Informality's Elusive Thread: Policy Debates in Late Colonial Port Moresby

75 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2015

See all articles by John D. Conroy

John D. Conroy

Australian National University (ANU) - Crawford School of Public Policy

Date Written: December 7, 2015


Hart's informality was an elusive thread in the fabric of Port Moresby, capital and principal urban centre of Papua New Guinea (PNG) during the late colonial period, 1945-75. Commencing in the late period of preparation for Independence, a genuine PNG voice emerged in the colonial legislature and the Pangu party took power on the eve of self-government. A consultant team, the Faber Mission of 1972, was tasked to recommend policies for an independent PNG. Keith Hart, originator of the idea of the 'urban informal sector', was a team member. Hart found that economic informality, while emerging in rural areas, was largely absent from PNG towns and his account of the experience is central to this paper. The Faber Report placed informality at the heart of its strategies for development and this was adopted enthusiastically by the new government. The paper describes informality as being closely linked with another issue, the need for a modern regulatory framework for formal employment. This required efforts to break a 'Gordian knot', originating in the nexus between retarded urbanism, archaic processes of wage determination and low labour productivity. The paper deals with the ideological ferment surrounding these events and the brief and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to 'formalize the informal'. It examines the intellectual precursors of informality in PNG, the slender evidence for its existence in 1970s Port Moresby and the cultural and economic reasons for this situation. It ventures beyond the colonial period to provide a brief afterword concerning the longer-run consequences of a wages shock which occurred between 1972 and 1975.

Keywords: decolonization, economic development, labour policy, wages policy, internal migration, urbanization, informal economy, hybridity, Papua New Guinea, Faber Report, Keith Hart, Ross Garnaut, Peter Fitzpatrick, Clifford Geertz, Karl Polanyi, Michael Todaro, H D Evers

JEL Classification: B24 ,D13, E26, E65, F54, J15, J38, J68, N37, N97, O17, R23, Z13

Suggested Citation

Conroy, John David, Informality's Elusive Thread: Policy Debates in Late Colonial Port Moresby (December 7, 2015). Development Policy Centre Discussion Paper No. 45, Available at SSRN:

John David Conroy (Contact Author)

Australian National University (ANU) - Crawford School of Public Policy ( email )

ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
J.G. Crawford Building, #132, Lennox Crossing
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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