ANU’s Howes far from an independent voice in OK Tedi debate

As tensions over Ok Tedi and its acquisition by the O’Neill government reached boiling point recently, the Australian and PNG media went in search of an ‘independent’ expert to evaluate the impact of this political move. Supposedly they found one, Prof Stephen Howes, Director of the Development Policy Centre, a think tank attached to the Australian  National University.

Interviewed on ABC he warned that the move to ‘nationalise’ Ok Tedi will deter foreign investors from taking the plunge into PNG, crippling its economy. The Post-Courier gave Howes an entire page to express his views on this political episode.

But little attention has been devoted to contextualising his commentary. The majority of Howes’ professional life has been spent in the World Bank and AusAID, two institutions intimately involved in commodifying PNG’s land and mineral resources so they can be sold off to foreign investors – evidently this will help PNG’s development. It has worked ‘wonderfully’ to date.

Howes joined the World Bank in 1994 and spent ten years at the institution before taking up a post at AusAID in 2005. Howes remained at AusAID, where he was Chief Economist, until 2007. Then he embarked on an academic career, setting up the Development Policy Centre (DPC) in September 2010.

And who should be the main funder of this policy centre? Why Howes’ former employer AusAID. According to the Centre’s 2012 Annual Report: “Our 2012 income was $481,364 [approximately 1.3 million kina]. Our largest source of funding was for the PNG Promoting Effective Public Expenditure (PEPE) project, which is funded by AusAID through its Economic and Public Sector Program”.

Of course it is fairly common these days to see aid money earmarked for foreign countries flooding Australia’s academic institutions. However, it is ironic that the DPC provides no financial statements in their Annual Report. As a result the Australian and PNG public are unable to scrutinize how the aid funding is being spent by the DPC – they are not exactly setting the standard then on ‘promoting effective public expenditure’.

Before the media begins parading certain opinions as impartial, they might want to give their audience the low down on the speaker’s institutional past, former World Bank and AusAID loyalists are not exactly independent authorities.


Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Papua New Guinea

5 responses to “ANU’s Howes far from an independent voice in OK Tedi debate

  1. lunging m

    Characters like Howes should get lost as he’s the kind that has ruined our people and country. Mr Howes has nothing to offer except fill his greedy pocket..

    • Future fund and national development

      Your country “lunging m” has been ruined by filthy corruption and the insatiable self interest of your corrupt peers.
      The rest of the world is sick and tired of hearing the lame brain-dead bigoted comments such as yours.

  2. Stephen Howes

    I’m not sure who wrote that article about me, but I would like to correct one point. You are welcome to criticize me for having worked for the World Bank and AusAID (though note that the World Bank recommended Ok Tedi be closed back when BHP pulled out). But I object to the claim that AusAID is the dominant funder of the Development Policy Centre which I direct at the Australian National University.

    That was true in 2012, but as the 2012 Annual Report says, not any more. We have now secured core funding from the Harold Mitchell Foundation and from the ANU itself. This is now our main source of funding. Independent funding is important for an independent think tank such as ourselves.
    The Promoting Effective Public Expenditure project, which is the project which AusAID is funding and which the article mentions. is one we are carrying out with the PNG National Research Institute. We’ve actually just put out a blog with our findings on health and education over the last ten years. See. And for more information on the project see Or see p.4 of the 2012 Annual Report.

    Thanks for this opportunity to respond,


    • Brad Williams

      An interesting reply and thanks for the weblinks. Wasn’t the AusAid funding reference a quote from your own AR? But I get the point, new revenue streams are coming on.

      Could you provide a link to your policy centre’s financial statements – I couldn’t locate them in the 2012 AR, and I cant see them on your website. Given we have seen a lot of boomerang aid of late, it seems pretty important that organisations in receipt of significant AusAid funding – which comes from the taxpayers wallet – are clearly seen to be spending that money efficiently especially if preaching the benefits of transparency and accountability to others. To use the example of the World Bank – given it is mentioned here – they go around lecturing the world on good governance and transparency while their own house is in disorder:


  3. lunging m

    Thank you for responses. Yes give us all the excuses, call us names like we are corrupt. But look at your own back yard, greed, greed, greed is what your economy takes comfort from. Remember when you guys were putting into place a system to rip us apart, steal all our resources, we were just babies. An uncaring, careless, no protection father left us to be raped by greedy miners which the result is seen today. Look at the evidences at Misima, Bougainville, Porgera, Ok Tedi, Lihir, Morobe, Nickel at Madang and the list continues. What mess there is you have created with the rightful owners of resources, the environment, the infrastructure and you experts should be ashamed if you have any shame. What billions have gone out of this nation while on the other hand you give us this crab called aid. The rest of the world, greedy as they are, can pack. Who really needs you, you lot of greedy so and so.

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