Cultural Lineage Constraints to Public Housing Affordability in Papua New Guinea

James Seniela, Jacob Adejare Babarinde, Suman Steven Holis


This paper investigates the impact of cultural lineage (wantokism) in Papua New Guinea on public housing affordability and sustainability in the country, using the two largest cities of Port Moresby and Lae as case studies in a country that has maintained strong cultural bonds of families, clans and tribes for centuries to support each other in the Melanesian way. In principle, public housing units are subsidised by government and other public institutions to cushion the harsh effects of inflation and property market externalities on low- and middle-income civil servants who can hardly afford market rentals. However, other factors such as cultural lineage (wantokism) tend to wipe off the intended benefits of the so-called subsidy. A study of eight (four from each city) randomly selected public housing areas in the two cities of Port Moresby and Lae was carried out in 2016witha representative, stratified random sample of 157 sitting tenants. The stratification of the population was based on low, medium and high income groups using the country’s public servants’ performance salary scale 2012-2013, which is a secondary database. Data collection instruments were structured questionnaires, formal and informal interviews combined with simultaneous field observations through transact walk. Based on a theoretical framework gleaned from the General Systems Theory, findings indicate that the “cultural lineage” of the indigenous people of PNG has a significant negative impact on public housing affordability exacerbated by adverse economic factors including low income and low housing allowances paid to public housing tenants by public employers, including the government. The study also reveals that cultural lineage has a significant negative impact on the aggregate income of households due to extended family size, high incidence of family members who are not gainfully employed, high dependency rate in the extended families with expected responsibilities as guardians, marital status of many tenants with many children who attend schools, and the low educational qualifications of some tenants with daunting commitments to the lineage group. The paper makes strategic recommendations including speedy codification of PNG customs, mass empowerment, and improved economic emancipation of the general public for purposes of raising housing affordability levels in PNG in general and in the two cities of Port Moresby and Lae in particular.

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Copyright (c) 2019 James Seniela, Jacob Adejare Babarinde, Suman Steven Holis

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