Happy New Year 2024, Papua New Guinea.

Let me begin this message by commending you, my people, for heeding my call to respect one and other and to celebrate Christmas by observing Law & Order. I have received reports that our people celebrated the season quietly in our towns and villages with no major incidents or reports of lawlessness. Thank you most sincerely. This proves my existing belief that, at heart, we are good people – accommodating, and kind with a tendency to keep an eye out for each other and becoming each other’s support system as traditionally done over centuries. We can co-exist with each other when we put only a little effort into recognizing our oneness as a people belonging to this beautiful, richly-endowed country called Papua New Guinea. 

Over the last couple of weeks during the Christmas break while many of you were celebrating, I had been busy visiting Jiwaka, Western Highlands, Southern Highlands and Hela provinces to launch infrastructure projects and district work plans.

As I mentioned in my Christmas Message, productivity by our Public Service is the biggest challenge Papua New Guinea continues to face, and it is my hope that my work visits into the Highlands over the holiday period and continuous call for increase in output will set the scene for 2024 for all public servants and all Papua New Guineans.

In my New Year’s Message, I would like to discuss several measures your Government is taking to ease the burden on daily living, and to provide you some hope in the meantime, while we continue to seek ways to fix our country.

For immediate challenges facing our people at the daily level, Inflation is high among them. Prices of goods and services continue to rise while the purchasing power of our Kina seems to weaken year after year. This is especially so after coming out of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and 2022, when the Global Inflation rate was at the highest at nearly 9 percent, unlike at around 3 percent prior to COVID-19. Like every other country that is connected to world trends and prices, we rise and fall with these economic tides. Recently, our Treasury put in some measures to cushion against the impact of Inflation, including relieving salary-earners within a certain bracket of paying Personal Income Tax, and cancelling taxes on certain household items.

I realise we need to do much more. I have now ordered a Task Force be assembled and headed by our Deputy Prime Minister Hon. John Rosso to look into the continuing rise in the prices of goods and services, as well as minimum wages for our low-income earners. The Task Force will be working with the Independent Consumer & Competition Commission (ICCC) and is expected to recommend to Government workable solutions which we hope to implement immediately.

Regarding Law & Order, we want to double-down on policing and the Law & Justice sector beginning this year 2024. We have allocated three times more funding to the sector in this year’s budget. Our Police, Magisterial services, Courts/Judiciary, and Correctional Services will get more to put into their work. We thank Australia once again for agreeing to assist us. With the signing of the security agreement last month, December, Australia will provide judges who should help to clear the huge backlog of cases we have existing. Australia will also work with our Police to strengthen, and improve productivity and efficiency.

But as we are doing our parts, I appeal to our people to also do your part. For you, observing our laws comes at no costs at all to you. It is free. All you have to do is to respect the rights of others around you, and to hand any conflicts you might have over to the Law to deal with.

In Health, the Department of Health is working with Provincial Health Authorities to reform the medical supplies mechanism so you can be able to access medicines as quickly as possible within hospitals. One step we have already taken to address the current issue of critical drug stock-outs, is the department facilitating direct procurement of medical supplies for regional referral hospitals and Port Moresby General Hospital. This reform was implemented in January 2023 starting in PMGH, followed by ANGAU Memorial Hospital. Hospitals to be included in the next phase are Mt. Hagen, Nonga, Goroka, Wewak, and Alotau. Forty positions have also been approved across the five Area Medical Stores to enable improved distribution of medicines and consumables from the stores to health facilities.

This year 2024, the Department of Health will also be conducting a major audit of all our health facilities beginning with a mapping exercise this year. In 2023, we have made some significant achievements in the redevelopment and commissioning of various hospitals and health centres, including ANGAU Memorial Hospital, East Sepik Provincial Hospital, and various urban clinics and health centres around the country. Our plans to deliver 22 provincial hospitals starting with the four we committed already in Kimbe , Mendi , Central and Hela still stands.

Work on the two cancer facilities in Port Moresby and Lae are still continuing with Lae ready for opening at the beginning of this year while our specialist heart facility is shaping up well. Meanwhile the Measles vaccination is 70 percent complete, with the second phase about to start early this year. We continue to run our Malaria programs into communities.

In Education, our Free Education Policy still stands to facilitate a universal education for all where no child is left behind. We continue the Tuition Fee Free allocations in this year’s budget to support you. In our tertiary institutions, HECAS, TESAS and HELP programs are still running to assist families get your children through universities and colleges.

It is apparent, we have a burgeoning youth problem that needs addressing. This problem has been neglected for too long, culminating in many social issues we now face such as lawlessness. Our FODE and TVET programs continue offering a reprieve to many of our young people, and this year 2024, we will progress these interventions going forward, including getting our youth into police training, mobilizing them in seasonal labour overseas, and redirecting them into MSMEs and SMEs.

I call on Members of Parliament to take FODE into your districts immediately to function side-by-side with your secondary schools, if you have not done so already. I myself am testament to the success of this program I call “second chance learning”. My Hope Institute in Tari has graduated young men and women who have been pushed out of the school system with no hope for their lives. Since we opened Hope Institute and offered this program, many of these people have found employment and self-employment or continued into universities and colleges. This program is very essential in addressing our unengaged youth population today. To those in places of authority, act upon it now.

Along these lines, our financing of the MSME/SMEs program still continues at our two major banks, BSP and NDB. We have extended to WMB and would like to cover all banks in PNG, if possible. We want you to take advantage of these opportunities by getting a loan against the government funding to start a small business (MSME) so you can empower yourself financially while contributing to the growth of our country.

Regarding Bougainville, the biggest Constitutional challenge to ever face our country, we are treading this issue carefully. Let me again remind everyone that the 2019 referendum result of “Independence” does not bind the PNG Government to automatically grant Bougainville Independence. However, the 2001 Peace Agreement did bind the result to be returned to the PNG Parliament to agree on the best way forward. It is very important that we are clear about this difference. Parliament’s ratification of the referendum result will take place, but in the meantime, Bougainville has to be SEEN to be ready for more autonomy, whatever it may be. As such, we continue to invest in the various sectors of the Bougainville government and economy. One intervention worth noting is a special allocation we have made to finance the growth of MSME/SME and Women in Bougainville. We ask our people of Bougainville to make full use of these interventions.

As I conclude, I would like to shine the spotlight on all public servants and make a special appeal. This year 2024 must be your year of action. I expect all department heads to run your departments with purpose and output in mind, and all staff to follow suit. As we work at streamlining the workforce into the districts, this year 2024 must become the beginning of these reforms. The budget must be fully actioned. Our people have suffered for far too long without basic services, and we must put in all our efforts to bring change to our peoples’ lives.

I hope we have all rested during the Christmas break and are ready to take on this New Year 2024 to grow our country further. Papua New Guinea needs us. Let us rise to the challenge wherever we have been stationed, and make full use of the life God has gifted us with.

I wish you all a Prosperous, Healthy and Happy 2024 with much of God’s blessings.