BPNG Goes For Review
by PNG Business News - June 14, 2021
Photo Credit: UMM PNG
Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey has revealed the terms of reference for a review of the Bank of PNG, as well as the members of the review panel. Former Chief Secretary Robert Igara will lead the study, which was planned in the Supplementary Budget for 2020. Former central bank governor Sir Wilson Kamit and Australian professor Dr Stephen Howes are the two members.
“These very eminent people, all of whom have detailed experience of the PNG financial system and reform, will be working to a term of reference approved recently by the NEC,” Ling-Stuckey said. “It is the first review of the central bank and the Central Banking Act 2002 since Sir Mekere Morauta’s financial system reforms when he was prime minister from 1999 to 2002.
“Much has changed since then, and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, along with substantial technological advances, have made the need for a review even more urgent.
“The aim is to modernise the bank and the legislation in line with international developments, and make it more responsive to prevailing circumstances while preserving its independence.”
The study is scheduled to be finished in time for Parliament's November session.
“An independent advisory group was also established by the late Sir Mekere when looking at the changes that led to the Central Banking Act 2000,” he said. “Igara, currently the University of Papua New Guinea chancellor, was chief secretary at the time, and Sir Wilson was the governor of the Central Bank. “Prof Howes, head of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University, has long been involved in PNG research and advice and consultation, particularly in relation to national development.”
The National (8 June 2021). “BPNG going for review”.
PNG Business News - August 23, 2021
Bakani Says to Increase Exports
Increased exports are the greatest way to boost PNG's foreign exchange. During the Certified Practising Accountants of PNG conference in Lae, Governor of the Bank of PNG, Loi Bakani, made this remark. The Momase and Highlands area conference of the Certified Practising Accountants of PNG began on Thursday at the Lae International Hotel. Bakani spoke on how the global economic crisis has affected PNG's foreign exchange market. During question time, one audience member brought out Kina's 41% depreciation from 2012 to 2020. Bakani reacted by claiming that export encouragement would have kept the Kina stable. “For us now to be able to support the foreign exchange, it means for us as advisers to look at ways of minimizing our imports,” he replied. “We encourage more exports. Minimizing imports will reduce the demand for foreign exchange, and that’s why the Kina can remain stable and if we have more foreign exchange coming in, the Kina will go up.” PNG, according to Bakani, is an "import-dependent country." While the current inflation rate is 3.3 percent, he explained that the unpleasant truth can be seen on store shelves. He feels that encouraging the agriculture sector and getting large projects like the Wafi-Golpu mine and Papua LNG off the ground are the best ways to alleviate PNG's financial load. Reference: Gware, Carmelita. Loop (21 August 2021). “Increase exports, stresses Bakani”.
PNG Business News - August 30, 2021
BPNG: Headline Inflation to be About 4%
Photo Credit: UMM PNG The Bank of PNG (BPNG) expects headline inflation to be about 4% this year, down from 5.1 per cent in December of last year. The raw inflation amount provided by the consumer price index is known as headline inflation. Inflation in Papua New Guinea climbed from 2.9 per cent in 2019 to 5.1 per cent in December 2020, according to BPNG governor Loi Bakani. “This was because of the impact of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic with rising prices for seasonal products as the supply chain of some of these products went up and prices in medical services also increased,” he said. “We are lucky at the moment because inflation is not that high.” However, he said the rates did not reflect the real people faced every day. “This statistical indicator of what the movement of prices is over time, (and) does not tell you the real prices on the shelves, the markets, service fees,” Bakani said. “They are totally two different things.” He stated that the government continues to confront budgetary problems in 2020 as a result of poor tax collection and higher spending compared to 2019. Bakani attributed this year's economic rebound to the relaxation of lockdown measures, fiscal stimulus in key economies, vaccine rollouts in the second half of 2020, and new business models. However, he added, there are still concerns about the development of a new Covid-19 strain, the growing mortality toll, vaccine rollout pace, and the efficiency of different policy initiatives. He cautioned companies and individuals against lowering their guard. Reference: The National (24 August 2021).”BPNG predicts headline inflation to be around 4pc”.
PNG Business News - August 30, 2021
Bakani: Agriculture and SME Policy Improvements Would Enhance Kina
Policy changes in agricultural and small-to-medium companies, according to Bank of PNG Governor Loi Bakani, would boost the PNG Kina versus other currencies. Bakani warned stakeholders at a CPA conference in Lae that the country has been missing out on a golden chance for years. He said that the value of the PNG Kina has fallen by 41% between 2012 and 2020. The kina value versus the US dollar was as high as 0.4 toea when the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant began exporting. “When foreign exchange from PNGLNG stopped, there wasn’t sufficient forex coming in or from other mining or non-mineral sectors to sustain the appreciation of kina,” he said. Bakani said if policies were in place to encourage the agriculture and SME sectors, import substitution and export promotion, kina would have remained stable. “In the last two years, we’ve seen a big pick-up in the export of non-minerals, especially in agriculture, to generate a lot of forex.” He advised stakeholders to cut imports and increase exports. The Wafi-Golpu project, the Porgera mine, and the Papua LNG projects, according to Bakani, have the potential to reverse the trend and boost the Kina. “This is the idea to address this shortcoming with the PNG LNG project where the government gets early revenue, the foreign exchange comes to banks and helps exchange rates to appreciate.” Reference: The National (25 August 2021). “Bakani: Policy reforms in agriculture, SME will strengthen Kina”.
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.
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”.
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”.