Strengthening synergies to deliver support to the rural people of Sepik

by PNG Business News - May 24, 2022

The EU Funded UN Joint STREIT Programme Steering Committee emphasises cooperation between stakeholders and partners in delivering support for the benefit of the people in East Sepik and Sanduan provinces.

The EU Funded UN Joint STREIT Programme in Papua New Guinea has made progress in delivering technical assistance to the beneficiaries since the beginning of 2020. To address existing the challenges induced by COVID-19 Pandemic, there is a need to further scale up cooperation and partnership among stakeholders to speed up the pace of implementation of the envisioned support to improve agri-enterprise activities and livelihood of rural communities in the Sepik provinces. This was the highlight of the Programme Steering Committee's meeting held on Wednesday, 11 May 2022 in Vanimo, the capital of Sandaun Province.

"The EU-STREIT PNG Programme, funded by the European Union for the benefit of the people of the Sepik provinces, represents the largest opportunity ever to initiate, make and deliver a change for the better, in the daily lives of women, men and  youth, from this region," said H.E. Jernej Videtič, the EU Ambassador and the Head of Delegation to Papua New Guinea. Adding "The Programme is part of EU-PNG’s long-lasting partnership in providing innovative solutions for sustainable development to the marginalised agri-rural communities." 

"To build back better after experiencing the severe impact of COVID-19 Pandemic, the team, including the implementing agencies, public authorities and development partners, need to take new measures and scale-up coordination mechanisms at national, provincial and local levels to accelerate tackling protracted challenges and find solutions for emerging issues," underscored Roger Kara, Deputy Secretary of the Department of National Planning and Monitoring. Stressing "only by paying attention to local ownership and alignment will the long-term sustainability of the EU-STREIT PNG Programme be assured."

"The Programme has rolled out a good level of interventions, directly supporting a large number of beneficiaries,” highlighted the United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i, Dirk Wagener. He further stressed that "the Programme is a joint endeavour of, not only the UN family in Papua New Guinea, but also the National Government, Provincial Administrations, and local counterparts in Greater Sepik region, and we all need to put our best to deliver the support and empowerment the people deserve."

Appreciating the contributions made by all partners in delivering support to the target beneficiaries in the Sepik, Takayuki Hagiwara, the FAO Asia-Pacific Regional Programme Leader, called on all involved parties to take firm measures to roll out the planned activities on the ground for the benefit of the rural population in the region to help them have better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life. He also emphasized the increased coordination with the Government, EU and other UN agencies to bring back the project on the right track and recover from the delay, while affirming FAO’s strong commitment on the delivery of the workplan.  

Since January 2020, the Programme has reached out and provided technical assistance and support to 55,000 households and 331,000 people in 40 Local Level Governments (LLGs) in Greater Sepik.

Regarding its work plan, this joint project has achieved the following results for community benefits:

  • Distributed nearly 290,000 cocoa pod borer-tolerant seedlings from main and satellite nurseries.
  • Established more than 250 cocoa budwood gardens in strategic locations across different districts, LLGs and wards in the Sepik.
  • Created and supported the registration of more than 300 cluster groups and cooperatives in cocoa, vanilla and fisheries value chains.
  • Trained nearly 13,000 lead farmers and extension officers (including 20 percent women and 25 percent youth) in the cocoa, vanilla and fisheries value chains.
  • Organised sensitisation and awareness campaigns on the important role of women and youth in the agri-food value chains and the need to mainstream gender and youth perspectives in these value chains. This benefited 9,241 women, youths, students, and men.
  • Provided maintenance to 120 km of farm-to-market roads out of the initial 310 km targeted (18 feeder roads).
  • Capacitated 140 entrepreneurs from 70 local companies (contractors) in road construction, e-bidding, contract management, contract procurement, control quality, decent works and quality delivery for competitive bidding, including in EU-STREIT PNG projects.
  • Developed and officially launched the web-based Road Transport Information Management System (RoTIMS), tailored for conditions in PNG and trained 40 Government officers its usage.
  • Supported the connection of 13,681 beneficiaries to mobile wallets and 16,398 rural people to bank accounts, and the creation of 80 new banking access points across the Greater Sepik region.
  • Developed E-Agriculture Strategies for 2 Sepiks and draft of the national "Quality of Service Framework" for NICTA on improved Mobile Broadband Connectivity.
  • Trained 90 agripreneurs, NGOs' members and lead farmers and government officers, on Digital Agriculture and Financial Inclusion.

The EU-STREIT PNG, as a UN Joint Programme (FAO as leading agency, and ILO, ITU, UNCDF and UNDP as partners), is the largest grant-funded Programme of the European Union in the country and the Pacific region. Being implemented in close cooperation with the National and provincial government institutions, research entities, civil society organisations, and private sector enterprises, the Programme aims to help improve the lives of the people from East Sepik and Sandaun provinces, by focusing on increasing sustainable and inclusive economic development of rural areas through improved economic returns and opportunities from cocoa, vanilla and fishery value chains while strengthening and improving the efficiency of value chain enablers, including the business environment, and supporting sustainable, climate-proof transport and energy infrastructure development.



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PNG Business News - May 20, 2022

EU-STREIT PNG reaches and supports 3000 plus rural women and girls in Papua New Guinea

In its ongoing mission to mainstream gender concerns and youth inclusion into the agri-food value chain, the EU Funded UN Joint STREIT PNG Programme in Papua New Guinea, in partnership with stakeholders, has conducted 12 sensitisation sessions and training workshops covering 5000 plus farmers, villagers, officials, extension service workers and students in East Sepik and Sandaun provinces during the first four months of this year. These awareness and capacity building sessions, between January and April 2022, were conducted in 50 locations involving participants from 34 Wards in 22 Local Level Governments (LLGs). The sensitisation also covered three secondary schools, a primary school and a technical and vocational training centre. Along with Gender and Youth sensitisation and capacity building activities, under the Cocoa, Vanilla and Fisheries value chain development initiatives led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 3000 girls of 16 years and above have been trained as lead farmers. These girls and women attended capacity-building trainings conducted in rural LLGs and Districts of East Sepik and Sandaun provinces. They have been enabled and mastered to pass on the acquired skills such as in Cocoa Propagation and Block Management and Vanilla Cultivation, Husbandry and Processing techniques to other fellows in their households or clusters. These trainees (ToT) would in turn maximising their reach to a larger number of beneficiaries in hard-to-reach rural communities, enabling more farmers to contribute towards increasing quantity/quality production for an increased income and cash flow among farming households and communities. All capacity development trainings are facilitated in collaboration with extension service officers from the Cocoa Board, the Fisheries Authority, Divisions of Agriculture and Livestock and local NGO workers and it is envisaged to translate knowledge materials such as manuals in the local Tok Pisin language for better dissemination.  In terms of providing quality agriculture inputs, 2500 youths and women in 16 villages have received Cocoa Pod Borer (CPB) tolerant seedlings to replace old sterile trees. To strengthen local capacity on quality transport infrastructure works in the Sepik Region, the International Labour Organization (ILO) under EU-STREIT PNG, and in partnership with TVET Centre in Wewak, organised a skills training and capacity development course for 30 youths and women, pulled from different parts of East Sepik Province. This ongoing collaboration will develop the capacities of 150 more youths by the end of the year, thereby creating and promoting decent employment opportunities for rural youth and women who lack qualifications on in-demand practical skills. Furthermore, to improve access to financial services to rural areas, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), under EU-STREIT PNG Programme and in partnership with three local financial institutions, has rolled out an “access to finance” and financial literacy initiative. Through this initiative, more than 13,000 women in the Greater Sepik region have been connected to the formal financial system in the first four months of 2022. Commenting on this multi-UN agency efforts, the Programme’s International Gender and Youth Inclusion Specialist, Patu Shang, said: “Gender is cross-cutting, and when people are gender sensitised and aware, families and communities stay intact, and sustainable development becomes a norm.” She added: “We can’t change the mindsets in one session, but under the EU-STREIT PNG Programme, continuous sensitisation awareness for youth and gender inclusion as well as technical support to train, enable and provide the requisite accesses for women and youth, is critical and this is where we know that change is possible, and change is what we must promote.” The EU-STREIT PNG Programme, being implemented as a UN Joint Programme (FAO as the leading agency, and ILO, ITU, UNCDF and UNDP as partners), is the largest grant-funded Programme of the European Union in the country and the Pacific region. The Programme aims to help improve the lives of the people from East Sepik and Sandaun provinces, by focusing on increasing sustainable and inclusive economic development of rural areas through improved economic returns and opportunities from cocoa, vanilla and fishery value chains while strengthening and improving the efficiency of value chain enablers, including the business environment, and supporting sustainable, climate-proof transport and energy infrastructure development.

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PNG Business News - June 02, 2022

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Photo:  EU-STREIT PNG Programme, in its ongoing efforts to build the capacity of rural entrepreneurs and business activities and to create linkages of value chain actors with the public and private sector in the Sepik Region, supports the formation of a Greater Sepik Secretariat Forum. With the backing of the EU Funded UN Joint STREIT PNG Programme, the Greater Sepik Secretariat Forum (GSSF) has been formalised and is set to promote and strengthen agribusiness activities in the Greater Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. Officiating the inaugural meeting, the FAO Gender and Youth Leading Expert, Ms Patu Shang, called for inclusive participation and genuine representation. Addressing the participants, including the five interim executives of the Greater Sepik Secretariat Forum, Ms Shang underscored: “you are key players in the sector and in a group like this, we can work together by bringing out the issues, and learn from each other. I am also happy to see 50/50 women participation, and this is how it should work.” Five of the executives are officers of the East Sepik and Sandaun Provincial Administrations, while two are from the private sector. The Secretariat Forum will act as a platform for all key stakeholders and value chain actors to exchange views and discuss real-time experiences on best practices, challenges and partnership opportunities for the targeted value chains of cocoa, vanilla and fisheries that are supported under the Programme in the Sepik Region, explained the FAO Value Chain & Small Medium Enterprise (SME) Officer, Mr Alwyn Badui. “At the end of the EU Funded UN Joint EU STREIT PNG Programme, this forum will continue to facilitate the promotion of rural agribusiness through partnership to strengthen each other and also for sourcing outside support in terms of marketing,” explained Mr Badui. The participants, who are key businessmen and women representing SMEs, cooperatives, women and youth groups, were very supportive of this initiative that will act as a platform to support their farming and business activities in the two Sepiks. A female vanilla exporter, Nancy Fale said: “This is a good initiative that will help us to discuss and learn from each other on our failures, our strengths and weaknesses, so that after EU-STREIT, we can stand on our own with the support of this forum to take us to the next level.” For James Dohmun, a cooperative representative from the hinterland of Drekikier in East Sepik, he described the meeting as a learning as well as a business opportunity and said: “If I didn’t attend, I would not learn something new about inland fish farming today.” The gathering pulled together 46 participants, including youths and women from the public and private sectors who also shared best practices, key challenges and partnership opportunities available in cocoa, vanilla and fisheries value chains that can be utilised to support and promote their business activities, growth, income, cash flow and employment for the rural communities. Highlighting the importance of the Geographical Indication (GI) initiative that the EU-STREIT PNG Programme is pursuing with the Investment Promotion Authority, the FAO SME Officer, Mr Badui, said that the use of GI will leverage market competitiveness which will contribute to meeting the aspirations of this forum in transforming the economy in the Sepik Region and PNG as a whole. GI is a globally recognised trademark on products and crafts that has a geographical origin and possesses qualities or recognition. EU-STREIT PNG, being implemented as a United Nations Joint Programme (FAO as leading agency/administrative agent, and ILO, ITU, UNCDF, and UNDP as implementing partners), is the largest grant-funded Programme of the European Union in the country and the Pacific region. The Programme aims to help improve the lives of the people from East Sepik and Sandaun provinces, by focusing on increasing sustainable and inclusive economic development of rural areas through improved economic returns and opportunities from cocoa, vanilla and fishery value chains while strengthening and improving the efficiency of value chain enablers, including the business environment, and supporting sustainable, climate-proof transport and energy infrastructure development.   Article courtesy of EU-STREIT PNG

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PNG Business News - June 24, 2022

Creating decent income-earning opportunities for rural communities in Papua New Guinea under road maintenance programme

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The group must also have representation from youths, single parents whose partners have died or have deserted them and traditional owners of land the road passes through. The Programme, in partnership with MiBank, a local financial institution, is implementing cashless transactions and banking for rural farmers by opening bank accounts for these RMGs, and their payment is deposited directly at the end of every month. This arrangement encourages rural farmers to save and grow their earnings, which can be used to access small loan benefits. Under this rural agriculture development programme, 18 rural roads in the Sepik region totalling close to 300 km in length are being maintained or upgraded with the help of RMGs to support the market access initiative implemented by the EU-STREIT PNG Programme for rural and farming communities to boost agriculture production and agribusiness activities pertaining to three targeted cocoa, vanilla and fisheries agri-food value chains for an improved income and cash flow for the rural communities. The roads will also support other agricultural, business, social and community activities and facilities like schools, aid posts and health centres that are in dire need of better accessible roads. The EU-STREIT PNG Programme, being implemented as a UN Joint Programme (FAO as the leading agency, and ILO, ITU, UNCDF and UNDP as partners), is the largest grant-funded Programme of the European Union in the country and the Pacific region. The Programme aims to help improve the lives of the people from East Sepik and Sandaun provinces, by focusing on increasing sustainable and inclusive economic development of rural areas through improved economic returns and opportunities from cocoa, vanilla and fishery value chains while strengthening and improving the efficiency of value chain enablers, including the business environment, and supporting sustainable, climate-proof transport and energy infrastructure development.


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Agriculture

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.

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Paul Oeka - September 28, 2022

TREASURER WANTS REVIEW OF ELECTION FUNDS

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Commentary

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.

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