Charles Lepani recalls his experience as one of Papua New Guinea’s highest-ranked civil servants during the country’s decentralization process in the mid-1970s. He highlights the challenges the central government faced in attempting to decentralize power to newly formed and ethnically distinct provincial governments while maintaining a sense of common national identity. He identifies the various parties involved in the debate over decentralization and details the struggle between the central government and provinces that pushed for a greater devolution of powers, most notably the island of Bougainville. He also explains how financial powers were divided between the national and provincial governments and how he dealt with the opposition he encountered among civil servants accustomed to the formerly centralized system.
At the time of this interview, Charles Lepani was Papua New Guinea's High Commissioner to Australia. Previously, he worked as an economic and public policy consultant. He was a member of the Aid Review team for the governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia. As director of the PNG National Planning Office from 1975 to 1980, he was involved in the formulation of PNG’s post-independence macroeconomic policy and public sector planning system, including aid coordination. Lepani served as PNG’s ambassador to the European Union from 1991 to 1994. He was managing director of Minerals Resources Development Co. from 1994 to 1996, leading the partial privatization of the state’s mining and petroleum assets and subsequently heading Orogen Minerals Ltd. He earned a master's degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.