Provincial Secessionists and Decentralization: Papua New Guinea, 1985-1995

In 1995, the government of Papua New Guinea under Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan enacted a sweeping reform of its system of provincial and local government.  The reform aimed to address the challenges resulting from the country’s first two decades of decentralized government.  Although decentralization was originally intended to provide a degree of autonomy to provinces and local governments in the interest of economic development, by 1985 corruption, nepotism and poor administration at the provincial level had deprived local governments and communities of the resources and skills required to provide health, education and infrastructure services.  Chan’s reforms served a dual purpose.  They responded to swelling anti-provincial sentiment among national politicians, and they shifted authority to local levels of government at the expense of provinces.  The national government encountered substantial resistance to reform proposals, particularly from provincial premiers of the New Guinea Islands, a group of five provinces that saw themselves as geographically and culturally distinct from the mainland.  These provinces threatened to secede if the national government’s reforms in any way diminished their autonomy.  This policy note outlines the manner in which national political leaders balanced the need for further decentralization of authority to local levels with the challenge of maintaining national unity in the face of provincial secessionists.
Associated Interview(s):  Julius Chan, Alphonse Gelu
Papua New Guinea
Focus Area(s)
Balancing the Central and Local
Core Challenge
Country of Reform
Papua New Guinea
Case Studies
Rohan Mukherjee