We give how much to Tokelau?!? PNG Electric

Welcome to another NZADDs update,

We give how much?!?
Let’s face it, if you’ve ever had to labour over a journal article, report, or even a blog post, you’re probably pretty envious of Mike Hosking. Forget the hours spent ensuring your writing makes sense. Hosking gets paid to be incoherent.

His recent column on New Zealand aid for the Herald is a case in point. The arguments stumble around growling and banging into each other like drunken fans at a heavy metal concert.

The general gist of the growling and banging appears to be that: New Zealand gives eye-popping amounts of aid to Pacific countries, but we’re still a bit player, and our aid won’t buy us any geopolitical influence. Nor will it help the people of the Pacific.

As evidence we give eye-popping amounts of aid Hosking claims:

“We, in aid terms, give enough each year in places like Tokelau and Kiribati and Nuie [sic] for families to live perfectly happily by doing literally nothing. $86 million to Tokelau … population 1500, $70m to Nuie [sic] … population 1600.” (Wayback Machine archive here.)

Hosking says “each year”, but the numbers he quotes are projected 3 year totals. So seeing as Hosking couldn’t actually do the maths, I did: about  30 million a year to Tokelau; about 24 million a year to Niue.

The numbers still seem large: on a per capita basis that’s $20,000 per person per year for Tokelau and $15,000 for Niue. However, Niue is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. Tokelau is a New Zealand territory. New Zealand has special obligations to both. Similar obligations to those we have to our own citizens. And, in case you’re wondering, total New Zealand government spending per capita within New Zealand is about $20,000 per person too.

As for being a bit player with no geopolitical influence. This isn’t something I care about, but given it matters to Hosking, he may be interested to know that New Zealand is by far the largest donor in both Niue and Tokelau.

PNG electric
None of this is to say that aid is guaranteed to work. Aid only succeeds if it’s planned carefully, guided by context, and given with the right motivations.

New Zealand has joined a coalition of donors who claim they will bring electricity to 70% of Papua New Guinea’s households by 2030. I’m sitting in an illuminated room, using a computer hooked up to the mains, and listening to music. Electricity is great. Successfully providing it would meet a real development need in Papua New Guinea.

And yet, Papua New Guinea is poorly governed, with a political class who mostly show little interest in maintaining infrastructure. Papua New Guinea also has incredibly challenging geography. If electricity means more than the odd solar powered light, getting it to 70% of PNG’s population over the next 11 years is impossibly ambitious. Worse, if reporting in the Washington Post is to be believed, the undertaking is “a response to growing Chinese influence in the Pacific.”

New Zealand gives some good aid to PNG. But our track record with electricity is mixed, with real problems encountered during a hydro-project in Enga in particular.

A useful MFAT review of our electricity work in PNG can be read here. Because we’ve worked on electricity in PNG in the past, and because — as evidenced in the review — we’ve tried to learn from our work, we may add value to the donor coalition. But there’s an awful lot of hard, uncertain work between now, and our bold promises of electricity actually helping the people of PNG.

Terence for NZADDs admin