1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance (2000 - 2009)

Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector in Papua New Guinea (Draft)



Papua New Guinea is a multipolar, ethnically fragmented society. This presents unique problems to governance and the management of inequality in public sector institutions – political parties, the parliament, cabinet and the civil service. The clash of values between traditions and Western democracy and capitalism has meant that elite consensus is thwarted in many issues and instances. This has resulted in the instability of the political parties, the parliament and executive (or cabinet), and political interference in the civil service. The performance of these institutions in the management of governance, inequality, and the ethnic diversity in the country has not been effective. Accordingly Papua New Guinea was ranked 133 out of 170 nations in the 2000 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme. The living standards of the people have not been significantly improved over the past 28-29 years of nationhood.

Ironically, Papua New Guinea is surviving democracy. As a developing country, its democratic longevity has spanned some 40 years unlike other developing countries that have had their democratic systems disrupted in less than 20 to 25 years of statehood. What accounts for this longevity? This study shows that while Papua New Guinea does not have strong and effective public sector institutions, it nonetheless suggests that ethnic structure, specifically the small size of ethnic groups and the absence of ethnic domination in the public sector institutions, may indeed be the critical factors in ensuring the country’s democratic longevity.

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