Devolution of Powers through Decentralization

Utula Samana, a true visionary leader that had the guts to question the seven development recommendations that the consultants from the University of East Anglia prepared for the then Chief Minister Michael Somare just before Independence in 1975. These recommendations were then refined to become the Eight Aims of the Somare led Papua Niugini Union (PANGU) Party to form Government on 16th September 1975.

Utula Samana (1988) in his book “Papua New Guinea: Which Way?” argued that the Eight Aims cannot be achieved without devolution of political power, and without recognizing the potential of our people to make decisions for themselves.

Samana was advocating that approach to development should encompass the Melanesian way of life and how societies organize to manage their land and environment, and be involved in planning and developing their own resources for Papua New Guineans to be fully independent.

As Premier of the Morobe Provincial Government, the Provincial Development Authority Act was passed in the Provincial Assembly. The Morobe Provincial Government was able to establish semi-government agencies to plan and implement road construction, maintenance, and rural development projects, instead of relying on the inefficient Works Department to be engaged to build roads. The Finschhafen and Kabwum Planning Development Authority (FKPDA) and Anga Rural Development Authority were established. The Authorities had their own Boards and a Manager to recruit staff who are needed at the district, thereby employing people from outside the public service.

It took almost 40 years after the country gained Political Independence in 1975 for some smart visionary political leaders to eventually realize what Samana was advocating – people centered development – is the development pathway that Papua New Guinea should be using. This includes decentralizing political and administrative institutions through the Provincial Government Act, according to Samana (1988), was rushed soon after Independence to avoid mounting pressure for self-autonomy from East New Britain and North Solomons (Bougainville) provinces. The Organic Law on Provincial and Local-level Government, provided further devolution of political powers to the Local-level Government and Ward Government at the districts.

The National Government eventually borrowed Samana’s Development Authority model, formulated and passed the District Development Authority Act in 2014 which paved way for District Development Authorities (DDA) to be established to replace the Joint-District Planning and Budget Priorities Committee (JDP&BPC). Most Provincial Governors did not vote for the DDA Bill during the final reading. They saw the DDA Bill as a threat to the existing Provincial Governments.

 Like Samana’s Rural Development Authority concept, DDA is a semi-government agency responsible for outsourcing development projects and outsource technical expertise by recruiting people outside the public service structure to help the districts implement development projects that have been identified in the District Development Plan. However, the concept is still not fully understood by public servants that have been employed through the Public Service Commission to manage the service delivery programs within the institutions of state at the districts. They are being receptive to change and are of the view that they are the implementers of the service delivery programs and don’t recognize additional staff that have been employed by the DDA as partners to beef-up the capacity at the district to implement projects that have been identified in the District Development Plan.

After the country gained political independence in 1975 the formulation of various national policies became the responsibility of the national departments and implementation of the policies was the responsibility of provincial departments. This was facilitated by the two Decentralization Acts, the 1977 OLPG and 1995 OLPGLLG. The Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Government (OLPLLG), was seen as a significant political and administrative change since the country’s political independence. However, the intention of the 1995 OLPLLG to further decentralize the administrative functions of service delivery does not seem to have achieved the intended outcomes stipulated in the Eight Aims.

Alternative Development Pathways

The DDA concept was established after the District Development Authority Act of 2013 was sanctioned as a Bill in 2014. After the country gained political independence in 1975 the implementation of various National Policies became the responsibility of the National Departments and implementation was the responsibility of Provincial departments. This was facilitated by the two decentralization Acts, the 1977 OLPG and 1995 OLPGLLG. The Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Government (OLPLLG), was seen as a significant political and administrative change since the country’s political independence. However, the intention of the 1995 OLPLLG to further decentralize the administrative functions of service delivery does not seem to have achieved the intended outcome to improve service delivery process.

While the country has experienced increased revenue after independence from the resource boom, the benefits to basic social and economic services such as health and education does not reflect the status of increased economic growth. The results of an assessment survey by National Research Institute (NRI) published in 2015 shows bad management and transparency mechanisms for state-run schools and clinics. On the other hand, Church-run schools and clinics showed better performance. The report recommended expanding existing partnerships, improved these partnerships and learn from the relative success of Church-run schools and clinics.

In 2013 the District Development Authority Act was introduced in National Parliament of Papua New Guinea with the aim of further strengthening the administrative functions and the service delivery process at the districts. The DDA Act was passed as a Bill in Parliament in 2014. Most Provincial Governors did not vote for the DDA Bill during the final reading as they saw the Bill as a threat to existing political and administrative systems in the provinces.

Prior to independence, under the Australian Administration, the ‘Kiap’ administrative structure had a process of command from the Central Administrative Headquarters in Port Moresby direct to the districts throughout the country. The District Commissioners issued directives from the Headquarters to the District Officers (Kiaps) to facilitate service delivery process. Village Leaders were the ‘Tultuls’ and ‘Luluais’ who were the public servants at the community.

Administrative structure and the Service Delivery Process before Independence:

Political structure and the Service Delivery Process after Independence:

It seems that the devolution of powers from the national to sub-national governments has not had any significant impact on improving the service delivery process to advance the social and economic indicators for the majority of people in rural villages. The political and administrative structures were not effective in managing the flow of services through the three-tier political system of governance.

The District Development Authority is another attempt to rectify a political and administrative system to improve the service delivery process. The DDA is not a Government Entity but a service delivery arm of the Provincial Government and Local Level Government. The structure and functions of DDA is guided by the By-Laws and its activities will be monitored by the Provincial and Local Level Government Affairs Service Delivery Mechanism (PLASMA). As a vehicle for service delivery, DDA is a legal entity that can sue and be sued. It replaces the JDP&BPC that was a committee set up to plan and prioritizes funding for service delivery projects and programs.

We must acknowledge the efforts of visionary leaders like Utula Samana who saw the need to establish Community Governments by modeling the concept in Morobe Province. While the OLPGLLG provided for the Ward Members to be elected, the Ward Member and the Ward Development Committees (WDC) did not have the capacity, and were not financed to plan, prioritize and execute community projects to meet their development aspirations.

Hon. Joe Sungi, Member for Nuku, a former Provincial Administrator, was able to read and follow-up on the development visions advocated by Utula Samana. Ward Development Program in Nuku district is buying support from the Australian Aid through DFAT that has funded training for Ward Members and Ward Development Committees for all the 84 Wards – grouped into zones – for respective Local-level Government areas – Maimai-Wanwan, Nuku Central, Palai and Yangkok. We anticipate the World Bank to buy into the concept to strengthen the manpower and financial capacity for village people to be active and willing partners, and be involved in the decision making process, take ownership and drive development at the Community Government with the aim of improving the quality of life of the majority of our people in rural areas. If we want change to happen, we must start at the Ward-level and the political and administrative institutions of state to provide the enabling environment to drive the Ward Development Concept.

The Rural Development Model that was advocated and piloted by Utula Samana in Morobe Province was revived by Hon. Joe Sungi MP., during his first term in office after the 2012 National Elections. He made sure that the Rural Development Concept is financed through the DDA Act 2014 and the District Support Improvement Program (DSIP) funds.

The Ward Development Program Model being piloted in Nuku District has attracted the attention of the National Government, with a commitment from the National Executive Council to provide funding for the 89 districts has not been forthcoming.

Dr JOHN SOWEI (PhD)

Development Advisor and Stakeholder Interface

Nuku District Project Management Team

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