In this review titled ‘A Way Forward: Review of Papua New Guinea’s Millennium Development Goals 2015 Dismal Performance’ I take a look at three recent articles that address the reasons Papua New Guinea (PNG) had not performed well in its national tailored Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets between 2000 and 2015. The reasons range from technical to geographical and cultural as well as political. In addition, I would discuss what PNG could do post-2015 to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030. 


The article The Millennium Development Goals in Papua New Guinea: the response of government [pdf]’ was written by Marjorie Andrew, Deputy Director & Research Leader at the National Research Institute. On the 15th of March, 2015 she presented her research work at a three-day conference on ‘Resource Development and Human Well-Being in Papua New Guinea: Issues in the measurement of progress’. She highlighted several reasons why PNG’s performance on locally tailored MDGs indicators was ‘off the mark’ (Andrew, 2015, p. 22).

In her remarks on pages 3 - 4, Andrew indicated that PNG national indicators we tailored twice; first in 2004 for the Medium Term Development Strategy 2005 – 2010 and re-tailored in 2010 for Medium Term Development Plan 2011 – 2015. Of the 91 PNG tailored national indicators, only 40 were the same as the United Nations’ MDGs 1 to 8. The others (51 tailored indicators) were either blurred or less complying with UN's requirements and therefore cannot be measured internationally. This was of the reasons why PNG was put in the area of ‘no data’.

On pages 5 - 7, Andrew distinctively pointed out that the PNG government lacks the internal technical expertise to collect and analyse important statistical data for the 2015 MDG Progress Report. Though several departments produced reports annually, overall technical expertise across public institutions is ‘weak’. She mentioned that PNG’s reliance on international donors to do reporting showed that without them, vital reports may remain undone.




Dr. Genevieve Nelson, Chief Executive Officer of Kokoda Track Foundation, gave some insights on the eight MDGs and put forward several reasons why PNG had difficulty achieving the MDG indicators. In her introduction, she thought 2015 was ‘...a time to reflect on that past decade’s [and-a-half] progress towards meeting the goals and setting a new framework for post-2015’ (Nelson, 2015). Furthermore, she highlighted that progress was made in the area of poverty reduction worldwide. Quoting McCarter (2003) she said the estimate for people living under $1.25 per day had halved from 43 per cent in 1990 down to 21 per cent in 2010 – an indication of a reduction in poverty. Nonetheless, Dr Nelson said disparity emerged from individual countries. She clearly indicated that according to the ‘MDG Progress Index developed by the Centre for Global Development Think Tank’, PNG is awarded a dismal score of just 1 out of 8. 

Dr Nelson further put emphasis on several challenges why PNG is one of the few countries in the world that did not meet the MDGs. The two technical reasons she identified were that the PNG’s tailored development indicators change very little every few years; and PNG had capacity issues within government offices, including the government departments. Often there was ‘no data’ in tables due to their inability to produce reliable data on a regular basis. In addition to the technical reasons, others reasons that potentially contribute to PNG’s inability to meet the MDG indicators include Geography, Linguistic and Cultural diversity, and Governance and Corruption.

Dr. Nelson remarked that PNG was ranked low on the MDGs Progress Index (1 out of 8) should be a wake-up call for the government. She reiterated that the ‘business-as-usual’ attitude has to change – there is no room for complacency going forward. PNG must improve on the technical, geographical, cultural and political challenges, by developing an appropriate policy framework focused on human development and the provision of services.
In summary, Dr Nelson said the post-2015 era should see governments, donors, businesses and NGOs working together to improve people’s lives. Though it may seem hard, the future of the nation depends on ‘innovation and new technology, collaborations and partnerships, and strong action focused on the delivery of basic services to remote communities, to improve outcomes for all Papua New Guineans’ (Nelson, 2015, para. 15).


The article was written by Ann-Cathrin Joest for an NGO group called the Seed Theatre Incorporation. Her emphasis was on how PNG could use its lessons learned on MDGs as a stepping stone for developing a policy framework for the 17 SDGs, post-2015. Joest introduced her article by stating the obvious - PNG had difficulty achieving the MDGs. She also mentioned that according to the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), PNG is rated among the thirty ‘Low Human Development’ (UNDP, 2014) group of countries, ranked 165 out of 187 countries. She also mentioned that low life expectancies at birth, school retention, maternal health, high infant mortality and increase sexually transmitted infections were among the human development issues. Joest also mentioned that PNG is ranked ‘one of the lowest on the Gender Inequality Index’ (Joest, 2005. para. 2). In addition, she mentioned that urban crimes and tribal fights were major challenges.

Joest reasoned that this poor performance was the result of poor education and food insecurity; inadequate access to sanitation, clean water and energy; and failure of past and previous governments on its MDG responsibilities. Joest said that the MDGs expired in 2015. Yet, under those circumstances, the SDGs2030 policy framework will not be successful post-2015 if the government does not take action to address issues relating to education, food security, and institutional capacity among the others.

Furthermore, Joest contrasted MDGs to SDGs and thought that ‘previous MDGs did not address the root causes for inequalities and poverty, [while] SDGs address these through the focus on economic development and human rights (Joest, 2015, para. 5).


The three articles, written last year, had identified several reasons why PNG MDG's performance was dismal. Dr. Nelson is attempting to discuss a way forward through ‘collaborations and partnerships, and strong action focused on the delivery of basic services to remote communities' (Nelson, 2015, para. 15) in the post-2015 era would improve people’s standard of living. By the same token, Joest said PNG’s poor performance in MDGs was the result of poor education and the failure of [past and current] governments to monitor its MDGs progress (Joest, 2015).

Both writers have identified three key areas of service delivery: collaboration, partnership and government responsibilities. However, to work collaboratively and in partnership with development partners, the public institutions (and offices) in PNG needed to take their responsibilities seriously (Andrew, 2015). There is a need for capacity building in the country in view of the fact that public institutions either needed donor help in reporting MDGs achievements (Andrew, 2015) or institutional capacity was ‘weak’ (Andrew, 2015) and unreliable.

On July the 20th this year, Helen Clark gave an ‘Opening Statement at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) Side-Event on “Building Capacities of Public Institutions for Implementing the SDGs: A Focus on Concrete Challenges and Potential Solutions’ said ‘Institutions which are effective and accountable will play a central role in achieving the SDGs…the 169 SDG targets make direct reference to the need for institutional capacity' (Clark, 2015, para. 3). It is seemingly obvious that through capacity building, PNG can participate effectively and in collaboration with partners going forward into the SDGs 2030 era.


6.1.            Reflection on Andrew’s paper

 I thought Andrew’s presentation was spot on. She critically dissected the eight MDGs through her research. She also stated the obvious fact that the PNG government needed thorough self-examination of its dismal performance, on the tailored MDG indicators. She further mentioned the reality that reporting on MDGs progress had been difficult due to a lack of positive responses from institutional offices like the National Statistics Office (NSO) and Office of Environment and Conservation (Andrew, 2015, p. 16). I gather that her use of words such as ‘difficult’ and ‘weak’ was more diplomatic. But even so, her research experience and the responses showed her frustration over the lack of capacity from her PNG sources. Though I agree with most of the facts she produced, she squarely laid the blame on PNG’s institutional offices she considered to be her data sources for her paper presentation (Andrew, 2015, p. 16). By way of contrast, little did she compliment the Department of Education for data on enrolment and retention (National Education Plan 2005 – 2014 [NEP2005-2014], pp.65 -67), or the NSO data on Household Income and Expenditure Survey (Andrew, 2015, p.8) she used in her analyses on MDGs 2 and 1, respectively.

The point is that though all the data required to compile reports on MDGs were not available, there was the existence of some form of data in other PNG institutional offices. As Nelson pointed out, two factors could affect data usage: either there were few changes over a period of one to two years (Nelson, 2015, para. 8) or the methodology used at that time to ascertain the use of those data may be flawed (Nelson, 2015, para. 8). Andrew (2015) inferred that the ‘lack of robustness of the methodology’ (p. 8) was the reason why the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) produced by NSO was excluded in the MDG Second National Progress Comprehensive Report 2010. Here, Andrew (2015) saw methodology as the problem rather than data. Nelson (2015) clearly identified the remedy to this problem (para. 8) when she implied that methodologies can be adapted, given the type of data available, to achieve realistic measurements.

6.2.             Reflection on Dr. Nelson’s Article 

In addition to technical reasons such as period of data gathering, methodology for analysing collected data and capacity issues, Dr. Nelson’s article also delved into other reasons why PNG had not met the MDGs (Nelson, 2015, para. 8). I thought she had good insight into PNG’s struggles to achieve the MDGs in the last 15 years when she mentioned other reasons like 'Geography, Linguistic and Cultural Diversity, and Governance and Corruption’ (Nelson, 2015, para. 8).  Even though Nelson was succinct in her explanations, her summary was either difficult to understand with the use of the word neo-liberal (Nelson, 2015, para. 11) or generalised when she used phrases like ‘wake-up call’ and ‘business-as-usual’ (Nelson, 2015, para. 11). By this I mean she was too technical with little explanation or too loose in her choice of words. Either way, there was a possibility for her readers to misunderstand or misinterpret what she intended to say.

6.3.            Reflection on Joest’s Article 

Joest was explicit in linking the key indicators of MDGs 2015 to SDGs 2030. Her web article was less academic but more informative. She gave a lot of relevant opinions on what PNG can do going forward into the SDGs era. She made relevant connections between each of the 17 goals. For example, ‘With improving poverty (SDG 1), an improvement in malnutrition, health, education and the economy can take place. With improved food security and nutrition (SDG2), children or youth can perform better in school. Children and youth are our future, by investing in their education (SDG4) community and economic development can take place, better education will generate increased income which can be directly invested into community health care or other community needs’ (Joest, 2015, para. 6). In principle, Joest portrayed an overview of what PNG could do in terms of aligning national policies framework and termly development strategies and plans going forward (Joest, 2015, para. 6). In saying that, I felt that her article was, more or less, her personal take on the relevance of SDGs in PNG rather than a practical analysis of how SDGs could be implemented.


Finally, each article showed that PNG performance on its tailored MDG indicators was dismal. PNG’s nonperformance would only improve if it learned from its past failures and took a more proactive approach to build capacity within its public institutions. The writers viewed capacity building at public institutions as essential for PNG to move forward.


Andrew, Marjorie. ‘The Millennium Development Goals in Papua New Guinea: the response of government': Conference on Resource Development and Human Well-being - Issues in the Measurement of Progress. Conference paper presentation, Port Moresby: Institute of National Affairs, 2015, 24.
Clark, Helen. "Helen Clark: Opening Statement at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) Side-Event on “Building Capacities of Public Institutions for Implementing the SDGs: A Focus on Concrete Challenges and Potential Solutions”." UNDP website. July 20, 2015. (accessed July 21, 2015).
Education, National Department of. A National Plan for Education 2005 to 2014. Policy Paper, Port Moresby: NDoE, 2004.
JOEST, ANN-CATHRIN. "Seeds Theatre Inc." Seeds Theatre Inc website. September 12, 2015. (accessed July 21, 2015).
Nelson, Dr. Genevieve. "Kokoda Track Foundation." website. April 20, 2015. (accessed July 21, 2015).
UNDP. "Table 1: Human Development Index and its components." Human Development Report. United Nations Development Programme, 2014.


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