Sir Michael Somare
(pronounced "my-KUL so-MAY-tay")
"The government's main agenda over the next five years would be to create political stability to allow for economic reform to take place."
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the Pacific Island nation that lies immediately north of Australia. It comprises the eastern half of the huge island of New Guinea, together with some 600 islands to the east, including the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainville. Land area is about 461,690 sq km (almost 179,000 sq mi).
While most of the estimated 5.1 million people (2002) are ethnically Melanesian, there are also small groups of Europeans, Chinese, and Polynesians. The official languages of government are English, Tok Pisin, and Hiri Motu. An estimated 800 distinct languages are still spoken, which is one of the obstacles to creating a sense of nationhood. The population is nominally Christian, but there are abundant traces of traditional forms of worship, often directed toward ancestral spirits.
Papua New Guinea has the potential to become the wealthiest Pacific Island nation, drawing on immense natural mineral and oil resources. It is estimated that if all known deposits were exploited, the country would replace South Africa as the world's leader in gold production. Copper, gold and petroleum, as well as cocoa, coffee, and coconut products, have been significant export earners. Yet, the government budget regularly shows a deficit and remains heavily dependent on aid from Australia and international lending agencies. The unit of currency is the kina. While other Pacific Island nations are less well endowed with natural resources, PNG has the worst record in the Pacific in such social indicators as literacy (65%), life expectancy (64 years), and infant mortality rates (57 deaths per 1,000 live births). Violent crime has been a horrendous problem in urban areas, and is often committed by displaced youths from the countryside. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has badly affected PNG in recent years.
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 6030
Boroko, Papua New Guinea