By Francis Hualupmomi
It appears that the government has admitted that there has to be a macroeconomic discipline in rescuing the current economic situation. And it has put forward a 100-Days 25-Point Plan economic rescue package for the country based on the Alotau Accord II. But is this package realistic and achievable? Therefore, this article seeks to respond to this question.
The Current Economic Situation
Source: ADB 2017 Outlook https://www.adb.org/countries/papua-new-guinea/economy
According to the Asian Development Bank Economic Outlook (2017), the PNG economy has slowed down to 2.0 percent compared to the last four years (see the figure above). But it is predicted to pick up again at 2.5 percent by 2017 driven by mining and agriculture. The slowdown in the economy has been attributed to low commodity prices. This has increased inflation and unemployment, decreased foreign reserves, and affected the national budget.
It appears that the economic approach undertaken by the government over the last four has been one of an Expansionary. At the fiscal policy level, it has been driving the economy with high spending and borrowing at the backdrop of a decade long economic growth. The rationale is simple – utilise the surplus to expand the economy through infrastructure development which will, in turn, stimulate the economy. As a result of this approach, the economy has experienced an infrastructure boom in the economy as has been so far.
At the monetary level, it has been responding to the fiscal policy to ensure that the economy remains stabilised. It is important to note that in a country like PNG, monetary policy approach responds to fiscal policy to ensure stability. In so doing, it controls exchange rate and interest rates which tend to influence inflationary (inflation) behaviour.
Unfortunately, this macroeconomic policy has been affected by an unfavourable condition. There are two related factors, apart from others, that affect this behaviour. First, is that our commodities have been hit hard by low prices in the global market, which we have no control over. As a result of this price fluctuation, the revenue sources have been affected to sustain the fiscal capacity (budget). Because PNG is a resource-dependent economy that relies heavily on mineral and petroleum sectors, a price fluctuation in the global market will directly affect the economy in terms of growth and development. That is one of the reasons why the budget has been cut in certain social and economic sectors.
The second factor is that while the expansionary approach has been good it has not been managed at a sustainable level. What it means is that as the commodity prices slowly began to pick up again there has been a steady increase in the spending and borrowing. The reason is that there is an expectation that price will pick up again as in normal business cycle and sustain the expansionary approach. The downside of it is that it is quite difficult to predict the price fluctuation due to the complex interaction of market forces. As a result of this fiscal behaviour, the budget spending and borrowing has increased the deficit. However, the budget deficit can be improved and incrementally restored to normalcy through a sustainable macroeconomic policy package. Therefore, the next part will discuss this.
The Viability of the New Macroeconomic Rescue Package
The new Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Hon Charles Able, has realised the downside of the expansionary macroeconomic approach. And he has proposed a 100-Days economic package to rescue the economy from further sinking. In essence, this is a 25-Point Plan which has been widely consulted with the private sector and led by some of the senior ministers and economic advisors. While this package may seem unrealistic to some critical commentators, in my view, it is a workable and achievable one.
The 100-Days 25-Point Plan intervention is based on these key strategic economic priority areas:
• Maintain Fiscal Discipline and Boost Foreign Exchange; Growing Our Revenues;
• Strengthening Our Economic Base;
• Improving Our Governance Record, and;
• Acting Strategically.
First, maintaining fiscal discipline and boost foreign through the growing of revenues. Given the issue of the fiscal problem, practically maintaining a fiscal discipline in a prudent manner will help boost the foreign exchange in many ways. That means controlling and spending behaviour as compared to previous years. And this must be balanced with growing revenues through multiple sources. Incoming revenues must be prudently managed in a sustainable way. What is collected should be spent on strategic priority areas that can bring in higher returns.
In addition, the tax cut will be a balanced strategy. This is because no new taxes will be imposed on ordinary people despite declining revenues. However, this can be recovered through those who avoid or and evade tax. The country has been missing out on the billion dollar extractive industries through tax. For instance, a lot of companies in the mining, petroleum and logging industries have been avoiding or exempted from tax. As result of this, billions of Kina have been going out of the country. These lost revenues could be recovered and help support the budget.
Secondly, strengthening of the economic base is an innovative plan to invest in economic areas that have been ignored. This implies that the economic base must be diversified to boost the economy by way of revenues sources and invested in a lot of baskets to cushion economic surprises. Apparently, the focus on agriculture is pragmatic going forward. It has been a neglected billion dollar sector. Therefore, it is hoped that this will incrementally support and sustain the budget.
Moreover, while the plan sounds practical, the governance aspect of it is fundamentally critical. The government has been widely criticised by the public for governance issues. And this approach is a noble plan to improve its credibility and international standing. In so doing, it will help its approach in prudently governing and managing the economy. Because investor confidence attracts investment and helps build the economy. Political governance is the strategic driver of economic growth and development at this time and in the long run.
Finally, these plans must be pursued in a strategic way. Every decision requires calculated available options to maximise optimal outcome. The government has chosen the best strategy therefore, it is Directionally Correct.
In conclusion, the economy has been affected due to the changing economic conditions and governing approach. And this has been evident in the current economic situation the country is facing. But this can be arrested through a sustainable macroeconomic approach. Therefore, the 100-days 25-point plan package is a practical one and needs to be incrementally governed and managed in a strategic way.
Francis Hualupmomi is a PhD Student in Public Policy in the School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington. He is a Political Scientist in the area of political economy of energy security, geopolitics of resources, international security, and strategic policy. Views expressed here are his own. firstname.lastname@example.org