Barker Says Forex is Very Tight
by PNG Business News - February 04, 2021
According to Institute of National Affairs (INA) executive director Paul Barker, foreign exchange (forex) has stayed very tight since 2017, considered to be one of the major hindrances to investments and businesses in PNG.
He added that his concern was the imbalance in the markets, partly linked with rigidities in the setting of exchange rates, and the unusual scene of a strong positive current account balance where a section of exports get remitted to PNG.
“While servicing major commercial overseas debt prevails, it combines increasingly with the need for servicing the growing foreign public debt,” Barker said. “The foreign exchange that has been available has effectively been rationed, with priority expenditure taking precedence, including fuel, food and debt servicing, while remitting dividends overseas has largely been on hold for several years.”
On “certain privileged persons able to secure precedence, Barker said he won’t comment further on that.
He said that most businesses need foreign exchange for different reasons.
“Even exporters needed to pay for replacement plant and equipment, sometimes for technical inputs,” he said. “And undue constraint can also handicap their capacity to produce and export. It becomes a vicious circle.”
Although the situation was improving in 2018 and 2019, Barker said, “But 2020 saw the collapse in prices of several major export commodities. This included liquefied natural gas/oil, copper and vegetable oil at the start of the year. It was associated with the severe fall in demand linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and was not balanced by the strengthened gold prices, particularly following the closure of the country’s second-largest gold mine, Porgera.”
PNG Business News - February 15, 2021
Foreign Exchange Liquidity Is Expected To Rise In 2021
The foreign exchange liquidity in the country is predicted to increase this year. According to the Bank South Pacific, this could happen although the first quarter may be tight. In the BSP Economic and Market Insight December 2020 quarter publication, group general manager treasury Rohan George said that the foreign exchange inflows were expected to decrease by 13 per cent with the support of the Bank of PNG (forex) intervention and 20 per cent without its forex support, from levels enjoyed in the last quarter of 2020. He predicted that these were all because of the effect of the fire at Ok Tedi, the Porgera mine shutdown, Government businesses and State-owned entities strong end-of-year inflows “are likely to be partially offset by increased forex intervention by the Bank of PNG”.“The Kina is likely to continue its gradual fall against the US Dollar (10bps/month), while persistent Australian dollar strength will see larger falls in the Kina against the Australian dollar cross-rate,” he said.The high import demand is also on downward pressure on the Kina exchange rate against the US dollar. “A look ahead into 2021 is promising,” he said. “For instance, Japan has committed to a K1 billion low-interest loan to help finance PNG’s budget deficit. Further, the Government has provided assurances regarding multi-billion Kina resource projects like the Wafi-Golpu, Papua LNG, Pasca offshore, and the re-opening of the Porgera mine. A successful conclusion of negotiations will provide foreign exchange relief.”
PNG Business News - February 09, 2021
Kina Drops By 2.9 Per cent Against the US Dollar
According to the Bank South Pacific (BSP) chief executive officer Robin Fleming, the kina depreciated by 2.9 per cent against the US dollar in 2020.“During the course of 2020, the Kina depreciated by 2.9 per cent against the USD, therefore, the cost of goods increase associated with the exchange rate for USD denominated imports would have been around 2.9 per cent,” he said. “For Australian dollar imports, this may have been somewhat higher as the Australian dollar appreciated by 16 per cent against the Kina from last June, predominantly due to movements in the USD and AUD cross rates. In respect to inflation, the most recent publication from the Bank of PNG (BPNG) released in January was that its September 2020 monthly economic review suggests overall inflation is still low.He added, “BPNG’s September 2020 monetary policy has inflation around 3.3 per cent and the Department of Treasury 2021 budget papers indicated inflation for 2020 around four per cent. The BPNG Sept 2020 monthly economic review showed that inflation annual headline retail price index (RPI) to Sept 2020 increased by 0.5 per cent.”This was driven by price increases in alcoholic beverages, among others. According to the BPNG statement, the annual headline inflation decreased from 4.8 per cent in December 2018 to 3.1 per cent in March 2020. This was due to stable or low-income prices in seasonal produce, low imported inflation and high competition. BPNG Governor Loi Bakani said that the import of costs was below 25 per cent.
PNG Business News - January 22, 2021
Budget Management Committee Meets with Department Heads to Resolve Issues
To work out outstanding issues with government payments, the Budget Management Committee (BMC) met with department heads, the Bank of PNG Governor, Loi Bakani, and BSP CEO, Robin Fleming.The BMC is composed of Chairman and Treasurer, Ian Ling-Stuckey, Finance Minister John Pundari, Planning Minister Rainbo Paita and his Vice Minister, Dr Kobby Bomareo.Ling-Stuckey said, “We have heard the frustrations of our local businesses, Members of Parliament and Government agencies, with late and declined government payments. This has to stop if we are to deliver services to our people. Extraordinarily, as the meeting explored deeper into the underlying issues, there were three main factors that contributed to the bouncing cheque’s issue.”“First, over the last decade, with growing concerns about corruption and new anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing laws, there has been an increasing but seemingly, uncoordinated practice to double and triple check the authorisations of payments made by the government,” he said. “More and more of the underlying documentation to authorise payments has had to be sent to both commercial banks as well as BPNG. Second, the updated Kina Automated Transfer System (KATS) introduced by BPNG has modernised many elements of banking in PNG. Cheques used to take 14 days to clear. Now, if they are not cleared in 2 days, they are dishonoured. This means that if all the increased documentation is not provided in only two days, then the cheque will automatically bounce.”He continued, “Third, from September last year, the meeting heard for the first time on Tuesday that the email from the Department of Finance that used to provide the necessary documentation within two days broke down since about September last year and for all of the 4th Quarter, and this was apparently, the primary reason for bounced cheques, according to frank advice tabled by the Deputy Governor of the Bank of PNG (BPNG). So the breakdown in the Finance Department email system, combined with the reduction in the cheque clearance time to two days, combined with the increased duplication of documentation requirements, appears to have contributed and resulted in the recent experience of bounced cheques,” explained the Treasurer.”“In the month of December 2020, government cheques valued over K500,000 that were dishonoured totalled K200 million, of which K74 million were rewritten but dishonoured again. This is clearly unacceptable,” he added. “More needs to be done to deal with the underlying issues. The Budget Management Committee meeting on Tuesday resolved to modernise the government payment system and was advised that the primary solution to ending bounced cheques included adopting electronic transfers for all government payments. It was the view of all BMC ministers and their departments that the very long checklist, adopted by the Bank of PNG, should be reduced, if not, perhaps eliminated altogether, and that oversight of a checklist be transferred back to the Department of Finance and/or the originating source of the funds.”He said, “It is embarrassing that the Government of PNG is unable to meet its bills reliably and on time. Our SME’s are crying out for money they are owed, and all they receive are bouncing cheques. The BMC meeting directed the Secretary of Finance to ensure that the documentation process from the email system does not break down again. I have also asked that a backup system, perhaps a consideration for an encrypted system like WhatsApp that is user friendly, is made to ensure information can get through to BPNG.”“More fundamentally, we must address the underlying issues. Our meeting agreed the multiple document checklist culture must end,” Treasurer Ling-Stuckey said. “Our departmental heads have been tasked to work with the Bank of Papua New Guinea and the commercial banks to do away with outdated practices. We can do this while still maintaining the integrity of our Anti-Money Laundering Laws. Australia and New Zealand manage government payments and their international obligations successfully without needing additional oversight by third parties. It is time we modernised our systems to bring them in line with international best practice. Countries like Fiji have used electronic transfers for years. It is embarrassing that PNG is still stuck in 1975 issuing a very large share of payments through paper cheques. Cheques create opportunities for corruption and slow down our financial system.”Meanwhile, Minister Pundari said the Department of Finance need to review the Financial Management System and come out with a plan to move towards electronic transactions. He stated, “This will stop the perennial problem of bouncing cheques. You can’t electronically transact funds that you don’t hold. Our private sector relies on electronic transactions. It is time our public sector moved to a modern payment system suitable for a rapidly developing country like Papua New Guinea.”
Paul Oeka - September 29, 2022
AGRICULTURE HAS HUGE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL
Photo credit: Oxford Business Group The creation of the new ministries by the current government for both major agricultural commodities, Coffee and Oil Palm is a huge step forward in achieving the agriculture sectors economic potential. For the past years the agricultural sector had not been fully utilized by consecutive governments as the focus had mostly been centered on the extractive industry and Mining & Petroleum sector. This important and vital sector is eventually and currently being recognized as an economic pillar to boost the state coffers. Prime Minister Hon. James Marape said the allocation and restructure of the four newly created ministries concentrating on Horticulture (Fresh produce), Coffee, Oil Palm, and Livestock to the agricultural sector is a complete paradigm shift to get agriculture moving again. The focus of the Marape Government on ‘Taking Back PNG’ is deeply rooted and aligned with the mechanisms and functions of the agricultural sector as most of the country’s population are situated in rural settings and largely depend on subsistence agriculture to sustain themselves. Coffee, Cocoa, Oil palm and Fresh produce have been a mainstay that this rural population rely on for income for so many years. As far as many Papua new Guineans can recall and relate, Agriculture has always been the foundation and backbone of the country and it can surely drive the economy forward. Although the agricultural does not match in monetary turnovers for the country, it is an economic foundation and is here to stay. In comparison over monetary benefits with other sectors, Agriculture had not been performing to expectation due to so many underlying issues concerned and faced with the value chain of agricultural commodities prompting a decline in agricultural activities over the years. The Prime Minister said it was no secret that agriculture had declined since independence in 1975, and the current allocation of the four agricultural ministries was to revive the sector for it to be a major income generator for PNG. PM Marape said this when explaining the concept and rationale for his allocation of four ministries to the agricultural sector. This direction by the Marape/Rosso Government to emphasize more on agriculture will boost agricultural activities in and around the country. Mostly the sector had not been given proper recognition for decades and had been lacking government intervention from past successive governments. Now with the current Government’s backing, the respective agricultural ministries and its industries are expected to flourish dramatically and are likely to bring more benefits. The new ministries will also empower provinces that currently do not have mining and petroleum resources. This will certainly build stronger local economic activities for future generations. “We want to see import replacement and more exports within the agriculture sector, which is why we have allocated four separate ministries to agriculture,” PM Marape said. The recognition of this agricultural industries will also ease and slowdown rural-urban drift. The number of people migrating from rural areas into towns and cities in search for better opportunities have risen in the past couple of years due to inequality in the distribution of wealth and lack of government services. Thus, the governments focus on agriculture will encourage many unemployed Papua New Guineans living in urban areas to go back to their home Provinces or villages and be self-reliant. As economic opportunities arise in rural areas from vibrant and innovative policy interventions within these newly created agricultural ministries, it will attract many to contribute meaningfully and be productive on their own customary land. Prime Minister Marape said over the last three years prior to the creation of the new agricultural ministries, his government has given millions of kina to support agriculture through price and freight subsidies and SME support. “We are now targeting specific commodities through the establishment of the four ministries. Over the next term of government, we will give specific production targets for Coffee, Oil Palm and all other major agricultural Commodities” he said. The government also plans to revive and rehabilitate once thriving agricultural hubs in the country such as Cattle farming in the Central Province and the Coffee plantations of the Highlands region that produced quality organic Coffee and grew the fledgling industry pre-independence in the 1960’s. Now that the agricultural sector has been categorized into four industries, there will be room for much improvement in economic activity within the agricultural sector as people will start contributing meaningfully to the economy.
Paul Oeka - September 28, 2022
TREASURER WANTS REVIEW OF ELECTION FUNDS
Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey is dismayed at how the 2022 National Elections were conducted and is now looking forward to a complete review of the allocated funds that were spent on the elections. Ling-Stuckey recently stated in parliament that the government had allocated and funded enough money for the election process to be conducted this year. “We provided a further K50 million to cover the costs for the 2022 election, bringing the total funding for the election to nearly double the level of expenditure in the 2017 national elections. There was enough money to support a much better election this year, so I look forward to the proposed parliamentary committee examinations of what went wrong and what can be done better” he said. The Treasurer also expressed concern that there was a decrease in the public servants’ salaries. He explained that “Once again there is a salary cost overrun. This is K201 million much lower than in previous years, and out of this, over 70 percent is related to teacher wage overruns. We contributed to bring this area under control. After no pay increases during the latest part of the Covid-19 crisis, it is now time to start increasing some salary payments”. “There is also the need to provide additional funding for the seven new districts that have been created and K3 million each has been provided. There are also new members in existing electorates, and it is appropriate that they be given some funds for commencing programs through to the end of the year. For equity reasons all districts and provinces needed to benefit the same so an additional 2 million per district and province have been allocated bringing the funding back to 10 million per districts and provinces” he said. Meanwhile there was an announcement on Thursday last week that the Department of personnel management, Treasury and Finance are working together to ensure that there will be a three percent pay increment in the salary of public servants. This pay increment is to be adjusted and effective by December this year, the welcoming news for public servants was confirmed by the Secretary of the Department of Personnel Management, Taies Sansan.
PNG Business News - September 28, 2022
PNG’s minimum wage
Commentary by Stephen Howes, Kingtau Mambon and Kelly Samof The urban minimum wage has been an important part of Papua New Guinea’s economic history. In the last few years before independence (in 1975), it was greatly increased. In the decade or so after independence, it was widely regarded as too high. In 1992, it was slashed, merged with the rural minimum, and hardly increased again for more than a decade. We can compare the minimum wage in PNG today with other Asia and Pacific developing countries using International Labour Organization (ILO) data. As Figure 1 shows, PNG’s minimum wage is 18% below the average of the 19 countries shown if the market exchange rate is used to compare minimum wages. It is 37% below the average if differences in cost of living are also taken into account (with conversions made on the basis not of market exchange rates but so-called purchasing power parities or PPPs). The greater difference in terms of PPPs reflects PNG’s relatively high cost of living. Of the countries shown, only Samoa and Kiribati have a lower minimum wage than PNG when a PPP comparison is made. This is very different to the past. Raymond Goodman, Charles Lepani and David Morawetz in their 1985 report The economy of Papua New Guinea compared minimum wages in PNG with a subset of the countries above back in 1978. Then, the PNG minimum wage was about twice as big or more than the other comparators. Today (using market exchange rates, and the earlier authors do), PNG comes in the middle of the pack, as Figure 2 shows. So far, we have shown that around the time of independence minimum wages were very high in PNG by international standards, and that they no longer are. Figure 3 shows how this change came about – also, for interest, comparing trends in PNG with those in Australia. Both the PNG and Australian weekly minimum wages are shown in Figure 3 measured in Australian dollars. The PNG minimum wage is converted into Australian dollars using the current exchange rate. Both wages are then adjusted for inflation and expressed in 2021 prices. The two series follow diametrically opposed paths. The Australian minimum wage fell with the high inflation of the 1970s and industrial relations reforms of the 1980s, and by the early 1990s was little more than half its value in the 1970s. It then increased in the late 1990s and 2000s during the resource boom, and has continued to increase. Adjusting for inflation, it is now almost back to where it was in the early 1970s. The PNG minimum wage does the opposite. It increased in the 1970s and was then held stable due to indexation, until the big bang reforms of 1992. Adjusted for inflation, PNG’s minimum wage continued to fall until 2004. There have since been some significant increases, but today PNG’s minimum wage is only about one-third of its value at independence, and below its value even in 1972, which is when the steep minimum wage increases began. The Australian minimum wage has always been significantly higher than the PNG one, but the ratio has changed a lot over time. The lowest that ratio has ever been is 2.2 in 1986, the highest 45 in 2004. The gap between the two wages is much higher now than at independence: the ratio of the Australian to the PNG minimum wage was 14.5 in 2021, compared to only 3.2 at independence (1975). This reflects PNG’s 1992 deregulation, and the faster growth in the Australian economy, which has enabled an increase in the Australian minimum wage. The solution to low wages in PNG is not necessarily to increase the minimum. In some sectors, where there is a lot of international competition, a higher minimum wage might lead to job losses. For example, in tuna processing, one of PNG’s main competitors is the Philippines. From Figure 1, we can see that PNG’s minimum wage is lower than the Philippines' on the basis of PPPs, but actually higher on the basis of market exchange rates. While the former is what matters for the welfare of workers, the latter is what matters for international competitiveness. Whether PNG’s minimum wage should be increased will require a lot more analysis. The point of this blog is simply that PNG’s minimum wage does not look high any more by international comparisons, as it has fallen a lot since independence. PNG is often described as a high-cost economy, and this is a fair description. However, with regards to unskilled labour, it is no longer a high-wage economy. Data note: The PNG Economic Database provides the weekly minimum wage of PNG going back to 1972, and the PGK-AUD exchange rate. Wikipedia provides the Australian weekly minimum wage data (hourly and weekly, on the assumption of a 38-hour week) starting from 1966. The Australian CPI is from the Australian aid tracker. There are some years where Australian minimum wage rates change more than once in a year. For such cases, we took the average as annual minimum wage rate. The data for Asia-Pacific comparisons are from the International Labour Organization and the World Bank. The different frequencies of minimum wages for each country in 2019 in the ILO’s report are adjusted to convert to weekly rates. World Bank data is used to obtain market exchange rates and PPP conversion factors. For the Goodman, et al., data go to Table 3.6 on p.61 in their report.\ Disclosure: This research was undertaken with the support of the ANU-UPNG Partnership, an initiative of the PNG-Australia Partnership, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views are those of the authors only. This article appeared first on Devpolicy Blog (devpolicy.org), from the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University. Stephen Howes is Director of the Development Policy Centre and Professor of Economics at the Crawford School of Public Policy, at The Australian National University. Kingtau Mambon is currently undertaking a Master of International and Development Economics at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, for which he was awarded a scholarship through the ANU-UPNG Partnership. Kelly Samof is a lecturer in economics at the School of Business and Public Policy, University of Papua New Guinea.