From Relief to Recovery: PNG’s Economy in Time of COVID-19

World Bank’s latest economic update anticipates economic contraction and suggests investment in infrastructure as a future key for sustainable development

PORT MORESBY, July 10, 2020-

From Relief to Recovery, the World Bank’s Economic Update for Papua New Guinea for July 2020 projects that the country will experience an economic contraction in 2020, with pandemic-related global and national movement restrictions weakening external and domestic demand and affecting commodity prices. These impacts are also expected to lead to wider financing gaps for the government and the central bank, and higher unemployment and poverty than previously anticipated in early 2020.

It is estimated that PNG’s real GDP will shrink by 1.3 percent in 2020, the current account surplus will narrow to about 15 percent of GDP, and the fiscal deficit will reach 6.4 percent of GDP.

“The World Bank welcomes the swift actions by the PNG authorities to manage the COVID-19 shock by protecting the lives of the people of PNG and supporting livelihoods of vulnerable households and small businesses,” said Michel Kerf, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. “While the focus of the authorities is currently on crisis mitigation, it is important to also look beyond the current year to a more robust and resilient recovery over the medium term.”

The report emphasizes that a COVID-19-related revenue shortfall, increased emergency health spending and an economic support package have created an unanticipated fiscal gap of over US$400 million (1.8 percent of GDP) in 2020. The capital budget is expected to be hit harder than the recurrent budget and the government will have to trim non-essential spending.

In addition to the economic analysis, the report contains an additional section dedicated to physical infrastructure development in PNG.

The section recommends that the government’s pre-COVID-19 infrastructure investment plans should be amended amid the current crisis, which may result in the government having to resume its “Connect PNG” infrastructure development program once the pandemic is over while keeping the overall fiscal framework under control.

It also highlights the importance of more equitable access to quality infrastructure once the country moves to the recovery and resilience phase of COVID-19 response as well as the need to improve the balance between infrastructure investment and maintenance with greater emphasis needed on the latter.

The report concludes that PNG can significantly improve its infrastructure situation by strengthening policy design, investment planning, and coordination among agencies and with development partners. However, it will be vital for the government to set the stage for more sustainable and inclusive development by strengthening macroeconomic management and accelerating structural reforms while protecting the vulnerable.

The Papua New Guinea Economic Update is available to read in full at: https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentdetail/964591594230524376/papua-new-guinea-economic-update-in-the-time-of-covid-19-from-relief-to-recovery

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