This paper explores the decentralization and distribution of resource revenues between the central, provincial and local governments, and local landowners in Papua New Guinea, and examines the degree to which the allocation of revenues is taking due account of children’s best interest. It shows that recent government initiatives, in tandem with an increased proportion of revenues allocated to social development services, could promote the realization of children’s rights. In 2013, the government introduced the Family Protection Act, which features new elements of child protection as well as the 2014 District Development Authority Act that aims to strengthen local-level governments and service delivery. What is now needed, and is recognized by key stakeholders, is enhanced and effective implementation of these changes so that development does not stagnate at the policy stage, as has happened in the past.
Papua New Guinea has had a diverse history of contestation over resource revenues during its past forty years since independence. The major actors have been the national and provincial level governments and politicians, international development agencies, resources companies and local landowners in project development areas. This paper explores the debates over decentralization and the distribution of resource revenues between the central, provincial and local governments, and local landowners. It considers issues of representation in negotiations over resource revenues and whether this has been sufficiently equitable. It does this in an effort to understand whether children’s needs and welfare have been accounted for when decisions have been made over how to allocate and use resource revenues.
Development indicators for the provision of health and education services were reviewed to ascertain whether Papua New Guinea’s resource revenues have been well managed for the benefit of its children, and the overall conclusion is that greater investment in these and other social development sectors is needed in order for children to thrive, a point that is not lost on the current national government. In particular, an improvement is needed in the capacity and resourcing of local-level social development service providers. Stakeholder engagement revealed that there is little overlap between those responsible for the allocation of resources revenues and those responsible for children’s welfare, with the result that each of the stakeholder groups felt unable to comment on the business of the others. This indicates that there is an acute need for increased cross-cutting engagement if children’s welfare issues are to become a regular preoccupation of those allocating resource revenues in Papua New Guinea.
The Government of Papua New Guinea has increased the proportion of its revenues that are allocated to social development services and has passed a new law aimed at empowering local-level government so that the provision of services at the District level, where most people live, can be improved. It has also recently passed a Family Protection Law which includes elements for protecting children who are exposed to situations of domestic violence. What is now needed, and is recognized by key stakeholders, is enhanced and effective implementation of these changes so that development does not stagnate at the policy stage, as has happened in the past. A crucial factor in making changes happen for the benefit of children will be the inclusion of children and their representatives in the processes of planning and introducing new programmes, not just leaving essential decisions on resource allocations in the hands of financial controllers. Ideally, this would happen as part of a multistakeholder process that would include community members, especially children and women, resources companies, international agencies, NGOs and government representatives. If all major players involved in the resources sector can find a way to work together, the future of Papua New Guinea’s children can be made brighter.
is Director of Community Development at Social Sustainability Services Pty Ltd in Western Australia.