Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch said on Thursday the dismal economic performance of the Government has been hidden from public scrutiny because the Prime Minister’s Office has muzzled institutions such as the Central Bank and media.
“The Central Bank and the print media have been cheering the performance of the O’Neill Government during the past six years as the livelihoods of at least 120,000 families were destroyed as a result of economic mismanagement,” Mr Pruaitch said.
“The job losses are well documented by the Central Bank, which has played a subservient role to government and offered no policy recommendations.
“We know that when a Papua New Guinean loses a job five or six other people are affected, especially when only one member of a household has regular income.
“While 120,000 may not seem a large figure in a country with more than eight million people, the total number of formal sector jobs in the public and private sectors only totals around half a million. This suggests that over a six-year period something like one out of every four or five workers has lost their jobs.”
Data published in the quarterly bulletins of the Bank of Papua New Guinea shows that in the year to September 2018, the latest figures available, total employment in the non-resources sector had fallen by 2.3%.
This followed a devastating 5.3% loss of jobs in 2017, a stagnant jobs situation in 2016 and falling employment levels of 4.2% in 2015 and 2.9% in 2014.
“This is why we believe the downgrading of economic growth for 2015 by the National Statistical Office is accurate. The NSO has calculated that nominal GDP in 2015 only grew 0.7% as compared with Treasury’s heavily inflated figure of 9.8%,” Mr Pruaitch said.
Commenting on Prime Minister Peter O’Neill statement in Parliament on Tuesday that his government’s “achievements have been understated by many”, Mr Pruaitch said “the two national dailies in particular have been ignoring negative employment trends that are publicised every quarter by the Bank of Papua New Guinea.
Mr Pruaitch said World Bank and NSO data also showed Prime Minister O’Neill was misleading Parliament when he boasted that average incomes had grown by 30% since 2009.
“This is misleading. Mr O’Neill only became Prime Minister when he illegally took office in August 2011. Further, the PNG LNG Project approved by the previous Somare NA government contributed to strong economic growth between 2010-2014.
“World Bank data shows per capita incomes in PNG have declined from a peak of US$3,010 in 2014 to US$2,340 in 2017. Incomes would have fallen even more sharply last year with GDP growth close to zero, while population growth exceeded 3%.
“The Prime Minister told Parliament his government’s work is visible. Indeed, it is.
“We now have a Star Mountains Hilton which cost somewhere in the region of K1.2-1.5 billion, or more than three times the cost of another major Port Moresby hotel that has twice as many hotel rooms. Questions have arisen about possible misappropriation at the Hilton project and for Port Moresby roads built at artificially inflated prices,” he said.
Mr Pruaitch said a former PNC Government, at a time when the current Prime Minister was PNC party leader, had caused per capita incomes to plummet to less than US$500. This was below the level of incomes at independence in 1975.
“Only by replacing the O’Neill Government will this nation once again witness the rise in living standards flowing from strong economic growth that was experienced from 2003 to 2014,” he said.
Mr Pruaitch said it is clear the temporary 35% Debt to GDP ceiling permitted by the O’Neill Government under changes to the Fiscal Stability Act has also been breached because of its borrowing spree. According to the IMF, PNG’s Debt to GDP surpassed 35% and peaked at 37.8% in 2016 and 37.5% in 2017.
“All of this is occurring during a period when the government has received more revenue in any single year than any government in the past.
“I hope the public recognises that in spite of these record revenue flows there have been more job losses under the current regime, than at any comparable period in the recent history of this nation. Clearly, a small group of Papua New Guineans are benefitting at the expense of the vast majority,” he said.