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Can Australia prevent Papua New Guinea becoming a failed state?

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Thursday, 29 April 2021


The question our readers, and others, most frequently ask me about our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea is whether or not it is now classified as a "failed state"?

Its an issue needs to be addressed comprehensively by Papua New Guine and, the international donor and support agencies such as the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank, but in this contribution I want to to offer some considered thoughts on how Australia can help PNG falling into a "failed state" position if it has not done so already.

My view is that Papua New Guinea is sliding close to being a "failed state" overall, but not quite there yet.

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There are some key aspects of the PNG system of government that have definitely "failed", but there remains time for PNG to pull back from being a total "failed state" something that would have the most disastrous economic, and social, consequences.

The most obvious failure in PNG is sadly the total health system – hospitals, rural health centres, the management of diseases such as HIV, malaria, typhoid, even polio, and of course Covid-19. Only the most radical surgery can restore it – and sadly I detect no will within the PNG Government to do so.

This week, the alternate Prime Minister of PNG Peter O'Neill has offered the view that the country is already a failed state. With national elections just twelve months away he can hardly be blamed for doing so.

The great unknown when it comes to an assessment of whether PNG can avoid "Failed state" status in my view really depends on two factors. The first is just how much more critical the Covid-19 Pandemic will become. The second is whether or not one or more of the potential major resource projects now in "limbo" can move to the construction stage within the next twelve to eighteen months.

On both counts its simply impossible to be optimistic.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not being brought under control full stop. And the Australian Government needs a reality check – it is not being brought under control, our vaccine support for PNG, generous though it is, is only having a marginal impact on Covid-19 numbers.

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In 16 months PNG has conducted around 85,000 tests – out of a population of close to NINE million. Over 10,000 of those tested have produced positive results. That is a high percentage and surely points to the number of actual cases being many times that.

Sadly, there is considerable resistance to testing and vaccinations in Papua New Guinea. Some of it is being driven by social media, and by reckless and irresponsible political leaders. Overcoming that is going to be a herculean challenge.

So the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, on hospitals and the health sector, and on the very survival of people is ramping up weekly. Vaccinating even half the population will, according to all my reliable PNG contacts, just not happen.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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