Another year, another record deficit budget for Papua New Guinea.
On Tuesday, Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey presented his long awaited 2023 money plan to Parliament – with a price tag of K24 billion (US$6.8 billion).
Although next year’s budget increased by K2 billion (US$568 million) across different sectors, Ling-Stuckey held his head up high when announcing a drop in the deficit as revenues increased, projecting revenue at around K19 billion (US$5.4 billion) bringing the deficit down to K4.9 billion (US$1.4 billion).
Ling-Stuckey highlighted the increase in budget allocations to various sectors but placed large emphasis on the government’s plans in the coming years –– which include having a surplus budget by 2027.
While Ling-Stuckey was a week late in delivering his budget, MPs didn’t get the opportunity to debate his work just yet as Parliament adjourned the debates to a subsequent sitting.
The opposition will provide its reply to the budget during that time as well.
In the press lock-up moments before tabling the budget books, Ling-Stuckey received mixed reactions from public and private sector officials.
A new tax on banks raised more than a few eyebrows in the room with some describing it as a ‘penalty on success’.
And while the Government has increased funding for various project and policy initiatives, the track-record of money being spent on its intended purpose is still a major hole on budget expenditure.
This was Ling-Stuckey’s fourth budget presentation since becoming Treasurer in 2019, and the budget spoke optimistically about the future.
He said: “This new government has five key priority areas; the first priority is law and order.
This budget delivers an extra K401 million (US$113.8 million) into our law-and-order sector, the largest increase in funding in PNG’s history.”
On infrastructure, Ling-Stuckey praised the allocation of K9 billion (US$2.6 billion) to infrastructure development with particular note on the government’s ‘Connect PNG policy’.
On top of the current District Service Improvement Program (DSIP), which is money given directly to MPs district accounts; the government is introducing a new program – the District Infrastructure Programme – to give MPs another fund to develop infrastructure in their districts.
This program is receiving K960 million (US$272.6 million) for districts and K220 million (US$62.5 million) for provinces.
While Ling-Stuckey trumpeted the figures of next year’s spending highlights, he also made it clear that the government has three priorities to ensure prudent economic management.
“First, we must continue on-going budget repair to a surplus by 2027 target.
We have decided to fully allocate extra resource revenues to increased investments… we are aware, that means 2024 expenditures are going to be below the estimated levels of 2023.
“Second, we need to continue micro-economic reform efforts for increasing jobs and growing incomes.
“Third, we must strengthen our key institutions,” he said.
Ling-Stuckey delivered a budget that aims to fulfill campaign promises and key government agenda, while taking the bargain of investing over saving now to see better outcomes in the future. But the gamble of Ling-Stuckey’s approach will be vested on Finance and Planning Minister Rainbo Paita, as well as other statutory and department agencies, to ensure money allocated is spent appropriately.