Decentralization Without Disintegration: Provincial Government in Papua New Guinea, 1972-1985


Papua New Guinea decentralized power to newly formed provincial governments shortly after declaring independence from Australia in 1975. The process was driven largely by demands for increased autonomy for Bougainville, the most distant of PNG's island provinces and home to what was then one of the world's most lucrative copper mines. The central government sought to keep the island part of PNG by satisfying Bougainvilleans' desire for a greater degree of self-rule without devolving so much power that outright secession seemed feasible. The resulting system of decentralization grew out of this political compromise.  Implementation proved difficult, especially when an unforeseen competition developed between the national Parliament and provincial governments. Nevertheless, the highly problematic process of decentralization allowed PNG to preserve its territorial integrity over the crucial first decade of its existence-no small feat for one of the world's most ethnically diverse countries. 

Matthew Devlin drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Papua New Guinea during March and April 2010. A separate case study, "Provincial Secessionsits and Decentralization," deals with decentralization in PNG from 1985 to 1995. 

Associated Interview(s): Charles Lepani, John Momis

Papua New Guinea
Focus Area(s)
Balancing the Central and Local
Country of Reform
Papua New Guinea
Case Studies
Matthew Devlin