The introduction of Papua New Guinea’s Electronic Transactions Act is just the start of a general online reform agenda in the country. Steven Matainaho, Acting Secretary at PNG Department of Communication and Information Technology explains the changes to Business Advantage PNG.
In many parts of the world, change in the digital world moves faster than legislation, leading to many legal grey areas.
But currently in Papua New Guinea the arrival of the Coral Sea Cable and a rise in ecommerce have coincided with the Electronic Transactions Act, which is making its way through Parliament. The result is that PNG has a chance to get its digital house in order before online advancement outstrips government legislation.
Steven Matainaho, Acting Secretary at PNG’s Department of Communication and Information Technology, says the new bill was prompted by the surge in electronic activity triggered by the pandemic lockdown. But the aim is to go further.
‘Authentication is the key. Anyone can just sign or slap on a picture of a signature on a document but you need elements that can be legally binding in a court of law’
‘We are looking at two perspectives: one is the COVID-19 response but also from an economic perspective there is a lot of cost-saving measures that can be achieved from that bill,’ Matainaho tells Business Advantage PNG.
‘The original intent was to facilitate a legal framework for transactions to be made, particularly with overseas businesses – and also local – and to legitimise a framework for electronic signatures. So the initial intent was to facilitate trade economically but the implication is wider.’
Electronic signatures form a large part of the bill because they are an important part of security: trusting whom the transaction is from and that they are legally liable if something should go wrong.
‘Authentication is the key. Anyone can just sign or slap on a picture of a signature on a document but you need elements that can be legally binding in a court of law,’ Matainaho says.
The draft Electronic Transactions Act is available for viewing, with feedback being handled by NICTA. Matainaho expects the final draft to be put to parliament at the next sitting in August.
Beyond just ecommerce
Matainaho agrees that the timing of the bill means that the government can stay ahead of the changes in the digital environment.
‘The Electronic Transactions Act is helping to trigger a look at the larger framework; this bill works within the framework of what we are calling the PNG Digital Transformation Policy and Bill,’ he says. ‘We are also seeking direction from cabinet to commence drafting of the Digital Transformation Bill – looking at electronic data management; both mandating entities to collect electronically and as well as issues of security and standards.’
‘We are looking at SMEs, we are looking at foreign investment, so there is an authentic framework that will build trust.’
The bill does not simply facilitate trade, it looks more broadly at online correspondence, electronic letters and how businesses and governments conduct themselves in a digital environment.
The hope is that, by providing a strong legal framework for doing digital business in Papua New Guinea, it will help build trust internationally as well as give a leg-up to local business to reach out beyond the borders of PNG.
‘Just by looking at the bill, the opportunities need to be unpacked. We are looking at SMEs, we are looking at foreign investment, [to provide an] authentic framework that will build trust so that foreign businesses can operate within PNG and vice versa.’
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