by Allanah Leahy – EM TV Online
Speaking at the Prime Minister’s Business Breakfast yesterday, Prime Minister O&rsquO’Neill acknowledged that areas of PNG’s public service prove to be discouraging at times.
Despite this, the prime minister expressed confidence in the delivery and management of this year’s budget in accordance with the government’s 2015 money plan.
The event’s theme was ‘Strengthening Partnerships for a Prosperous Papua New Guinea’. In his address, the prime minister noted key areas the government has invested heavily in since 2011. These were health, education, law and order, and infrastructure, the latter including K1.5 billion on Pacific Games infrastructure.
Investor confidence and public-private partnerships were high on the agenda. O&rsquO’Neill said strong socioeconomic development is evident in successful public-private partnerships.
“Our government is also taking a lead role in trying to understand what the private sector needs in order to build on our partnership,” he said.
O&rsquO’Neill also raised the importance of public housing, pointing out the government’s housing programs and K200 million housing loan scheme. He urged the private sector to participate.
“I would like to see more positive participation from the private sector in some areas where we can partner. This includes providing housing for [the] employees. Our people will increase their productivity if they have a stable home environment…
“We encourage the private sector to participate because if you look after your employees they will look after your business.”
O&rsquO’Neill described the falling oil prices and resource price fluctuations as a growing, global concern, although commending the lessened business costs it provides. He however said that the government depends on revenue from these industries – the challenge, he said, will be balancing the budget.
“The potential strain on our money plan will not be underestimated. We know if the price remains low for a long while, which is what the experts are saying, we will have to make some hard decisions at some point in the future,” O&rsquO’Neill said.
The agriculture sector was allocated K836 million in 2013, K777.9 million in 2014 and K704 million this year. Despite this gradual decline, the prime minister yesterday mentioned PNG’s huge, untapped potential in the agriculture and tourism sectors.
He also highlighted difficulties in the public service sector, describing it as discouraging.
“I can assure you that this particular area has the attention of our government. You can be assured that we will do everything possible to get the one-stop-shop idea up and running. We are having challenges because there is quite a determined resistance coming from some of our public sector employees.
“Every day we seem to fight our own people, fight the public service; [it] has been one of our battles since taking office in 2012.”
O&rsquO’Neill said these public servants have grown accustomed to the current environment and are determinedly resistant to change.
Regarding calls for a tax reform, O&rsquO’Neill assured that Sir Nagora Bogan has been leading talks on reforming the Tax Review. He advised that a solution should be secured this year and said the government is hoping that some recommendations will be implemented in the 2016 budget.
“Many of the tax reforms – I know there is a desire for reductions in some of the tax rates. But again, we must expand the tax base so that every citizen and every business pays their fair share so that we can build on investments such as infrastructure, health and education.”