Jul 05, 2020 Last Updated 11:48 AM, Jul 5, 2020

Around the world, tax compliance is a serious problem with big consequences. The case is no different in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It is an important concern of the current government. In July 2019, Prime Minister James Marape highlighted that there were outstanding tax payments of K2 billion (A$840 million) due to poor compliance from businesses.

Last year, we partnered with the PNG Internal Revenue Commission (IRC) to test two new forms of tax-positive messaging in an attempt to improve tax compliance and government revenues. We sent SMSs to over 15,000 small and medium businesses before they were due to lodge their monthly salary and wages tax return, and the IRC included flyers detailing the shared benefits of tax in letters and emails sent to non-compliant taxpayers.

This work is motivated by the application of behavioural insights and the success of similar interventions elsewhere. Behavioural insights (or “nudges”) seek to leverage an understanding of humans’ reliance on simple rules of thumb to shape their behaviour, often through small changes to how options are framed. Our trial was the first tax compliance study in a lower-middle-income country to send messages to all possible taxpayers. We randomised who received the messaging so we could compare the taxpaying behaviour of the individuals who received the messages with those who did not, and by doing so isolate the impact of the messages.

There were three key lessons we learnt – we discuss these in more detail in our new working paper.

  1. The content of the messaging is not especially important

Before we developed the SMSs and flyers, we conducted a survey and focus groups for IRC staff and small business owners to understand local explanations for why compliance was so low and what types of messages may be most effective in making improvements. Respondents suggested that messaging that focused on simplifying the tax return process and highlighted the shared benefit of tax was expected to be most effective. Many said that messages that focused on social norms or the potential punishment for non-compliance would be perceived as not credible – this is consistent with the results of similar trials in other low-enforcement jurisdictions (for example, in Rwanda). For the SMS trial, we tested two messages, sending them to separate businesses. One was a simplifying reminder and the second one highlighted the shared benefit of taxation.

SMSs sent as part of the trial to improve tax compliance in PNG.

We were able to compare the relative effectiveness of the two SMSs. We saw that there was no significant difference in the effectiveness of the SMSs in improving compliance. Other studies have also observed similar effects from different messages (for example, in Ethiopia). This is likely because recipients treated the messages as an indication of engagement from the tax administrator (and the potential for follow-up) rather than focusing on the explicit content.

  1. Those who are already engaged with the tax system and are exempt from paying tax are most likely to respond to messages

We were able to test how businesses with different taxpaying histories responded to the messaging. We could separate eligible businesses into three groups, those who had not filed a return for over 15 months (we call them “non-filers”, making up 74 per cent of businesses eligible to receive an SMS), firms that had previously filed but claimed to be exempt from paying tax because they had no employees (“zero filers”, 13 per cent) and firms that had previously filed and were paying tax (“non-zero filers”, 13 per cent).

We found that previously filing taxpayers were much more likely to lodge their tax return if they received an SMS or a flyer than those who did not. This is likely because they were experienced with interacting with the tax system and deciding whether to file or not was a more marginal decision, so they were more susceptible to a slight nudge.

Among previously filing firms, non-zero filers were hardly influenced. Whereas zero filers were about twice as likely to lodge if they received an SMS as those who did not. Similar results also occurred with the flyers. This is understandable as zero filers only face the transactional cost of complying. In contrast, the non‑zero filers face the transactional and financial costs of complying, so they are less likely to be swayed.

We saw that the taxpayers that were most likely to respond to the SMSs and flyers are those that faced the lowest cost from compliance.

  1. This compliance strategy will not fix PNG’s revenue problem

The COVID-19 crisis has compounded PNG’s revenue problem and the government is now expecting a record budget deficit of over K6 billion in 2020 due to an expected additional K2 billion hit to tax revenue. Unfortunately, while these interventions were able to improve the tax filing behaviour of some firms, they will not be able to address PNG’s revenue problem. There was a moderate (but statistically insignificant) increase in the amount of tax paid by those who received the SMSs, but it disappeared within a few months of businesses receiving the messaging. So did the compliance improvements. This contrasts with the success of similar interventions in other middle-income countries where significant revenue increases have been obtained (for example, in Guatemala).

There are two key factors that may have driven the failure of these messages to raise significant revenue in PNG. First, by sending the messages to a broader group of taxpayers than previous studies in low- and lower-middle-income countries, the messages would have been received by a significant share of businesses that are no longer actively operating. Second, according to some indicators compiled by the World Bank, PNG has weaker governance than other countries where these trials have been set (i.e. Rwanda, Ethiopia and Guatemala). This likely reduces the effectiveness of messaging received from the government. Future research could explore whether differences in the “social contract” between taxpayers and the government could help to explain cross-country variation in the effectiveness of nudges in raising revenue.

Ultimately, this tax-positive messaging is not a silver bullet and the PNG government will need to adopt other tools to realise Marape’s vision of “a time when all big corporations and all companies share the workload in paying tax and we can ease the burden on our small people paying huge tax out [of] their salaries”. The government and IRC are aware of this and have also been adopting more traditional methods to improve tax compliance. Appropriately, these measures place more emphasis on ensuring businesses pay the correct amount of tax rather than focusing on ensuring businesses are registered and are submitting returns. However, to further boost their effectiveness it may be worth testing incorporating data from third parties (such as banks, suppliers and clients) to personalise their messaging to non-compliant taxpayers. A study in Costa Rica saw a sizeable increase in the total amount of taxes paid by non-filing firms for over two years after they received a nudge that showed the tax office was aware of specific economic activity of the firm, such as their total credit card sales reported by a credit card provider. However, as always, it should be kept in mind that not everything that works overseas works in PNG.

This article first appeared on the devpolicy blog. 

For more on randomised controlled trials in the Pacific: https://www.islandsbusiness.com/past-news-break-articles/item/2636-why-is-the-nobel-prize-for-economics-important-for-the-pacific-it-s-changing-the-way-we-do-development.html


Bougainville is going through a major political metamorphosis ending one political status and entering into another entity.  The 15 years of Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) Tenure has ended but continues to exist under COVID 19 State of Emergency (SOE) Orders until September this year. At the same time, the Momis Presidency has come to an end as signalled by the recent Supreme Court decision. The timing of these two significant events is probably more incidental then intentional – a government coming to an end without the confirmation of what the next government will look like and the current President also ending his tenure. This leaves open the issue of a credible leadership “fit for the purpose” of creating a new nation. 

The Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) and the ABG were seen as pathways to a more permanent destiny and the people have already expressed their desire. The search is now on for the next captain of MV Bougainville towards the destiny.        

President Momi’s impending departure has opened the “flood gate” with about 26 candidates intending to contest the Presidential seat. President Momis has been the single most prominent leader for Bougainville because of his longevity and the high levels of leadership he has occupied over the span of 48 years (1972-2020). The flood waters are naturally bringing an assortment of candidates and practices in such a big field and voters are faced with an enormous task of choosing a credible candidate especially when little is known about some of the candidates from the current field. The lack of a stand out candidate is probably a reflection of the leadership monopoly that the outgoing President has held over four decades and also the death of some prominent leaders in their prime. The impact of the Bougainville Crisis on leadership is beginning to bite when most educated potential leaders were forced to leave Bougainville and hence foregone the opportunity to grow experiential leadership on the ground.  

The Post Referendum Agenda.

Any post crisis situation is usually characterised by a plethora of agendas to be addressed ranging from the rebuilding of broken lives through to the business of rebuilding state institutions (government) and social economic infrastructure.  Over the 15 years Bougainville has addressed many of these to some extent but there are some remaining key agendas that must be addressed in the forthcoming term of the Bougainville government.

Agenda one (1) concerns the 98% Vote - The Bougainville people have overwhelmingly set the goal post for independence at the recent Referendum.  Though non-binding, the expectation of the people throughout the three regions has been set and they will not settle for anything less. Autonomy in all its different forms such as free association has been rejected by the Vote. This is the first and foremost agenda for the incoming President- that is to secure independence for the people of Bougainville and spearhead the building of a new nation.  Securing independence will demand the exercise of political leadership at all levels - the national level, throughout Bougainville’s three regions and in due course the international arena.  It will require “political savy” more than managerial experience in an office.  The principle document guiding this agenda is the BPA. Familiarity in the nuances around its conception and its implementation over the last nineteen (19) years is fundamental because a theoretical knowledge will not be an adequate substitute. The ABG and the people throughout the three regions have been preparing for this journey and will need a leader who will seamlessly fit in without the need to “push start” the new President. Bougainville is largely united but there is still a bit to be done internally but which will require political remedies. The incoming President must provide the right antidote to such situations.  There is no time for the new President to be “learning on the job”. Agenda number 1 should sort out the “big men” from the boys! 

Agenda two (2) is Nation Building. After 19 years of rehabilitation and reconstruction, Bougainville has restored to some level the basic state institutions. It has a parliament, the judiciary and the administration. However, a nation comprises more than just the state institution and includes the private sector and civil society, particularly the churches and traditional societies whose customs and practices shape the behaviours of individuals. The question of legitimacy of state institutions is an everyday discussion in Bougainville and will not disappear until a satisfactory level of efficiency and effectiveness is achieved by the three tiers of state in tandem with civil society – the state needs civil society to accept it and by doing so give it legitimacy. State institutions on the other hand have to earn it by the way it executes its policies and programs beyond Buka. Bougainville is politically exercising a level of government and administration higher than the provincial governments but a cursory look indicates its performance to be lagging behind some provinces and must be fixed going forward. Articulating a long-term vision and reorientating the state machinery, private sector and civil society towards the common vision is part of this agenda. 

Agenda 2 also involves deepening the practice of democracy and good governance within the state institutions but in the broader society as well so that Bougainville becomes a mutually reinforcing society. The incoming President must be familiar with the nation building context in Bougainville and be able to provide the right leadership in this regard.

The State and the Nation cannot prosper and sustain itself without a strong economy. 

Agenda no three (3) is rebuilding the Bougainville economy beyond the tin-sheds that currently occupy the major towns of Buka, Arawa and Buin. Bougainville’s recent history is littered with a number of failed enterprises including attempts to reopen the Panguna mine. Strategising and planning for the economy should run parallel to Agenda 1 and 2. The task of developing the economic development strategy lies mostly in the hands of the bureaucracy and the private sector but the enabling functions fall in the political domain and the incoming President should possess the necessary understanding and experience in this regard. He/She should already have an excellent understanding of the economic situation on the ground at both the overall Bougainville level and the community and family levels. The incoming President must know why the focus on the Panguna mine failed to materialise over the last 15 years and not repeat the same mistakes either in policy or strategy in order to offer new solutions in resurrecting the mine.  

Agenda three (3) is Services Delivery – Delivery of services is an agenda that is on the lips of all citizens but needs to be put into perspective in the current scheme of things. The delivery of basic services such as health, education, police, courts, welfare services etc. etc. are a normal mandate for government and civil society organisations such as Churches and Non-Governmental Organisations. Politicians have assumed this responsibility upon themselves for ulterior motives thus undermining the service delivery mechanisms. Leaders cannot make decisions and implement the same decisions at the same time as it often leads to compromising of compliance procedures and standards. Politicians should focus on the task of setting vision and enacting policies and legislation.

It is important to distinguish between “wealth distributions” that many intending candidates are already advocating on face book against the need “to grow the economy”. Those advocating distributional politics are failing to understand basic economics and also do not understand the current trends of the national and international economy. Voters are likely to be left disappointed during the next five years if the distributional sentiments are not tailored in an appropriate manner. PNG’s economy has been on the decline for a number of years now and the downturn is likely to continue. Bougainville is currently dependent on PNG for its revenue. In order to distribute wealth in the form of “services delivery”, it must first be generated because you cannot distribute money that you don’t actually have. 

Strengthening the small holder cash crop economy is relevant but is only part of the picture. Major efforts must be placed on large enterprises (mining, agriculture, fisheries, tourism etc) with the potential to significantly drive the economy. The current level of services delivery will continue to happen but not at significant levels until the economy is up and running. Bougainville cannot build new feeder roads until it is able to fix and sustain existing ones. Bougainville’s need for economic development requires leadership that understands the economic situation in totality in order to provide the right leadership for economic development– mobile ATM approaches have limited impact over time. Connectivity into neighbouring economies should also be part of this agenda. There is some low hanging fruit in terms of enterprises (industry and agriculture) which have not been tapped into in Bougainville. 

Qualities of the next President – Having stated the key agendas above, we now turn to the subject of “the leadership qualities” the incoming President should possess. Implied in all of the above agendas is the quality of a “thorough understanding” of where Bougainville is currently at, in its political, historic and economic evolution. The incoming president must know how Bougainville and its people came to where it is today and where it is going. This understanding should not be a book knowledge but should be one accumulated through years of active engagement with the people throughout the islands. The notion of engagement is called “Hanmak” in Tok Pisin or evidence of your past engagement with the people.  Without the hanmak candidates may be seen as Eagles which hoover in the sky and only come down to earth to devour prey and then fly back to the sky. 

The ability to lead Bougainville and deliver on the 98% vote is the paramount quality required of the incoming president. As noted above, this requires “political craftsmanship that cannot be learnt in a formal classroom or acquired in an office”.  Experience in political leadership (especially in the crisis and post crisis years) is essential while familiarity with the national political leadership scene would also be valuable. Experience in high level consultations and negotiations and relationship building with a multitude of stakeholders is also an important quality especially at this time when the Bougainville leaders will be consulting with the PNG leaders over the 98% Vote.    

The rumours of large volumes of cash ready to be dished out indicates external hands at play. The normal leadership qualities trumpeted during elections of honesty, transparency, accountability and good governance are also important traits of a good leader.  Voters should look beyond the cash handouts and vote for leaders with a proven track record in these values. The challenge for the incoming president is to institutionalise these behaviours at all levels of the Bougainville bureaucracy including the Parliament so that it becomes a norm overtime.  

It may not be possible to find a single candidate that has all the leadership credentials demanded of the incoming President by the situation in Bougainville.  Should such a scenario eventuate, the new President should in the first instance pool together a group of politicians from the Constituent seats, who are imbued with the necessary understanding and the qualities described above. The President must be willing and able to mobilise the expertise of the educated Bougainville diaspora in PNG and elsewhere.  This has not happened since the formation of ABG and Bougainville has consequently stagnated.   

To the Voters, you have voted 98%. The exercise of your democratic right will determine whether you usher in a “Joshua” to bring the people across the river to sovereignty or someone who will deny you your passage to the promise land.

This article is intended to highlight the key agenda in post referendum Bougainville and the type of leadership qualities demanded of the incoming President by the current situation in Bougainville. It is hoped that the analysis will assist voters in deciding the most suitable candidate to be the next President for Bougainville. The analysis should also assist intending candidates to assess their own suitability for the position and the task at hand. 

Australia first Indigenous Consul-General, Benson Saulo says he’s keen to share Australia’s Indigenous culture and connecting with First Nations businesses and leaders in the US as part of his trade and investment promotion duties.

Thirty-two-year old Saulo, a descendent of the Wemba Wemba and Gunditjmara Aboriginal nations of Western Victoria and the New Ireland Province of Papua New Guinea, will take up the position later this year in Houston, Texas.

Saulo is the first Indigenous person appointed to the Consul-General role anywhere in the world, although Australia has previously appointed Indigenous people as Ambassadors and Heads of Mission through Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

His role will be to strengthen the trade and investment relationship between Australia and the United States through business, cultural and diplomatic relationships.

“An area that I am particularly passionate about,” he told Islands Business, “is sharing our Indigenous culture to the world, and connecting with First Nations businesses and leaders in the US. There are a lot of opportunities for sharing and learning from other First Nation peoples across the world.”

Rising from a somewhat humble career start as a bank teller with the ANZ in the northern New South Wales town of Tamworth, Benson went on to become a business analyst in the Indigenous employment and training team at ANZ. In 2017, he joined Australian Unity, a national healthcare, financial services and independent and assisted living mutual organisation.

His role with Australian Unity followed an impressive list of accomplishments as a youth advocate and community leader. In 2011, he became the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed the Australian Youth Representative at the United Nations. He represented Australian youth at the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and undertook a national engagement tour to connect with over 6,000 people in communities across the country.

Saulo applied for the position at the end of 2019.

“It was competitive process. However, Austrade has a strong commitment to developing a diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects the diversity of Australia.

“Part of this commitment is our Reconciliation Action Plan. My appointment to Consul-General was possible because of the leadership within Austrade over a number of years to become a more inclusive workplace.”

Saulo’s father and mother met at Bible College in Cootamundra in New South Wales and are now retired to his father’s home at Lafu Village on the West Coast of New Ireland.

He says his wife, Kate – a Doctor in Clinical and Forensic Psychology – and their six-month-old daughter are excited about going to Houston.

“Her name is Anaïs Ramo Saulo. The name Ramo is from my grandmother’s side on the West Coast of New Ireland. It is an old name that hasn’t been used for a few generations. My wife and I felt strongly that our daughter would carry the name of my father’s land. My middle name Igua is from Neikonomon on New Hanover, which is my grandfather’s land.

“My mum was a little hesitant of us going when she realised that our daughter may return with a Texan accent.”

Fisheries Fray

  • Jul 06, 2020
  • Published in June

The Papua New Guinea Fishing Industry Association (PNGFIA) wants to widen the scope of its fishery products and fishing vessels covered by its recent Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified status.

And the organisation remains highly critical of Pacifical, the commercial entity 50/50 owned by PNA members and Netherlands-based Sustunable bv, marketing the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA's) tuna products in the global market.

PNGFIA announced the success of its MSC certification application in May. This makes it the latest party in the Pacific region eligible to carry the coveted international sustainable fishing label on its fishery products, and the first with the premium blue label certification.  

"We are still not happy with PNA Pacifical because this structure has 50% foreign interest and they are riding on us PNA for personal gain. None of the PNA understand fully how Pacifical works. It is controlled by persons with vested interest using PNA as a conduit," PNGFIA Sylvester Pokajam President told Islands Business.  

For the whole story, get your copy of Islands Business.

Pacific island countries will be able to access a future COVID-19 vaccine through a new funding mechanism announced by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, at the Global Vaccine Summit last week.

Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are all eligible for financing to access a COVID-19 vaccine when developed.

This follows Australia's pledge of A$300 million for Gavi to continue its vital work in providing access to vaccines for countries across the Indo-Pacific.

“Our support to Gavi will also ensure our Fijian vuvale are not priced out of accessing a future COVID-19 vaccine in what will no doubt be a competitive global market,” said Australian High Commissioner to Fiji John Feakes.

Gavi is a public-private partnership that provides access to vaccines for low-income countries and will invest FJD1.8 billion from 2021 to provide access to a range of vaccines for 140 million children in the Indo-Pacific region over the next five years. 

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