Today I want to take the time to wish all Papua New Guineans a happy and blessed Independence Day.
We are now 45 years old as a Nation. And as we celebrate with our loved ones, it is also an opportune time to reflect on how far this country has come, and where we are today, so that we can chart the next phase of our journey.
The best indicators to measure our progress, or the status of our development are social, human and economic indexes. These measure our overall economic status, accessibility (transportation) to services, our skill and knowledge levels, law and order conditions and so on.
When we look at these indicators, a very sad story begins to emerge. This is despite PNG being so blessed and abundantly rich in natural resources. We have had Misima, Porgera, Ok Tedi, Kutubu Oil, Ramu Nickle, PNG LNG, logging and fisheries projects, and yet we have not seen wide scale benefits from these projects.
Sadly, our story is similar to the "African Story".
Many of these countries are about 150 years old, and blessed and abundantly rich in natural resources, just like us in PNG. Yet despite this, see where those countries are today. Theirs is a story of struggle - struggle every day. They are poorer than ever, poverty is widespread, their financial systems and public services are weak. Political instability in ever prevalent, civil wars abound, accessibility to services (if they even exist) is poor. Not a success story by any measure.
As Papua New Guineans, we are educated enough to know how and why these countries are where they are today. A huge contrast to Asian countries, our closest neighbours, right in front of us.
So, what does all of this mean for us? What do we do to avoid travelling the same path as the African countries? How do we avoid simply replicating the African Story in the decades to come?
After 45 years, we are mature enough to chart a new path. A new course. For us to achieve this, we need to seriously assess ourselves, our policies, our laws, our political systems and structures, our public service and our financial systems. And we need to review and adjust our resource development policies to enhance benefit sharing and learn how to build our country by harnessing the benefits of natural resources.
The latter is very important. This is where the economic value is derived.
The big question we need to ask is: have we received, and do we continue to receive, a fair and equitable share of the benefits or value from the development of our natural resources?
Sadly, the answer is a categorical and emphatic no.
So what do we do? Do we continue with business as usual? Turn a blind eye to what is happening before our very eyes? Suck it up and continue to dance to the divide and rule music of developers, continuing to believe that same rhetoric "investor confidence, investor confidence"?
Just look at the African experience. They were told the same. And yet, after 150 years, they are worse off. Ravaged by crisis. Ravaged by war. Ravaged by internal division. And yet, have the foreign multinational corporations left because of civil war, political instability, weak financial and public services and escalating law and order problems? The answer is simple, no they have not.
They are still there still there, digging and extracting gold, copper, diamonds, oil and gas and logging and fishing. The simple truth is, where profit is to be made, large corporations will stay, regardless of the circumstances.
There is a saying in Africa which goes along the following lines. “We have been reduced to a dog, fighting over the bone, after all the meat has been taken out".
Papua New Guinean, we are not fools. God has given us the talents and abilities to build our country on the back of the development of our abundant natural resources.
We must act now. Not tomorrow. Because tomorrow will be too late.
PNG is at a cross roads today. We are travelling along the same path as Africa. There is no doubt about it.
"Take Back PNG", the policy of the Marape Government provides the platform for us to turn PNG around in the next 5 years and avoid the African experience.
We must overhaul everything from our policies to our laws to our systems and our processes if we are to achieve this goal. We must start with our resources development and benefit sharing arrangements. We have been denied a fair and equitable share for the last 45 years, and this must change.
Just look at places like Misima, Western Province, Porgera, Hela, Southern Highlands Province, New Ireland, Madang, and Gulf. Despite being home to some of the most world class profitable mines and oil and Gas fields, people are not better off, they are worse off.
A big contrast to what we are told by investors and others.
The simple fact is we have been given a raw deal for far too long. We must learn from this experience and get a fair and equitable share for which we are rightly entitled.
So, how do we achieve this outcome?
Prime Minister James Marape and his Government have clearly outlined their policy directives. These are.
1. The State must take 60-65% of the share of the revenue from these projects, inclusive of exercising our back-in-rights, that is equity and taxes;
2. The State must secure early revenues, not only after 10-15 years;
3. Provincial Governments and landowners must receive that their full royalty and development levy entitlement at 2%, minimum;
4. The State must secure 5-10% of Gas, Oil and Minerals for domestic market obligations and downstream processing;
5. A national content package must be agreed whereby the project operator is legally obligated to utilize landowners and our own people for goods and services, purchasing of equipment and materials, local banking and insurance services, and training of nationals in all skill levels required for the industry; and
6. All joint venture partners must share the cost of social obligations proportionate to their equity.
In addition to the above, we are reviewing our laws to ensure environmental protection, migrating from a concession to production sharing regime and moving from taxing profitability to a taxing productivity regime.
These are very vital policy directives and the success of these policies depend on all of us, bureaucrats, political leaders and educated Papua New Guineans playing a role.
We need to work as one, as Team PNG. We must be disciplined, confident, and smart. The national interest must always prevail.
We have suffered enough. We have a duty to this generation to turn the tide around and create a better and more prosperous country for our people and the generations to come.
We have the Pnyang gas field, Wafi Golpu gold mine, the Pasca offshore petroleum project, and Porgera mine, all now on the table.
We must ensure that our policy directives are achieved by negotiating hard, being smart and being fair at the same time. There can be no compromise on the future of our nation.
We must replicate the Asian economic miracle, not become just another African story.
Let us use these next 45 years to make PNG the success story it deserves to be.
That journey must begin now, not tomorrow.
A blessed Independence Day to all.