SINCE Papua New Guinea became an independent nation and gained sovereignty in formulating and administering its own affairs, it has operated under the two economy system: the traditional economy and the modern economy which was introduced by its colonial master.
The weird thing in PNG’s ongoing struggle is its knack of adapting to the new ideas of the western economy.
To adapt and accept ideas which are alien is a difficult mountain to climb in a nation that is so multicultural and which has people with different needs, perceptions and beliefs.
In fact, this diversity is one of the reasons why economic development in PNG is on a slow growth curve.
In traditional economic systems, it is the inherited system that people dwell in. People have to toil to satisfy their needs and wants through activities such as hunting, fishing, gathering and subsistence agriculture.
One of the most important resources that facilitate the system is land. Land in a traditional economic system is not a commodity for buying and selling. It is much more important than that.
Land is considered a means of life. Without it, one is unhurried to be an outcast.
And the collective good is vital. People have rights, it is true, but permission is endorsed by collective concord.
Land is held under collective guardianship and it is understood that descendants will take possession of it and the identity and well-being of the group will endure and society will live on.
During colonial rule, only three percent of PNG’s land was alienated for plantations and towns; the rest was under customary ownership.
Even today 85% of people live and practice subsistence agriculture while 15% live in the cash economy. Because the cash economy was established alongside the traditional economy, people have tried to acclimatise by integrating both economic systems.
Papua New Guinea is not isolated from the global community and therefore it has to instigate certain systems that are consistent with being a member of the international community.
In capitalism’s sagacity, money has a superior influence by bringing the conservative PNG society into the international economy.
So traditional food crops assimilate with the income earning opportunities of cash cropping coffee, cocoa, copra and rice.
Involving both traditional and cash economies without eradicating either of them is a matter of pride for PNG because it has a sense of respect for our way of life and shows our capability to muddle through with the global community.
We cannot say PNG is a scrawny nation compare with other successful nations and their economic transactions.
But sometimes it doesn’t work as well as it might. The PNG government has placed an embargo on the importation of certain goods that can be produced locally. But it turned out that the endeavour to replace imported rice with locally grown rice was botched and rice continued to be imported from Australia.
The cash economy is most important for Papua New Guinea as a contemporary nation living in the global community.
However, only 15% of the population is in the cash economy, including both private and public sectors.
There is no place in this world that someone can give you something for nothing. Giving something to someone is always initiated with a certain intention, usually self-interest. So PNG is of interest to many countries due to its rich natural resources. Today we have many foreigners intervening in the economy, indirectly taking advantages of the resources.
This is one result of the frail governance in our society – the substantial misappropriation of funds by the elite who have power over economic resources being another. This is what actually is happening in front of our eyes.
The solution depends on the principal figures in the country: their capabilities in leadership and their decisions and policy making.
Strong and high-quality government will result in economic prosperity for the people and an enhanced nation.
It is in our hands now to decide the future of Papua New Guinea.