PNG push for more control over foreign advisors
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister wants to remove foreign advisors and have them work directly within the PNG Government machinery.
Papua New Guinea's prime minister says the government will remove all foreign advisors and consultants from government departments because they're making locals lazy.
Peter O'Neill told parliament last week that from the beginning of next year, any expatriates working in departments will have to be employees of the PNG government.
He says there are advisors and consultants in many departments and that some of the Papua New Guineans in top roles often deferred to those advisors.
Mr O'Neill says that from the first of January, any expatriates recruited will have to be employees of the government, and that there will be no arrangements with other governments.
The prime minister also wants the Australian police currently working as advisors to start working as in-line officers.
Don Wiseman asked the Institute of National Affairs Paul Barker about the ramifications of Mr O'Neill's call.
PAUL BARKER: It's not something new, it's certainly something the government in PNG has been observing and commenting on over the years and trying to encourage as much as possible people to be in-line positions. For example, with respect to policing, yes there's a strong desire within the population in PNG to have Australian police support, but really to have police that can be rolling up their sleeves and actually operating as police and not just being advisors seemingly standing back.
DON WISEMAN: That itself though, doesn't that undercut his call in terms of having the foreigners removed, because it's making the locals lazy. If he wants Australian police to be in-line police, there's a dichotomy there isn't there?
PB: There is, and certainly, yes there are many functions, where clearly advisors of some form or another are playing a very valuable role. Clearly you don't want to have short term people coming in and having to fill government or in-line positions. If you want short term technical advice in a wide range of areas then you need to be able to bring them in on a consultant type basis. But it's certainly true that some of the functions that are longer term, could be performed by people who are in-line, but of course that's somewhat different from the issue of ensuring that locals take on the function. Because clearly there is a role for example in education, the government says they want to go overseas and bring in lots of teachers from overseas. Well clearly yes you don't want advisor teachers, but you certainly are wanting to build up capability within the teacher training colleges and within the entities. Clearly a strong need for international support, partly because of so many years of lack of investment by the government in building up capacity, in investing in human resources. So the country is short on a lot of skills, not on all skills, but on a lot of skills and certainly that investment in human resource development is critically, is the first critical area. It's difficult though with an economy that chops and changes, sometimes there is a major need for example, for welders and then some other time, for something else in relation to construction phases of projects. You can't always plan to have all the skills that you need. So as highlighted in a recent labour survey that we undertook at the INA, a major focus is to try and build up capability to people to be able to be adaptable, to have the skills and know how to be able to pick up new specific skills, obviously to have the literacy and adaptability to pick up specific skills as they come up.
DW: If a lot of the consultants and advisors were removed at this point, what sort of capability is there? I know it's been improving over the last few years, but is it anywhere near a stage where a large number of Papua New Guineans could step up?
PB: Well I mean there are certainly areas where there are a lot of Papua New Guineans with particular skills and of course PNG actually exports some of those skills, pilots and some types of engineers that go overseas. But then of course PNG then needs to bring in overseas people for some of those positions, because Papua New Guineans have gone off to Middle Eastern Airlines, or the health services in Australia so there would be substantial gaps.
DW: What sort of numbers of Papua New Guineans would be working overseas?
PB: Well in the mining sector, quite of lot of Papua New Guineans have worked in a range of skills, engineers and a range of other skills particularly in Western Australia, and elsewhere. And as I say, in fact there are Papua New Guineans all around the world. computer specialists in England, railway engineers in Europe, as well as aircraft engineers, pilots so on in the Middle Eastern airlines, Etihad and etc. So there is a significant number, you wouldn't say at this stage a large number, but certainly a significant number.
DW: In terms of problems, as far as capacity goes, it comes back to the lack of opportunities that people get, that is improving but it has to improve astronomically doesn't it?
PB: It certainly does and it's partly because we've allowed the standards in the schooling system to slip so although now more kids are getting into school, it's still far below what it should be. There are more in there but the standards are not there and if you talk to the vice chancellors at universities they'll say the standards intake is well below what it was in the past. Universities sometimes end up trying to teach people whose literacy is very, very weak and that obviously handicaps the whole process and then obviously handicaps the final output as well. And a lot of employers then feel that they then have to try and further upskill the new intake that they recruit. And we also have a problem that sometimes when you have a really skilled people in government departments like the treasury and so on we have a habit of offloading the most skilled people and losing them from the organisation. Maybe because they stand up a little and say things that are a little bit critical. Maybe they're skilled and certainly objective and that upsets the government of the day and they offload them and you end up having to bring in overseas advisors to sometimes fill gaps that should be able to be provided at least in part from local staff.
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