By OMAE KOAKE
AFTER 35 years of independence, Papua New Guinea has gone through many good and bad experiences as a developing nation but it is still very optimistic of becoming a bigger, stronger and a more self-reliant nation.
The country has faced numerous challenges like natural catastrophes, corruption, law and order problems, financial crisis, climate change, armed rebellion in Bougainville and many others.
These have tested the country's capabilities in maintaining its sovereignty while caring for the welfare of its people.
Papua New Guinea is a young developing country with a rural based economy where more than 80% of its population lives in the rural areas.
Since the dawn of the 1990s, the country has experienced high level of population growth. The growth has been subjected to a lot of risks related to individual lifestyles, economy, environment, social and the governance aspects of the people's survival. Among its entire population, there are those who live 'comfortable lives' and those who 'struggle' to sustain their livelihood. And it is the poor who are most at risk because they have fewer assets, savings or survival opportunities to fall back on to support their survival.
Among the country's 6 million people, there are citizens who are poor, homeless, widows, victims of natural disasters, HIV/AIDS victims, unemployed persons, disable, mentally affected, divorced persons and many others who struggle to live normal lives despite the many problems that challenge their survival.
Fundamentally, they are human and therefore have dreams, aspirations and rights like all humans. These groups of people are now classified as the 'most vulnerable'.
Several human rights laws stipulated under various United Nations Charters protect all humans including them but for far too long, their needs, wants and aspirations are either neglected or oppressed in many ways. Many of them are usually left in the cold because society sees them as 'misfits'.
In a recent move, the Asian Development Bank ( ADB ), under its Regional Strategy on Social Protection for the ' most vulnerable' people for the Asia and Pacific (SSPAP), highlighted the rationale for establishing social protection policy and strategy for Member Developing Countries ( MDC ) of which PNG is a member.
ADB defines social protection as a legal course of actions (policy) for reducing poverty aimed at making the poor less vulnerable to risks and be able to participate in equitable economic growth. The bank presents that economic growth has been the driving force in reducing poverty in the region.
The strategy has been to have more people becoming economically productive citizens and becoming partners and participants in the sharing of the society's growing wellbeing.
The bank also points out that while sustainable economic growth creates and expands economic opportunities, the benefits are not always shared evenly among citizens of a country, especially the most vulnerable have always been frequently neglected. It is therefore important to establish policies to promote wider access to these opportunities by members of the society to participate and benefit equally from the nation's economic growth.
For PNG, it can afford basic social protection systems like financing health care, financing basic education, conditional cash transfer to the poor, elderly and child protection. It already has a number of social protection polices and some form of institutionalised social protection system and also a formal social insurance system covering the welfare of the government and formal employment sectors.
Prior to independence, PNG had some traditional social welfare programs targeted at vulnerable groups such as disadvantage women, the elderly, disabled, single and abused women and displaced children. In the period after independence, PNG established targeted programmes to improve educational attendance and subsidised the health care services.
However, most of these systems have either collapsed or are less effective due to lack of funding and initiatives. It is therefore important to reform the existing social protection systems to extend protection to the majority of the citizens in the country.
The PNG government has now recognised the importance of protecting its most vulnerable citizens from danger, greed and oppression and it has taken moves to establish a social policy for them.
The type of social policy adopted by Papua New Guinea will depend on the needs of the country, availability of resources, feasible institutional arrangements and political reforms.
The focus of such policy should be on selected interventions like providing adequate coverage, targeting vulnerable groups, gender issues, ensuring sustainability and good governance and having an integrated approach.
This all began in Jan 2009 when Minister for Community Development and Minister for Treasury attended an Asia-Pacific Regional Forum in Singapore, organised by UNICEF to discuss the impact of the Global Economic Crisis on children where the Member Developing Countries (MDC) were encouraged to develop and establish social protection policies to protect their citizens from the shock and effects of man-made and natural disasters.
Then in July 2009, Minister for Community Development and the Secretary attended a high level consultation with ADB in Manila where the ADB pledged support to the PNG government to immediately formulate an appropriate social protection policy model for the country.
Following the regional forum, Minister for Community Development in collaboration with the Minister for Treasury made an NEC submission to establish a National Taskforce (NTF) to investigate and advise the government on the policy formulation. The National Executive Council in its Decision No. 97/2009 dated 26th June 2009 noted the content of that Policy Submission No. 69/2009 and approved the establishment of a National Taskforce for Social Protection Policy (NTSPP) comprising eight departments (Community Development, Education, Health, National Planning and Monitoring, Provincial Government & LLG Affairs, Treasury, Labour and Employment and the Agriculture & Livestock) as directed by the NEC. The taskforce will establish a Secretariat to provide technical support, conduct research and consultations as well as perform other administrative duties as required and directed by the National Task Force.
That decision has approved the Secretary of the Dept of Community Development to be the team leader of the NTSPP and the approval of a budget of K2 million for the taskforce to undertake the investigation and reporting.
The taskforce has started the provincial consultative programmes this month.