Background Notes: Papua New Guinea, August 1999
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
OFFICIAL NAME: Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Land area: 452,860 sq. km.; about the size of California.
Cities: Capital--Port Moresby (pop. 300,000). Other cities--Lae (88,172), Mt. Hagen (70,850).
Terrain: Mostly mountains with coastal lowlands and rolling foothills.
Climate: Tropical. NW Monsoon, Dec-Mar. SE Monsoon, May-Oct.
Population: 4.5 million.
Annual growth rate: 2.3%.
Languages: English , Tok Pisin, Motu (official), and about 715 other languages.
Education: Years compulsory--0. Literacy--72.2%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--59/1,000. Life expectancy--men 57 yrs.; women 58 yrs.
Type: Constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: September 16, 1975.
Branches: Executive--British monarch (chief of state), represented by governor general; prime minister (head of government). Legislative--unicameral parliament. Judicial--independent; highest is Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 19 provinces and the national capital district (Port Moresby).
Major political parties: People's Progress Party (PPP); Pangu Parti; People's Democratic Movement (PDM); Advance Papua New Guinea; and Melanesian Alliance (MA).
Suffrage: Universal over 18 years of age.
Economy (1998 est.)
GDP: $3.872 billion.
Growth rate: 1.9%.
Per capita GDP: $860.
Natural resources: Gold, copper ore, oil, natural gas, timber, fish. Agriculture (28% of GDP): Major products--coffee, cocoa, coconuts, palm oil, timber, tea.
Industry (32% of GDP): Major sectors--copra crushing, palm oil processing, plywood production, wood chip production, mining of gold, silver and copper, construction, tourism, crude oil production.
Trade (1998): Exports--$1.7 billion: gold, copper ore, oil, timber, palm oil, coffee. Major markets--Australia, Japan, Germany, U.K., South Korea, China. Imports--$1.2 billion: machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, fuels, chemicals. Major suppliers--Australia, Singapore, Japan, U.S., New Zealand, Malaysia.
The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Papua New Guinea has several thousand separate communities, most with only a few hundred people. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, some of these communities have engaged in tribal warfare with their neighbors for centuries.
The isolation created by the mountainous terrain is so great that some groups, until recently, were unaware of the existence of neighboring groups only a few kilometers away. The diversity, reflected in a folk saying, "For each village, a different culture," is perhaps best shown in the local languages. Spoken mainly on the island of New Guinea--composed of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya, Indonesia (the term "New Guinea" is applied both to the northern two-thirds of the main island of Papua New Guinea and to the entire island)--about 650 of these languages have been identified; of these, only 350-450 are related. The remainder seem to be totally unrelated either to each other or to the other major groupings. Native languages are spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand, although Enga, used in Enga Province, is spoken by some 130,000 people. Most native languages are extremely complex grammatically.
Melanesian Pidgin serves as lingua francas. English is spoken by educated people and in Milne Bay Province.
The overall population density is low, although pockets of overpopulation exist. Papua, with almost half the area of Papua New Guinea, has only 20% of the population. The Western Province of Papua averages one person per square kilometer (3 per sq. mi.). The Chimbu Province in the New Guinea highlands averages 20 persons per square kilometer (60 per sq. mi.) and has areas containing up to 200 people farming a square kilometer of land. The highlands have 40% of the population.
A considerable urban drift toward Port Moresby and other major centers has occurred in recent years. Between 1978 and 1988, Port Moresby grew nearly 8% per year, Lae 6%, Mount Haven 6.5%, Goroka 4%, and Madang 3%. The trend towards urbanization has accelerated in the 90s, bringing in its wake squatter settlements, unemployment and attendant social problems.
Almost two-thirds of the population is nominally Christian. Of these, more than 700,000 are Catholic, more than 500,000 Lutheran, and the balance are members of other Protestant sects. Although the major churches are under indigenous leadership, a large number of missionaries remain in the country. The bulk of the estimated 2,500 Americans resident in Papua New Guinea are missionaries and their families. The non-Christian portion of the indigenous population practices a wide variety of religions, which are an integral part of traditional culture and consist mainly of animism (spirit worship) and ancestor cults.
Foreign residents are just over 1% of the population. More than half are Australian; others are from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United States. Since independence, about 900 foreigners have become naturalized citizens.
The traditional Papua New Guinea social structure includes the following characteristics:
--The practice of subsistence economy;
--Recognition of bonds of kinship with obligations extending beyond the immediate family group;
--Generally egalitarian relationships with an emphasis on acquired, rather than inherited, status; and
--A strong attachment of the people to land.
Most Papua New Guineans still adhere strongly to this traditional social structure, which has its roots in village life.
Archeological evidence indicates that humans arrived on New Guinea at least 60,000 years ago, probably by sea from Southeast Asia during an ice age period when the sea was lower and distances between islands shorter. Although the first arrivals were hunters and gatherers, early evidence shows that people managed the forest environment to provide food. There also are indications of gardening having been practiced at the same time that agriculture was developing in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Early garden crops--many of which are indigenous--included sugarcane, Pacific bananas, yams, and taros, while sago and pandanus were two commonly exploited native forest crops. Today's staples--sweet potatoes and pigs--are later arrivals, but shellfish and fish have long been mainstays of coastal dwellers' diets.
When Europeans first arrived, inhabitants of New Guinea and nearby islands--while still relying on bone, wood, and stone tools--had a productive agricultural system. They traded along the coast, where products mainly were pottery, shell ornaments, and foodstuffs, and in the interior, where forest products were exchanged for shells and other sea products.
The first Europeans to sight New Guinea were probably the Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailing in the South Pacific in the early part of the 16th century. In 1526-27, Don Jorge de Meneses accidentally came upon the principal island and is credited with naming it "Papua," a Malay word for the frizzled quality of Melanesian hair. The term "New Guinea" was applied to the island in 1545 by a Spaniard, Ynigo Ortis de Retez, because of a fancied resemblance between the islands' inhabitants and those found on the African Guinea coast. Although European navigators visited the islands and explored their coastlines for the next 170 years, little was known of the inhabitants until the late 19th century.
With Europe's growing need for coconut oil, Godeffroy's of Hamburg, the largest trading firm in the Pacific, began trading for copra in the New Guinea Islands. In 1884, Germany formally took possession of the northeast quarter of the island and put its administration in the hands of a chartered company. In 1899, the German imperial Government assumed direct control of the territory, thereafter known as German New Guinea. In 1914, Australian troops occupied German New Guinea, and it remained under Australian military control until 1921. The British Government, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, assumed a mandate from the League of Nations for governing the Territory of New Guinea in 1920. It was administered under this mandate until the Japanese invasion in December 1941 brought about the suspension of Australian civil administration. Following the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, civil administration of Papua as well as New Guinea was restored, and under the Papua New Guinea Provisional Administration Act, 1945-46, Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union.
On November 6, 1884, a British protectorate was proclaimed over the southern coast of New Guinea (the area called Papua) and its adjacent islands. The protectorate, called British New Guinea, was annexed outright on September 4, 1888. The possession was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1902. Following the passage of the Papua Act of 1905, British New Guinea became the Territory of Papua and formal Australian administration began in 1906. Papua was administered under the Papua Act until it was invaded by the Japanese in 1942 and civil administration suspended. During the war, Papua was governed by a military administration from Port Moresby, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur occasionally made his headquarters. As noted, it was later joined in an administrative union with New Guinea during 1945-46 following the surrender of Japan.
The Papua and New Guinea Act of 1949 formally approved the placing of New Guinea under the international trusteeship system and confirmed the administrative union of New Guinea and Papua under the title of "The Territory of Papua and New Guinea." The act provided for a Legislative Council (established in 1951), a judicial organization, a public service, and a system of local government. A House of Assembly replaced the Legislative Council in 1963, and the first House of Assembly opened on June 8, 1964. In 1972, the name of the territory was changed to Papua New Guinea.
Elections in 1972 resulted in the formation of a ministry headed by Chief Minister Michael Somare, who pledged to lead the country to self-government and then to independence. Papua New Guinea became self-governing in December 1973 and achieved independence on September 16, 1975. The 1977 national elections confirmed Michael Somare as Prime Minister at the head of a coalition led by the Pangu Party. However, his government lost a vote of confidence in 1980 and was replaced by a new cabinet headed by Sir Julius Chan as Prime Minister. The 1982 elections increased Pangu's plurality, and parliament again chose Somare as Prime Minister. In November 1985, the Somare government lost a vote of no confidence, and the parliamentary majority elected Paias Wingti, at the head of a five-party coalition, as Prime Minister. A coalition, headed by Wingti, was victorious in very close elections in July 1987. In July 1988, a no confidence vote toppled Wingti and brought to power Rabbie Namaliu, who a few weeks earlier had replaced Somare as leader of the Pangu Party.
Such reversals of fortune and a revolving-door succession of Prime Ministers continue to characterize Papua New Guinea's national politics. A plethora of political parties, coalition governments, shifting party loyalties and motions of no-confidence in the leadership all lend an air of instability to political proceedings. Under legislation intended to enhance stability, new governments remain immune from no-confidence votes for the first 18 months of their incumbency.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Papua New Guinea, a constitutional monarchy, recognizes the Queen of England as head of state. She is represented by a governor-general who is elected by parliament and who performs mainly ceremonial functions. Papua New Guinea has three levels of government--national, provincial, and local. There is a 109-member unicameral parliament, whose members are elected every 5 years. The parliament in turn elects the prime minister, who appoints his cabinet from members of his party or coalition.
Members of parliament (MP's) are elected from 19 provinces and the national capital district of Port Moresby. Parliament introduced reforms in June 1995 to change the provincial government system, with regional (at-large) MP's becoming provincial governors, while retaining their national seats in parliament.
Papua New Guinea's judiciary is independent of the government. It protects constitutional rights and interprets the laws. There are several levels, culminating in the Supreme Court.
Papua New Guinea's politics are highly competitive. MP's are elected on a "first past the post" system, with winners frequently gaining less than 15% of the vote. There are several parties, but party allegiances are not strong. Winning candidates are usually courted in efforts to forge the majority needed to form a government, and allegiances are fluid. No single party has yet won enough seats to form a government in its own right.
Papua New Guinea has a history of changes in government coalitions and leadership from within Parliament during the 5-year intervals between national elections. New governments are protected by law from votes of no confidence for the first 18 months of their incumbency, and no votes of no confidence may be moved in the 12 months preceding a national election.
The last national election was held in June, 1997. The election was characterized by a large turnover in sitting members of Parliament and a number of veteran politicians, including former Prime Ministers Sir Julius Chan and Pias Wingti, lost their seats. A large number of independents were elected. Eighty-eight of the 109 election victories have been challenged by losing candidates in the courts and some elections have been annulled. The government was formed by a coalition of several parties. Bill Skate, the leader of the People's Congress Party, was elected Prime Minister. In July, 1999, Skate resigned under threat of a motion of no confidence and the Parliament elected Sir Mekere Morauta Prime Minister, leaving Skate leader of the Opposition. Many members of the Morauta cabinet served Skate as ministers.
On Bougainville Island, a rebellion had been under way from early 1989 until a truce came into effect in October 1997 and a permanent cease fire was signed in April 1998. Under the eyes of a regional peace monitoring force and a UN observer mission, the government and provincial leaders have established an interim government and are working toward election of a provincial government.
Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Sir Silas Atopare
Prime Minister--Sir Mekere Morauta
Ambassador to the United States--Nagora Bogan
Papua New Guinea maintains an Embassy at 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-745-3680; fax 202-745-3679). The Papua New Guinea mission to the United Nations is at 801 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-682-6447).
Papau New Guinea is rich in natural resources, including minerals, timber and fish, and produces a variety of commercial agricultural products. The economy generally can be separated into subsistence and market sectors, although the distinction is blurred by small-holder cash cropping of coffee, cocoa, and copra. About 75% of the country's population relies primarily on the subsistence economy. The minerals, timber and fish sectors are dominated by foreign investors. Manufacturing is limited, and the formal labor sector is consequently also limited.
In 1998 mineral production accounted for 23% of GDP. Government revenues and foreign exchange earning depend heavily on mineral exports. Indigenous land owners in areas affected by minerals projects also receive royalties from those operations. Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with gold, copper, oil, natural gas, and other minerals. Although Bougainville copper and gold mines are currently in production at Progera, Ok Tedi, Misima and Lihir. New nickel, copper and gold projects have been identified and are awaiting a rise in commodity prices to begin development. A consortium led by Chevron is producing and exporting oil from south-western Papua New Guinea. In 2000, it expects to begin the commercialization of the country's estimated 22.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves through the construction of a gas pipeline from Papua New Guinea to Queensland, Australia.
Agriculture, Timber and Fish
Papua New Guinea also produces and exports valuable agricultural, timber and fish products. Agriculture currently accounts for 28% of GDP and supports over 80% of the population. Cash crops ranked by value are coffee, oil, cocoa, copra, tca, rubber and sugar. The timber industry was not active in 1998, due to low world prices, but is rebounding in 1999. About 40% of the country is covered with exploitable trees and a domestic wood working industry has been slow to develop and fish exports are confined primarily to shrimp. Fishing boats of other nations catch tuna in PNG waters under license.
In general, the Papua New Guinea economy is highly dependent on imports for manufacturing goods. Its industrial sector (exclusive of mining) accounts for only 9% of GDP, and contributes little to exports. Small-scale industries produce beer, soap, concrete products, clothing, paper products, matches, ice cream, canned meat, fruit juices, furniture, plywood and pain. The small domestic market, relatively high wages, and high transport costs are constraints to industrial development.
Trade and Investment
Australia, Singapore, and Japan are the principal exporters to Papua New Guinea. Petroleum and mining machinery and aircraft are perennially the strongest U.S. exports to Papua New Guinea. In 1998, as mineral exploration and new minerals investments declined, so did U.S. exports.
Australia is Papua New Guinea's most important export market followed by Japan and European Union. Crude oil is the largest U.S. import from Papua New Guinea, followed by gold, cocoa, coffee and copper ore.
U.S. companies are active in developing Papua New Guinea's mining and petroleum sectors. Chevron operates the Kutubu and Gobe oil projects and is developing its natural gas reserves. Battle Mountain Gold is a principal owner of Papua New Guinea Gold, which operates the Lihir gold mine, and Cyprus-Amex is the developer of a gold and copper project in the Sepik region. A 30,000-40,000 barrel-per-day oil refinery project in which there is an American interest is also under development in Port Moresby.
Papua New Guinea became a participating economy in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in 1993. It joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1996.
Development Programs and Aid
Australia is the largest bilateral aid donor to Papua New Guinea, offering about $200 million a year in assistance. Budgetary support, which has been provided in decreasing amounts since independence, will stop altogether in 2000, with aid concentrated on project development.
Other major sources of aid to PNG are Japan, the European Union, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank. At mid-1999, the GPNG is negotiating an economic support loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Volunteers from a number of countries, including the United states, and mission church workers also provide education, health and development assistance throughout the country.
Current Economic Conditions
By mid-1999, Papua New Guinea's economy was in crisis. Although its agricultural sector had recovered from the 1997 drought and timber prices were rising as most Asian economies were recovered from their 1998 slump, Papua New Guinea's foreign currency earnings suffered from low world mineral and petroleum prices. Estimates of minerals in exploration expenditure in 1999 were one third of what was spent in 1997. The resulting lower foreign exchange earnings, capital flight and general government mismanagement resulted in a precipitous drop in the value of Papua New Guinea's currency, the kina, leading to a dangerous decrease in foreign currency reserves. The kina has been floated since 1994. Economic activity decreased in most sectors, imports of all kinds shrunk, and inflation, which had been over 21% in 1998, slowed to an estimated annual rate of 8% in 1999. Citing the previous government's failure to successfully negotiate acceptable commercial loans or bond sales to cover its budget deficit, the government formed in July, 1999, announced its intention to request emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Such assistance had been denied to the previous government largely because of habitual unbudgeted spending and question over spending priorities.
Papua New Guinea's foreign policy reflects close ties with Australia and other traditional allies and cooperative relations with neighboring countries. Its views on international political and economic issues are generally moderate. Papua New Guinea has diplomatic relations with 56 countries.
U.S.-PAPUA NEW GUINEA RELATIONS
The United States and Papua New Guinea established diplomatic relations upon the latter's independence on September 16, 1975. The two nations belong to a variety of regional organizations, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum; the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); the South Pacific Commission; and the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP).
One of the most successful cooperative multilateral efforts linking the U.S. and Papua New Guinea is the U.S.-Pacific Islands Multilateral Tuna Fisheries Treaty, under which the U.S. grants $18 million per year to Pacific Island parties and the latter provide access for U.S. fishing vessels.
The United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance to Papua New Guinea during the past five years, and has contributed to the rehabilitation of Bougainville.
The U.S. also supports Papua New Guinea's efforts to protect bio-diversity. The U.S. Government supports the International Coral Reef Initiative aimed at protecting reefs in tropical nations such as Papua New Guinea.
U.S. military forces, through the Pacific Theater Command in Honolulu, Hawaii, carry out annual bilateral meeting with the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF). The U.S. also provides police and other education and training courses to national security officials.
The U.S. Peace Corps sent its first group of volunteers to Papua New Guinea in September 1981. Currently over 80 volunteers serve throughout the country. Volunteer work is concentrated in rural community development and education.
About 2,500 U.S. citizens live in Papua New Guinea, with major concentrations at two missionary headquarters in Eastern Highlands Province.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Arma Jane Karaer
Deputy Chief of Mission--Alan Latimer
Economic Officer--Edward Arrizabalaga
Consular Officer--Aaron Hellman
The U.S. embassy in Papua New Guinea is located on Douglas Street, Port Moresby (tel. 675-321-1455; fax 675-321-3423). The mailing address is P.O. Box 1492, Port Moresby, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-4240.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: 301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1(no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info. (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648).
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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