The National Strategy for Responsible Sustainable Development for Papua New Guinea (StaRS) offers a real opportunity for us to build a smart, wise, fair and happy society that can lead the world.
StaRS represents a fundamental shift in PNG’s 21st century planning away from a simplistic economic model based just on economic growth and resource extraction to a much more rounded and holistic development model. As such, StaRS reflects the work of the Constitutional Planning Committee and fully embraces the National Goals and Directive Principles in the Constitution.
StaRS recognises that PNG has all the assets to “reposition itself” as a regional and world leader and to set the agenda for a responsible and sustainable economic order that others will follow “rather than [being] an impoverished nation always playing catch up”.
StaRS calls for a paradigm shift towards a sustainable zero carbon-generating ‘green’ or ‘clean’ inclusive economic growth path “aimed at strengthen PNG’s strategic positioning and economic competitiveness in the world, while at the same time contributing to a high quality and better life for all Papua New Guineans now and in the future”.
In this model equal importance is given to the economy, social equity and environmental stewardship to ensure sustainable development that really improves people’s lives.
In practice this means investment in renewable energy, green agriculture, sustainable fisheries and use of water resources, conservation of forests and biodiversity, cultural and ecotourism, small and medium enterprise development.
This new approach will enhance “equity and justice… through improved access to green jobs for the poor, income generating opportunities, health, education, skills development, potable water, sanitation (improved toilet facilities) and protection and sustainable use of natural resources”. [p18]
StaRS provides a compelling and damning critique of the previous Development Strategic Plan (2010-30) with its over reliance on nonrenewable energy and resource use and describes that attempt at development planning as “clearly irresponsible and unsustainable”. [p17]
StaRS says “the examples of the consequences of this [DSP] model can be seen in the wastelands of Bulolo valley, mine generated river and water pollution from Panguna and OK Tedi mines, the environmentally destructive logging practices scattered throughout the country that are contributing to deforestation and soil erosion, and the rising sea levels of outer islands of Bougainville and Manus”. [p21] That model has also “exacerbated dependancy” and “disempowered people from meaningfully participating in commerce and business and economic development” [p27]
As it proclaims on its cover, StaRS really does represent “A Development Revolution” and offers us the opportunity to show “PNG leading the way”.
But, although StaRS has been developed by the Department of National Planning and Monitoring and has been endorsed by government through the Prime Minister and National Executive Council, it has received relatively little attention since first published in 2014.
Perhaps this is because StaRS challenges the mainstream economic orthodoxy preached by our dominant ‘development partners’ like Australia, the United States and Europe and which is promoted by their corporations, aid agencies, media, churches and education systems. It also challenges those elites in Port Moresby who are making vast fortunes from our current social and economic distress.
Unlike the government’s Vision 2050 and Development Strategic Plan, StaRS begins by examining our development paradigm itself, the underlying values and belief system that should underpin our model of development, and the lessons of history and the experience of other nations.
This mirrors the approach taken 40 years ago by the Constitutional Planning Committee, who asked the fundamental questions, what kind of society do we want to be and what can we learn from the past and present experience of other nations.
This leads StaRS to challenge the generally accepted model of an open market, demand driven and growth orientated economy that promotes individual interests and rights and the accumulation of endless personal wealth over communal well-being and fulfilment.
Instead, StaRS advocates an approach where greater emphasis and value is placed on a sustainable and responsible economic model based on a value system that is attuned to our own history and culture and which values the great advantages that PNG holds over many other countries - like our cultural and biological diversity, our water, forests and oceans and our people and their skills and knowledge.
StaRS seeks to ensure the well-being of our people and sustain our environment in a way that is self-perpetuating and long term so we secure the future of our children as well. This means protecting and sustainably utilising our greatest assets, rather than eroding them through resource extraction as as our current economic model promotes.
StaRS is critical of our current economic policies for pursuing economic growth that destroys our greatest assets and fuels crime and poverty by driving greater inequality and undermining community values and ties that could help control our spiralling population growth.
StaRS recognises that our valuable timber, mineral and petroleum resources have not been a blessing but a curse. They have driven a desire for short-term riches that benefit only the few while distracting us from our own needs, history and the work of the Constitutional Planning Committee and the guidance in our National Goals.
StaRS says our first priority must be food and water security and protecting our forests and fisheries so they provide long-term incomes. We need to encourage agricultural outputs and ensure we develop clean energy sources like hydro, solar and wind power.
Rather than being seen as impoverished, corrupt and backward we have the opportunity to “reposition PNG in the eyes of the world”
And if we fail to sit up, take notice and change direction, than StaRS offers a grim warning:
“If we continue doing as the… DSP suggests, we will have a population of 30 million by 2050, surviving on an economy heavily based on the extractive industries sector and an environment badly damaged by this, and forest and tuna stocks greatly depleted by unsustainable harvesting”
We will also have an even greater split between the have and have nots, millions more landless people living in squatter settlements, and even greater levels of crime and violence.