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.”



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Finance

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.”

Finance

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.

Finance

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.”


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Commentary

PNG Business News - October 26, 2021

Australia buys Digicel, PNG’s mobile monopoly

Photo credit: Devpolicy by Stephen Howes Yesterday, Telstra announced that it was buying Digicel Pacific. Telstra itself is only paying $270 million, and the Australian government $1.33 billion. Yet, Telstra is obtaining 100% ownership. The deal is certainly an attractive one for Telstra. But does it make sense for Australia, and for the Pacific? Digicel has had a transformational impact in the Pacific, but now has too much market power. As the Telstra release explains, it holds the dominant position in all the Pacific countries in which it operates, except for Fiji, where it is in second place. In Papua New Guinea, which I know best, and which is by far Digicel's biggest market, the company  has a 92% share of the mobile phone market. That makes Digicel effectively a monopoly in PNG. And that is why it is so profitable: like any monopolist, it exploits its market power. Australian and PNG researchers have been tracking mobile internet prices in PNG since Australia gifted it a new underwater cable . Their conclusion is that since the completion of that cable in December 2019 to today there has been no decrease in mobile internet prices. The reason is simple: the lack of retail competition. Michelle Nayahamui Rooney, Martin Davies and I last year exposed Digicel PNG’s predatory loan scheme. Digicel lends phone credit to its customers. They pay it back when they next top up. Our estimate is that Digicel made a 17% return from such loans every week, which is equivalent to an unbelievable 351200% a year. Is this really the way in which Australia want to engages in the Pacific – owning an enterprise that keeps prices high for consumers, and rips them off when they are desperate to make a call? Any monopolist is necessarily engaged in a battle between the consumer and their profits. At some point, Telstra will end up going toe-to-toe with the PNG telecom regulator, NICTA, as Digicel has done several times. It’s going to be awkward for both Telstra and the Australian government. Many will welcome the investment as a sign of Australian commitment to the Pacific. However, if we want to invest in the telecom sector in the Pacific, we should be backing alternatives to Digicel, to push prices down and improve services, not buying out the dominant player. Amalgamated Telecom Holdings based in Fiji is the Pacific’s second biggest telecom provider. It is currently planning to enter the PNG mobile market with support from the Asian Development Bank. This is the sort of investment we should be financing. That Australia has bought Digicel shows the extent to which the Pacific is now viewed through a China lens. That’s unfortunate. China is a massive economic power. Its companies will have increasing stakes in economies around the world. That is a fact we have to accept. The Australian government also needs to decide if its only goal is to counter China or if it is still seeks to promote Pacific development. When I was AusAID's Chief Economist, Digicel was the new kid on the block in the Pacific, and it was successfully challenging state-owned telcos that until then had been dominant. In 2006, in Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's flagship Pacific 2020 report, we wrote glowingly about the competition that various Pacific countries had recently started allowing in the mobile phone sector. Our analysis was right then, and remains relevant today. Yet here we are, in 2021, doing the opposite: rather than supporting greater competition in the telecom sector, subsidising the purchase of the incumbent monopolist. The decision to buy Digicel Pacific should be reversed. If it is too late for that, the Australian government should at least – in return for all its cheap and risk-reducing finance – oblige Telstra to operate Digicel for the benefit of the people of the Pacific rather than solely for its shareholders through an agreement that makes it clear that the Australian company is not only expected to return the cheap loan it has been given, but also reduce prices, and end rip-offs.   This article appeared first on Devpolicy Blog (devpolicy.org), from the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University. Stephen Howes is the Director of the Development Policy Centre and a Professor of Economics at the Crawford School.

Business

PNG Business News - October 26, 2021

Taureka Replaced As Managing Director

Isikeli Taureka's position as managing-director (MD) of Kumul Consolidated Holdings (KCH) was terminated by the National Executive Council (NEC) recently. Professor David Kavanamur has been appointed as interim MD until a permanent appointment is made, and Moses Maladina, the current chairman of PNG Power Ltd, has been named as acting chairman. Taureka was removed after 20 months, according to Prime Minister James Marape, due to poor performance by KCH and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and missed national project deadlines. “The reforms of the SOEs were endorsed by the Government in October 2019,” he said “We see it as the most-significant reform programme to be undertaken by any Government since the corporatisation of the state utilities and the creation of the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC), now KCH. “Building governance and accountability must go hand in hand with successful project execution. These are viable projects that can fundamentally change the accessibility and affordability of services and benefit the welfare of our people. “Extensive unexplained delays to major projects by KCH and SOEs are not acceptable. The Government understands that SOE issues cannot be immediately resolved as they take time. “That is why the NEC provided well over a year for KCH to work with SOEs to support the development and execution of strategies. We had hoped more would have been achieved during Taureka’s tenure. We regret to take the difficult step of severing the MD’s appointment. However, the NEC felt it had to be done. “The Telikom merger and partial privatisation with majority ownership and board control to be passed onto the super funds, for example, is one major issue the Government has been pushing since 2019 when we took office. “The merger of Water PNG and Eda Ranu is another matter that has been outstanding and not yet resolved. This merger is to take on a subsidiary structure where 20 percent of Eda Ranu is to be owned by Koiari landowners and 10 per cent each by Central Province and the National Capital District. “This decision was taken in 2019 but has not been implemented to date. “As for PNG Power and its continuous performance issues, these have been ongoing and evident. “These are badly-needed reforms within the SOEs and responsive policies have been launched by the Government, yet, very little or no progress have been made. “Out of respect to Taureka as a leading Papua New Guinea son, I had reached out to him for a meeting but there was no response forthcoming. Hence, the announcement of this decision (termination),” he added. Those nominated to crucial positions, according to Marape, must grasp the larger picture and act quickly to fulfill the government's goals.“For others in key leadership roles, whether as chair, members of boards, departments or agency heads, you are not here to pass the time or warm seats. Everyone must step up. “The Prime Minister’s Department is working to take stock of work done. So, if you feel you have not met your key performance indicators, I suggest you start thinking about resigning before the NEC asks you to leave.” According to Marape, Kavanamur had previously served as the chairman of KCH and had a thorough awareness of the organization's issues as well as the government's goals.   Reference: The National (22 October 2021). “Cabinet Axes Taureka”. 

Business

PNG Business News - October 26, 2021

Digicel Pacific to be Acquired by Telstra

Telstra has announced that it will buy Digicel Pacific for $US1.6 billion, plus up to an additional US$250 million based on business performance over the next three years, subject to government and regulatory approvals. In its six South Pacific markets – Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu – Telstra, Australia's leading telecommunications and technology company, will continue to invest in and operate the business under the Digicel brand name. Telstra International CEO Oliver Camplin-Warner said the agreement will allow Telstra to expand on Digicel Pacific's regional leadership and increase mobile connectivity in Papua New Guinea. “Denis O’Brien and the Digicel team have built a phenomenal business that’s centred on providing exceptional customer service, the best coverage and leading digital experiences. Telstra will add to these strengths and the team’s local knowledge with our more than one hundred years’ experience connecting the vast expanses of Australia to continue delivering great experiences for Digicel’s customers across the Pacific.”   “We have 19.5 million retail mobile customers in Australia and our 4G network is the largest and most reliable in country. It covers some of the remotest parts of Australia – from the coast, to the outback and the Torres Strait Islands, just off the coast of Papua New Guinea. And we’re in the process of building Australia’s largest 5G network that now stretches to more than 240 towns and 75 per cent of the population,” Camplin-Warner said.     There will be no employment losses in the region as a result of the transaction, and the present Digicel Pacific team will continue to manage the company on a day-to-day basis. Denis O'Brien, the current owner of Digicel, will continue on the Board of Directors. “We will invest our know-how and capital to further expand coverage and over time bring the benefits of 5G to Papua New Guinea. But we’ll retain the same Digicel brand the people of PNG know and love today with the same team and services they have come to rely on,” Mr Camplin-Warner said.    The purchase, according to Camplin-Warner, is in line with Telstra International's expansion plan, which now comprises operations in 20 countries outside of Australia and thousands of clients, including businesses, governments, and some of the world's largest technology firms. “Beyond Australia Telstra also has the most extensive subsea telecommunications cable network in the Asia Pacific. And we’re one of the biggest providers of voice and data services connecting the South Pacific to the rest of the world through our Southern Cross cable.”     “Network traffic is growing faster than at any other period of time and digital technology is changing our world. We are at the centre of this, and so is Digicel Pacific. We are committed to delivering the best technology on the best network for PNG,” Mr Camplin-Warner said.      The people and businesses of PNG will benefit from Telstra's experience rolling out a world-class 5G network and connecting diverse geographies, according to Colin Stone, CEO of Digicel Papua New Guinea. “Telstra’s network innovation has played a critical part in Australia being ranked first in the global Mobile Connectivity Index which assesses networks based on performance, affordability and availability. We look forward to working with Oliver and the Telstra team,” Mr Stone said.  The two firms' ideals, according to Camplin-Warner, were likewise matched.   “Digicel Pacific and Telstra are both committed to building a connected future so everyone can thrive and this includes supporting some of the most vulnerable in our communities.”   “Digicel Pacific has taken community development to the next level through the Digicel Foundation’s investment in health, education and community-based programs. We look forward to continuing this work, just as we do today with the Telstra Foundation and its commitment to using technology to support young people and help to reduce the digital divide.”    “We will also bring a commitment to addressing climate change to help drive better environmental outcomes for the people of PNG,” Mr Camplin-Warner said.   Despite the fact that the transaction is funded by the Australian government, Telstra will remain the only owner and operator of the company.   Reference: Loop (October 25, 2021). “Australia’s biggest telecommunications company to acquire Digicel Pacific”.

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