Policy Advisory Capability in Papua New Guinea's Central Government: Evaluation, Implications and Lessons
There has been mounting criticism (generally associated with the "weak state thesis") of the inability of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) public service to discharge its various policy formulation and implementation tasks. Such criticisms tend to be generalised in nature. Information about performance and the operational deficiencies of specific departments and policy domains derived from scholarly research has been sparse. Against this background, and using as a measure key elements of capability from the development administration literature, this study examines the state of policy advisory capability in three key central agencies within the PNG central government; identifies key constraints on the agencies' ability to provide comprehensive and reliable advice; and then proposes policy intervention measures aimed at strengthening capability. The agencies play a very influential and significant role in the government advisory machine and comprise the Department of Finance and Treasury (DF&T), the Department of Prime Minister and National Executive Council (DPM&NEC) and the Department of Personnel Management (DPM). Analysis is primarily based on the responses from the policy staff of the lead policy units in each department. Such responses have been gauged using a questionnaire survey and indepth interviews in early and late 2002 in Port Moresby. This study shows that the problems affecting policy advisory capability are, in most cases, pervasive and systemic. Such a loss in capability tends to arise from a variety of interlocking (and often interwoven) problems from both the political and the administrative and organisational dimensions within which policy advice is developed and delivered. On a broader level, the weakening of policy advisory capability raises important implications for the organisation and delivery of quality and timely advice. In particular, there is a risk that policy issues will not be comprehensively assessed taking into account the available evidence, views of parties concerned and, most important, the implications arising from various policy options provided to ministers and the National Executive Council (NEC) (cabinet). There is, therefore, a risk of ministers and NEC being ill advised on policy issues. This, in turn, may affect the executive branch's effectiveness in policymaking. The deterioration in the policy advisory capability of the three key agencies also gives rise to doubts about whether the three agencies can effectively maintain their key functions of control, monitoring and oversight and policy coordination across the PNG public service. There is a risk of the centre of the PNG government losing its ability to control and steer the government machine. This conclusion is consistent with the existing anecdotal evidence of a deteriorating capability of the PNG public service and, to some extent supports the weak state thesis advanced in the literature. This study on the ground of three key agencies demonstrates, however, that the political environment is not the only cause of weak performance by the PNG public service. That is a function of a variety of interlocking political and administrative and organisational capability factors. An improvement in policy advice capability in PNG will require attention to the several systemic factors identified in the study. Using insights from the policy transfer literature this study shows that policy lessons from other jurisdictions could be drawn on to improve capability in policy advice in PNG.