Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Land area: 452,860 sq. km.; about the size of California.
Cities: Capital--Port Moresby (pop. 320,000). Other cities--Lae (90,000), Mt. Hagen (71,000).
Terrain: Mostly mountains with coastal lowlands and rolling foothills.
Climate: Tropical. NW monsoon, Dec-Mar. SE monsoon, May-Oct.
Population (2003 est.): 5.3 million
Annual growth rate: 2.34%.
Languages: English , Tok Pisin, Motu (official), and about 715 other languages.
Education: Years compulsory--0. Literacy--Men: 71.1%; Women: 57.7%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--56.1/1,000. Life expectancy--58.6 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: National Alliance (NA), People's Progress Party (PPP), Pangu Parti, People's Democratic Movement (PDM), and Melanesian Alliance (MA).
Suffrage: Universal over 18 years of age.
Economy (2001 est., U.S.$)
GDP: $1.2 billion.
Growth rate: minus 3.3%.
Per capita GDP: $580. Natural resources: Gold, copper ore, oil, natural gas, timber, fish.
Agriculture (26% of GDP): Major products--coffee, cocoa, coconuts, palm oil, timber, tea.
Industry (42% 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 (2001): Exports--47.5% of GDP: gold, copper ore, oil, timber, palm oil, coffee. Major markets--Australia, Japan, Germany, U.K., South Korea, China. Imports--46.1% of GDP: 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 the Indonesian province of West Papua--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 the lingua franca. English is spoken by educated people and in Milne Bay Province.
The overall population density is low, although pockets of overpopulation exist. Papua New Guinea's Western Province 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 toward urbanization accelerated in the 1990s, bringing in its wake squatter settlements, unemployment, and attendant social problems.
Almost two-thirds of the population is Christian. Of these, more than 700,000 are Catholic, more than 500,000 Lutheran, and the balance are members of other Protestant denominations. 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 that are an integral part of traditional culture, mainly 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, most of whom are missionaries. Since independence, about 900 foreigners have become naturalized citizens.
The traditional Papua New Guinea social structure includes the following characteristics:
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 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) members of Parliament 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. Members of Parliament 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. In an effort to create greater stability by reducing incessant votes of no confidence, the Integrity of Political Parties Act was passed in 1999, forbidding members of each party in Parliament from shifting loyalty to another party.
The last national election was held in June 2002. The election was characterized by a 75 percent turnover in sitting members of Parliament. A number of veteran politicians lost their seats and a number of independents were elected. The government was formed by a coalition of several parties. Sir Michael Somare, the leader of the Melanesian Alliance (and the nation's first Prime Minister in 1975), was elected Prime Minister.
On Bougainville Island, a rebellion had been underway from early 1989 until a truce came into effect in October 1997 and a permanent cease-fire was signed in April 1998. A peace agreement between the Government and ex-combatants was signed in August 2001. Under the eyes of a regional peace-monitoring force and a UN observer mission, the government and provincial leaders have established an interim administration and are working toward complete surrender of weapons, the election of a provincial government and an eventual referendum on independence.
Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Sir Silas Atopare
Prime Minister--Sir Michael Somare
Ambassador to the United States--Vacant
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).
Papua 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 smallholder 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 consequently also is limited.
In 2001 mineral production accounted for 25% of GDP. Government revenues and foreign exchange earning depend heavily on mineral exports. Indigenous landowners 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. 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 and a more favorable tax regime to begin development. A consortium led by Chevron is producing and exporting oil from the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. In 2006, a consortium led by Mobil/Exxon hopes 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 30.4% of GDP and supports more than 85% of the population. Cash crops ranked by value are coffee, oil, cocoa, copra, tea, rubber, and sugar. The timber industry was not active in 1998, due to low world prices, but rebounded in 1999. Although a moratorium on logging is currently in place, logging continues at an unsustainable rate. About 40% of the country is covered with exploitable trees, and a domestic woodworking industry has been slow to develop. Fish exports are confined primarily to shrimp. Fishing boats of other nations catch tuna in Papua New Guinea waters under license.
In general, the Papua New Guinea economy is highly dependent on imports for manufactured 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 paint. 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. Since 1999, as mineral exploration and new minerals investments have declined, so have U.S. exports.
Australia is Papua New Guinea's most important export market, followed by Japan and the European Union. Crude oil is the largest U.S. import from Papua New Guinea, followed by gold, cocoa, coffee, and copper ore.
U.S. and Australian 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. A 30,000-40,000 barrel-per-day oil refinery project in which there is an American interest also is 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 $180 million a year in assistance. Budgetary support, which has been provided in decreasing amounts since independence, was phased out in 2000, with aid concentrated on project development. (Per capita aid in 2000 was about $54.) Other major sources of aid to Papua New Guinea are Japan, the European Union, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Volunteers from a number of countries and mission church workers also provide education, health, and development assistance throughout the country.
Current Economic Conditions
By mid-2002 Papua New Guinea's economy was in crisis. Unbudgeted pre-election spending blew out the projected government deficit to about 8% of GDP, though a new government has set a target of 3.4% for the year. Serious problems of corruption, a lack of law and order, land tenure, political interference in businesses, and a lack of will to adapt meaningful structural reforms have compounded poor fiscal results and caused the PNG economy to shrink substantially in recent years. GDP has declined (in current U.S. dollars) from $4.9 billion in 1997 to $3 billion in 2001. Mining output and oil production have led the slide, and with no exploration or capital spending occurring in these sectors the related export earnings are expected to continue to fall, eroding foreign currency reserves and the balance of trade. Papua New Guinea's currency, the Kina, has been eroding in value and the pressure on it continues, with capital flight and frustrated development partners (and subsequently reduced aid flows) exacerbating a declining situation. If the government continues to delay necessary reforms, more damage and loss to the economy will occur.
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 1941, 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.
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 5 years and has contributed to the rehabilitation of Bougainville.
The U.S. also supports Papua New Guinea's efforts to protect biodiversity. 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 ceased operations in Papua New Guinea in 2001 due to security concerns. 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
Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas Niblock
Economic Officer--Mark Prokop
Consular Officer--Heather Guimond
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 4240 Port Moresby Pl., U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-4240.
For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.