21 Nov 2013

NZ may help Bougainville improve tax collection

6:08 pm on 21 November 2013

New Zealand's high commissioner to Papua New Guinea says the autonomous province of Bougainville has become a hive of activity.

Marion Crawshaw toured the province last week, including visiting Buin in the south.

South Bougainville was for many years a no-go zone, but a reconciliation settlement there the year before last brought calm, and Ms Crawshaw told Don Wiseman the region is starting to make economic progress.

MARION CRAWSHAW: Bougainville overall is a very busy place, and I've noticed it getting busier in the visits that I've been making over the last three years. As far as right down in the south itself, since that reconciliation process the south has been really very peaceful. And in fact in my visit this time every one I spoke to said the south has been peaceful since that process was gone through.

DON WISEMAN: What about in terms of economic development down there? Are there visible signs of that?

MC: There are some signs. There are a lot more visible signs in Arawa, in the centre. Buin is quieter than Arawa. I stayed there in a guesthouse overnight. I was told there are three guesthouses there and they all do good business. The national government has opened a border development agencies office, so you've got customs there. Ships call in, apparently, and pick up cocoa and copra. And I was told that some people are making very good incomes out of particularly cocoa. There's a really busy market on Saturdays that's been going for a while. Apparently people come over from Solomons in boats to sell fish, and Buin on a Saturday morning is apparently a hive of activity.

DW: New Zealand's involvement in Bougainville does stretch back a long way in terms of its aid support. And something like this I guess is very much a fact-finding trip for a high commissioner. So have you been looking at other areas that New Zealand might look at putting aid into?

MC: Well, we work very closely with Australia and with the ABG in what we do in Bougainville. One of the main avenues we work together on is through a fund called the Governance Implementation Fund. And we are looking at the possibility of New Zealand providing some support to more efficient tax collection. So if we go ahead with this, the New Zealand Department of Inland Revenue would be involved. The New Zealand Department of Inland Revenue have had a very successful project doing similar sorts of things in Solomon Islands. The Bougainville one, of course, is always a little more complicated because you have a relationship with the national government in Port Moresby plus the ABG in Buka. But we have been going through some conversations with all the partners that would be involved in this. There are a few more steps to be gone through yet, but one of the things I wanted to do in my visit last week was at a very high level talk with people about their interests in this and how we might progress it.

DW: What's the interest level?

MC: There is huge enthusiasm for this, including, you might be surprised to know, from members of the business community who are keen to get their operations in order and consistent in enthusiasm to support the operation of the ABG.

DW: That would involve several staff from Inland Revenue going over.

MC: We're not really at the point of actually looking at the detail of everything that would be involved. The first step would be for the national government and the ABG to hold a tax summit in February next year. And then we would be looking to come in and support that work. And out of that summit we would look at what would happen next. We're expecting what we would be involved in would be education-focused, not enforcement focused.