Back in 2014 the people of Bana District in the south west of Bougainville began investigating options to foster economic development within the region, in areas such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism.
This vision and perseverance led to the official launch of the Bana Special Economic Zone during a recent visit by President Ishmael Toroama (pictured) who planted a coconut tree at the local Mamarego Primary School to mark the occasion.
The economic zone is situated along the Augusta Bay area, the scene of a significant 1943 naval battle between U.S. and Japanese forces. This access point to Bougainville is seen to have future potential for both inbound and outbound trade and local enterprise development.
As it stands, the Bana region is quite remote with rough terrain, marsh land and thick vegetation. It is accessible only by sea and bush tracks. However, the hope is to realise the area’s attributes through future infrastructure development of such things as port facilities and upgraded road networks. This would help open the region up for new investment, business development, employment and training opportunities.
The creation of economic zones is designed to send signals to both domestic and foreign investors about an area’s potential to leverage its acknowledged strengths. More than 130 countries have established such zones to stimulate economic activity. China for example has set up more than 10 since the 1980s, the first of which has seen Shenzhen transformed from a small fishing village into a leading, global technology hub which has been labelled “China’s Silicon Valley” after America’s famous innovation centre in California.
A mix of incentives are typically offered within economic zones to encourage a concentration of investment and economic activity. These incentives can include such things as concessions on taxes and duties, flexible land use arrangements and streamlined regulatory settings. Governments can also provide further support through the development of supporting infrastructure.
In 2019 the PNG Special Economic Zone Act was established to provide a framework for the operation of economic zones throughout PNG. A single authority will also be established to regulate the program. The precise nature of the types of future incentives that may apply to PNG’s economic zones are yet to be outlined with fiscal constraints also an ever-present reality of the region’s operating environment.
The ABG has separately committed to developing its own policies and laws to support investment in Bougainville. These will complement the existing Bougainville Inward Investment Act. President Toroama has made it clear that Bougainville welcomes foreign investment, as it is essential to the development of local industries and resources, however, local people must receive a fair return.
The Bana project is an initiative of landowners and leaders of the district, including its three constituencies of Bolave, Lato and Baba. Creating new economic opportunities in Bougainville are considered essential to supporting moves towards greater levels of self-reliance.