dear People of Papua New Guinea,
I realise there have also been challenges from ongoing issues.
Our Public Service continues to leg behind; our Law & Order problems still plague us; and we continue to be exposed to inflation and the results of global economic shocks.
Let me reassure you all that your Government is not oblivious to these problems.
In line with our reformist agenda, we have embarked on rehabilitating our Public Service machinery to improve efficiency and productivity. Our work to decentralize the government workforce into the provinces and districts continues at the parliamentary level. It is a gargantuan task and will take some time before we can see some satisfactory results in service delivery into the districts.
In Law & Order, your Government has allocated three times more to the Budget than what has been given to the Law & Justice Sector. In next year’s Budget, we continue our earnestness in addressing this long-neglected sector. We have increased funding to Police, Magisterial Services, the Judiciary, and Correctional Services. Police recruitment and training have also started. In this area, our recently-signed security agreement with Australia will see Australia help us by supplying more judges to help clear the huge backlog of cases we have existing, and to work with our police to strengthen the sector and improve Law & Order further.
In the area of Economy and how it impacts on you, we continue to put in measures to help alleviate the impact of imported inflation and global financial shocks.
Along these lines, other interventions include our continued investment in the development of SMEs, and the focus on the development of our renewable resources sector in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. I encourage everyone to return to your land and start tilling the soil, and making full use of the lending facilities your Government has set up at the banks for the development of MSMEs and SMEs.
My fellow Papua New Guineans,
As I close, let me take some time to reassure you all to not lose hope, and to look forward to our national economy picking up next year into the next 10 years.
With the reopening of Porgera mine leading the way, we have several major national investment projects constructing and opening within these 10 years, such as Wafi-Golpu, Papua LNG, and P’nyang. ExxonMobil has also spent over K300 million to conduct more explorations in the country. I am advised this is turning out with great potential, likely for more gas ‘finds’ and subsequent projects in the near future.
This means Papua New Guinea will be a gas-producing nation over the next 50 years, and together with our gold and copper mines, more employment for our people and greater revenue to expand our economy even further.
But more noteworthy is the fact that we are working to gain more ownership in these multi-million kina projects so the State, provincial governments, and you, our landowners, can have more benefits from these projects to improve your livelihoods. We have started this in New Porgera and we will continue for all our gas, oil, copper and gold projects.
My dear Papua New Guineans,
As I close, I want to call on all our people, especially our young people to observe Law & Order the season.
We continue to do the work at the top level. But all these will eventually mean nothing, if you continue to destroy our living environment at the daily level.
Observing the Rule of Law comes at no costs to you. All it requires is your respect of the rights of others by observing our laws. I know deep in our hearts, each of us love our country dearly. Let us show this love by respecting each other and learning to live with each other among all our diversity.
I, therefore, appeal to you to celebrate Christmas with behaviour that is befitting the season, to respect Law & Order, and to celebrate with family in reflection and quiet gratitude.
Let us rest properly because we have much to do in 2024 as we work together to grow Papua New Guinea further.
I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2024.
May God bless you all.
HON. JAMES MARAPE