Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)

Coastal region and small island papers 10
Chapter 4

Decentralization and the impact of reforms on Motu Koitabu villages

by Dorke De Gedare


Socio-economic and political developments in the National Capital District have not addressed successfully the welfare of the traditional landowners. The participation of the Motu Koitabu in the development process is negligible. The Motu Koitabu have been disenfranchised from taking a meaningful role in the socio-economic development of the NCD.

This paper focuses on the participation and involvement of the Motu Koitabu in the political process in the NCD. Current arrangements for political participation by the Motu Koitabu have given them very limited power in the decision-making process.

Dinghies berthed between clan (Idahu) 
boundaries at low tide, Elevala village

The Motu Koitabu inhabit eight village locations within the NCD. The villages of Baruni, Tatana and Hanuabada (comprising Elevala and Poreporena) are located within the Moresby North West Electorate. Three villages, Vabukori, Kilakila and Pari, are within the Moresby South Electorate, while Korobosea is in the Moresby North East Electorate. The approximate population of the Motu Koitabu is around 30,000, of which about 15,000 live in Hanuabada.

Access to basic healthcare, education and shelter is sufficient for all. However, the villages of Baruni, Tatana and Hanuabada had no piped water for a long time, and although water has been connected to Hanuabada, both Tatana and Baruni continue to suffer from the lack of piped water.

Existing political framework

1. The Motu Koitabu Council

The Motu Koitabu Council owes its establishment to the National Capital District Commission (Amendment) Act 1992. The amendment was made to Part VIII by inserting a new Part VIIIA establishing the Motu Koitabu Council, and came two years after the NCD Act was passed.

2. Membership of the Motu Koitabu Council

The Motu Koitabu living within the geographical limits of the NCD elect 10 members in a normal election process supervised by the Electoral Commission. The membership is confined to ethnic Motu Koitabu people, and excludes those who are resident in the villages as a result of adoption, migration and/or marriage.

In the last election, however, two councillors of mixed parentage were elected. This has caused controversy. The court ruled that any non-Motu Koitabu could be nominated for the Motu Koitabu Council elections if they were domiciled within the designated Motu Koitabu areas. This decision, in my view, undermines the struggle to make the Motu Koitabu voice heard. The non-Motu Koitabu population in the NCD already has a strong voice and their interests are well represented within the NCDC.

3. Powers and functions of the Motu Koitabu Council

The powers and functions of the council are detailed in the 1995 amendments to Sections 17A and 40B of the NCDC Act. Section 17A deals with the powers and functions to be delegated by the commission. A written directive from the responsible minister to the commission may delegate:

  1. ‘to the Council, such of the functions and the powers of the Commission as are specified in the direction in relation to Motu Koitabu areas or such part of the Motu Koitabu areas; and

  2. to a local-level government, such of the functions and powers of the Commission as are specified in the direction in relation to the local-level government area or such part of the local-level government area’.

The quoted section suggests that the council’s powers and functions are actually determined by the minister rather than by the NCDC. The NCDC Act is very general on the precise aspects of the powers and functions it is supposed to delegate to the council. This arrangement could possibly lead to abuse of the process. Further to Section 17A, additional powers and functions have been identified with the insertion of a new Section 40B. These powers are:

  1. to manage, control and administer the Motu Koitabu areas; and

  2. subject to the approval of the Commission, to perform such other powers and functions in accordance with law.

Again, the reference to the powers and functions of the council is general and vague. Section 40F sets out additional powers and functions to those in 17A. The Motu Koitabu Council:

  1. shall be responsible, within its area, for the provision and maintenance of such basic services and community activities as are prescribed by the regulations; and

  2. shall manage, control and administer the local-level government area; and

  3. subject to the approval of the Commission, shall perform such other powers and functions in accordance with law.

The amendment of the NCDC Act 1995, by inserting Part VIIIB (40C), indicates that a Motu Koitabu Council shall be established and shall operate within a defined geographic boundary. Section 40C explicitly indicates that an LLG should be established within the boundaries of an open electorate. In the case of the Motu Koitabu Council, establishing a council within one open electorate is difficult because the Motu Koitabu villages are geographically located within three open electorates. These open electorates are Moresby North West (covering Baruni, Tatana and Hanuabada villages), Moresby South (comprising Vabukori, Kilakila, Pari) and Moresby North East (Korobosea village). If the Motu Koitabu Council is to operate within an open electorate, it would be logical to establish it in the Moresby North West electorate because the bulk of the population (about 20,000) reside there. This would, however, disenfranchise the other Motu Koitabu villagers in the Moresby South and North East electorates.

4. Area of operations of the Motu Koitabu Council

The 1992 amendment to the NCDC Act in subsection 5 identified areas of operations by the council, specifically:

‘The Council shall be responsible, within the Motu Koitabu areas, for the provision and maintenance of such basic services, community activities, education and health as the Minister directs.’

This enables the Motu Koitabu Council to operate within the three open electorates. However, this does not necessarily provide the council with a precise basis to perform its legitimate functions, and does not clearly identify the basic services that the council is required to undertake and manage. It is, nevertheless, quite clear from this section, that the council was not necessarily intended to be autonomous from the NCDC, but rather subordinate to it. That is why the council may only carry out functions that are directed by the minister, and with the assistance provided by the NCDC. This assistance is, however, confined to the successful operation of the Tabudubu Pty Ltd, a company established by the Motu Koitabu Interim Assembly.

5. Motu Koitabu membership in the NCDC

The Motu Koitabu membership in the NCDC has gradually declined over the years. The NCDC Act of 1990 provides for Motu Koitabu representation of 10 out of a possible 20. The amendment in 1992 reduced Motu Koitabu representation to three out of a possible 16, and the 1995 amendment provides for only two Motu Koitabu representatives out of a possible total of 33. Even if the chairperson of the council becomes the deputy governor of the NCD, this steady reduction of representation, in my view, suggests that Motu Koitabu interests and welfare are being subordinated to the non-Motu Koitabu populace’s interests.

As a result, the council would become no more than window-dressing with no actual ability to take care of the interests of the Motu Koitabu people in the NCD. Effectively, under the current arrangement, the council has no real power and therefore the council cannot embark upon any real programme.

6. Funding for the Motu Koitabu Council

Funding for the Motu Koitabu Council comes from two sources. The first source of funds is money collected by the NCDC through taxes and grants from the national government. These funds and their level are provided on the direction of the minister to the commission as per Section 40F(3) (Amendment 1995). The second source of funds for operations comes from the council-owned investment arm Tabudubu Pty Ltd. At the moment, however, there is a lot of mystery surrounding this entity.

Prior to 1992, revenue for the Motu Koitabu Council was directly paid through a derivation grant by the national government. This grant was based on K12 per head and amounted annually to about K200,000. The grant was used to operate and manage the council offices and very little was used in development and/or investments. All socio-economic and other projects were funded by the then National Capital District Interim Commission. There are suggestions that villagers benefited more during this period than now.

After 1992, the Motu Koitabu negotiated with the NCDC and new financial arrangements were introduced. The arrangement was that the NCD would provide as a direct grant about K1.5 million per annum for the council’s operations. The amounts of total grants have fluctuated. Though the grants are intended for the operations of the council and projects within the villages, a substantial amount was used for the services that the NCDC already provides, e.g. village cleaning. The money should really be used for activities, especially capital investment, which will bring financial rewards and improved health and welfare to the Motu Koitabu villagers.

Legislative functions can only be exercised by the council under delegation from the minister or the NCDC. However, with diverging political interest between non-Motu Koitabu and Motu Koitabu peoples, political expediency is likely to prevail.

The Motu Koitabu Council is beholden to the NCDC for funding. The council is therefore less likely to be aggressive in presenting the people’s interests for fear of being penalized by the NCDC. This arrangement implicitly restrains the Motu Koitabu Council from exercising its delegated functions and legislative powers.

As the council does not have the administrative machinery to collect the revenue to which it is entitled, it has to rely on the NCDC.

Motu Koitabu and the reforms of 1995

In 1995, the New Organic Law on Provincial and Local-Level Governments was passed in parliament. The new law repealed the previous Organic Law on Provincial Government. The fundamental reason for the introduction of the new law was the belief that resources and services were not getting to the village level. An additional assumption was that the reforms would increase the participation of villagers in the planning and decision-making process. This was not so under the existing arrangements.

At the outset, it should be made clear that Bougainville and the NCD were excluded from the reforms, therefore they continue to operate under the regime of the old Organic Law on Provincial Governments.2 This means by extension that the Motu Koitabu Council also continues to operate under the old NCDC Act until such time as the 1995 reforms are extended to the NCD.

Under the New Organic Law, the number of LLGs shall not exceed three in one open electorate in rural areas unless the responsible minister recommends additional LLGs to be established. In the urban areas, the law provides for one LLG in each district. The only option is to convince the responsible minister to see the need for the establishment of a Motu Koitabu LLG under some arrangement agreeable to both parties. Any such arrangement should provide for real powers.

Benefits of the 1995 reforms

Politically, if the Motu Koitabu areas are established as an LLG under the current reforms, it will have powers and functions, as provided for in the New Organic Law on Provincial Government and Local-Level Governments, to legislate on matters relating to those under Section 44 ‘Law-making Powers of the Local-Level Governments’. In the NCD though, arrangements and/or agreements will have to be negotiated and agreed upon, as to how these are to be shared between the NCDC (or its provincial equivalent) and the Motu Koitabu Council (or LLG).

The attraction for Motu Koitabu people in having their own LLG in Port Moresby is that their representatives will have a direct bearing on the management of their own affairs. Decisions on planning and development issues within their constituencies would have to be agreed through the LLG before implementation.

Under the local-level government reforms, a Motu Koitabu LLG will be entitled to administrative support grants, development grants, town and urban service grants and economic grants. All these grants are guaranteed annually by the national government. The LLG will also be entitled to collect fees and taxes from a number of additional revenue sources.


There are several options through which the Motu Koitabu people could be represented so their voices can be clearly heard:

  1. The establishment of a Motu Koitabu LLG. This can be achieved by changing the status of the Motu Koitabu Council to an LLG. This will have to be negotiated with the responsible minister as he has the authority to recommend the establishment of an additional LLG. This would allow the Motu Koitabu people to fully participate in the development of NCD, especially within their area of responsibility, and give them access to benefits (especially finance) provided for under the 1995 reform laws.

  2. The establishment of a new electorate exclusively for Motu Koitabu representation in the national parliament.

  3. The appointment, without elections, of a member to represent the Motu Koitabu in the national parliament.

  4. The establishment of a Motu Koitabu Development Authority. This would be responsible for all Motu Koitabu investment and the provision of socio-economic services such as health, sanitation, water and education. The authority would be funded through taxes and royalties from the development of natural resources.

The legitimate desire of the Motu Koitabu for proper representation should be adopted before the NCDC Chairman and the Minister for Provincial and Local-Level Governments. The timing is now right for this request to have a sympathetic hearing.

2 Since the summit in 1999, Bougainville (North Solomons Province) has adopted the New Organic Law.


Start Introduction Activities Publications Search
Wise Practices Regions Themes