Faculty continues development work in Papua New Guinea

1 February 2013

"If any developing nation has a shot of urbanising properly and changing the way we look at it, it's Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea has the chance to design based on what will work for them."

Scott Pelletier is a student of the Master of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sydney. The Montrealer from Canada came to study urbanisation with the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning in 2011. Now in his final semester of the one-and-a-half year program, he's been studying the urbanisation process in Papua New Guinea, with a particular focus on informal settlements. Following his strong interest to do work experience in Papua New Guinea, Dr. Paul Jones, Program Director in the Urban and Regional Planning Program, organised a work placement for Scott in the Office of Urbanisation based in Port Moresby.

He says that Papua New Guinea's unique tribal societies and substantial mineral resources give it great prospects for development. He also says it isn't weighed down by improper earlier developments.

"If you have a mega city, you can't just pull up a street. Port Moresby is only now going through the urbanisation process, so they can guide it as it happens. The problems are nipped in the bud; it hasn't already spiralled out of control," Scott said.

"The ongoing problems are with corruption. Developers are coming in and buying land for peanuts. They're using the naïveté of the tribal landowners for financial gain and people are suffering for it. It's not just for land rights.

"The development and mineral companies are booking out the hotels in the capital and buying up properties. They're backed by international money, so the local prices are rising. This is pricing locals out of the formal society and making many - government workers, doctors, lawyers - to live in the informal settlements."

Scott says that there is a dedicated team working to address these issues, from NGOs and the government. The Director of the Office of Urbanisation in Papua New Guinea, Max Kep, has signed a research agreement with the university, so there is close collaboration between the University's academics in the Urban and Regional Planning Program and the policy makers in Papua New Guinea. Max even started the Office, which has grown to encompass a national urbanisation strategy.

"I've met more Cambridge university graduates in the past week than I have in my entire life," Scott said. "They're living in terrible conditions. These are people who have been educated at some of the most prestigious places in the world and have come back to address these issues, but can't live in, or have little incentive to live in, formal society."

In Papua New Guinea, there is a little that separates the formal dwellings of Port Moresby and the large informal settlements, in which up to 50 per cent of the population live. Scott says this encourages informal agreements and prevents formal development.

"The difference in road quality is non-existent, pirating of water and electricity is commonplace. And tax isn't collected. There isn't an advantage to living in formal society.

"What is encouraging is that everyone is so switched on. Everyone there is trying to do something for themselves; to learn their rights. The government did a good job of culling corrupt officials and the same is happening in the Parliament. Once the corruption is addressed the development and wealth distribution will be more equitable."

Scott is working for a large international non-profit non-government development organisation. He says his training in urban and regional planning has been of great benefit to his day-to-day work in international development.

"International development is by far one of the hardest industries to enter. The recruitment sites all ask for 10 years of practical experience. The things we learnt in the Masters program are the practical things you do in this field - your assignments are the kinds of work you do in the industry. That's really important for hitting the ground running.

"It's important that people in this field aren't just skilled, but at the top of the game. Development work means working with people's lives. When you build a home, someone has to live there. If you screw up a resettlement project and it floods, people might die. It's serious but rewarding hard work," Scott said.

"You don't just do it for the fuzzy feeling. But let me tell you, that fuzzy feeling definitely exists."

Scott is planning on maintaining this housing focus as a central theme while hopefully pursuing PhD studies after completing his Masters.

Contact: Paul Jones

Phone: +61 2 9351 6069

Email: 1e1639265b244f4524161f4303252d36595715615d06317a0c03