Toktok Bilong Strongim Nesen

Taxation key for good governance says visiting expert

Professor Mick Moore presented Rwanda as a success story of the equitable levying of tax.

The old saying goes ‘nothing is certain except death and taxes’ but visiting political economist Professor Mick Moore believes that tax gets a bad rap and has an important role to play in a country’s development.

Professor Moore, Chief Executive Officer of the International Centre for Tax and Development in the UK, is currently in Port Moresby for a series of government meetings and public events to discuss the obstacles and opportunities for public revenue generation in PNG.

He said that while people might not necessarily like tax its effective collection is often linked to good governance, and better public services and infrastructure.

“There is actually quite a strong connection, globally, between the ways in which countries raise tax revenue and the ways in which they are governed,” Professor Moore said.

“When countries are well governed –  when disputes are resolved peacefully, elections are held regularly, the rule of law prevails, roads are in reasonable repair, citizens can rely on government for at least basic health, education and welfare services, and government is broadly trusted – then we generally find that government revenue systems are healthy.”

Professor Moore was the keynote speaker at the final Toktok Bilong Strongim Nesen discussion series event for 2019, which was themed ‘Billions from Betel Nut?  Taxation, Growth and Governance.’

He was joined for the discussion by East Sepik Governor Allan Bird, Acting Internal Revenue Commissioner for Taxation Pauline Bre, KPMG Managing Partner Zanie Theron and Tanorama Executive Director (moderator) Martin Brash.

Panelists and audience members brought a diversity of views to the discussion.

Professor Moore’s visit and the discussion series are supported through the PNG-Australia Partnership.

The event covered a range of topics, ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises through to PNG’s extractive sector, which represented 86 per cent of total export value in 2017.

Professor Moore acknowledged it is often difficult for governments to collect income from small-scale businesses and cautioned on attempts to tax rural people.

“It’s a very expensive business,” he said, “it is easy to spend most of the money connected on the salaries of the people doing the tax collection.”

“If low income farmers are going to pay any kind of direct tax, then they should be paying small amounts to their local councils.”

Taxing the big end of town brings its own set of challenges and Professor Moore said effectively taxing the mining sector is the biggest single challenge for low-income countries globally.

“Very few have got it right,” he said, “overall, mining is significantly under-taxed – even more than oil and gas extraction.”

“We could make a good start by introducing much more transparency.”

While collecting tax is never easy, Professor Moore said there are important lessons from the rest of the world that could help PNG.

This includes innovation and technology, which he sees as a “game changer for tax collection” that has the potential to save time and money for governments and ordinary people.

“Digitisation makes it easier for taxpayers to file their returns and make payments,” Professor Moore said.

“These technologies are available to even low income countries. They may even be particularly useful for countries like PNG with scattered rural populations.”

Another critical factor is for governments to pay close attention to tax system fairness – applying the rules to everyone equally and demonstrating that tax is being spent well, rather than being wasted.

“No system of revenue raising is going to be very effective if it does not consider the views and opinions of the people we are trying to tax,” Professor Moore said.

“[Governments] need to show that they are making a good effort to make the taxpaying process as easy as possible for the taxpayers.

“Equally, they need to demonstrate that they are enforcing the rules on everyone. I’m going to be very unhappy about paying my taxes if I perceive that my neighbours are managing to avoid them.”

The event was part of the Toktok Bilong Strongim Nesen discussion series that is supported by the Papua New Guinea – Australia Partnership.

Toktok Bilong Strongim Nesen provides a platform for open public engagement with local and international experts and explores themes and policy issues pertinent to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

Toktok Bilong Strongim Nesen

The Future of Universities: Knowledge Leaders in Policy Development and Industry Innovation

Australian High Commission Minister Counsellor Andrew Egan with panellists Jane Ravusiro, Professor Peter Høj and Professor Frank Griffin.

The event explored the important role that universities play preparing the workforce of the future and in building a nation. Hosted by The University of PNG (UPNG), the audience enjoyed a robust discussion on the topic ‘Innovators and Educators: Opportunities and Challenges for Modern Universities’. Guest speaker Professor Peter Høj, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Queensland (UQ) was joined by Professor Frank Griffin, Vice-Chancellor of UPNG.

Professor Høj said that through robust, rigorous and timely research and sustained policy engagement, universities can be a key source of ideas and insights on the policy priorities that impact on PNG and neighbouring nations in the Pacific region.

“Universities should provide knowledge leadership. In fact, the vision for the University of Queensland (UQ) is ‘Knowledge Leadership for a Better World,” he said.

Professor Peter Høj answers a question from the audience.

At UQ, we have a Centre for Policy Futures, which works closely with governments, international organisations, and key stakeholders to pursue a vibrant research program focused on independent and peer-reviewed research, as well as commissioned reports, discussion papers, and policy briefs,” said Professor Høj.

“There are opportunities for PNG universities to serve a similar role, to engage in public policy debate, and to challenge and influence the development of public policy in health and education.

Professor Frank Griffin, agreed with this vision, stating “Our university should be a hub of knowledge – a think tank utilised for drafting and designing policies with academics who are leading their respective fields.

These experts have a unique insight in how certain policies should be designed, and in that regard UPNG can be a useful member of society in terms of assisting the government with policy development.”

Professor Høj emphasised the need for innovators to partner with industry, government and the community to “ensure we meet societal needs and their most pressing challenges.”

Professor Griffin reiterated the value of partnerships and outlined the exciting work that UPNG is undertaking with the resources sector and other private industry partners to ensure that UPNG is meeting the skill demands of industry now and in the future.

A UPNG student asks a question on disability access at universities.

Professor Høj discussed the potential of universities to embrace opportunities to partner with government agencies directly to improve leadership capacity and policy development.

“Consideration of current capacity gaps, succession planning and the implications of an ageing workforce – are areas where a program can have the most impact – delivering skills-based training and peer-to-peer learning, academic coursework and other methods to increase the cadre of ethical and skilled professionals in leadership roles in the PNG public sector,” he said.

The Toktok Bilong Strongim Nesen series of public discussions explore themes and policy issues relevant to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

Supported by the PNG-Australia Partnership, the series follows on from last year’s popular APEC Discussion Series at the Precinct, which was attended by more than 3,500 people and broadcast on television and radio to a potential audience of four million people.