Tag Archives: Stephen Howes

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.

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Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Papua New Guinea