By FAY DUEGA
KIRIWINA/Goodenough MP Douglas Tomuriesa has been praised by the Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (PNGFA) for the work he had done when he was Minister for Forests.
In his initial address to staff when he became minister in March 2014, he laid down a challenge for everyone to work hard to leave a legacy no matter what position they held in the organisation.
After three years as minister, he left satisfied that most, if not all, of what he had wanted done in relation to staff welfare and benefits had been achieved.
Tomuriesa said the forestry sector had contributed over K40 billion in revenue to PNG since 1975, about a billion kina annually, but that money had not resulted in an equitable increase in staff benefits.
In 2014 he described the authority’s annual budget allocation of around K30 million too little: “We need at least K100 million annually to operate this sector.”
When he didn’t get the response he wanted regarding staff salary increases, Tomuriesa set up a staff financial assistance fund in 2014 with K7000 from which staff took loans with low interest. Of that money, Alotau MP Charles Abel contributed K2000.
Last year, K27,000 was raised from the staff fund and K19,000 was used to host their Christmas party.
In his fourth month as Minister for Forests, and as a result of a submission he made, the National Executive Council it gave its approval for the PNGFA to be self-financing. That was seen as an important decision for the PNGFA, which was established 24 years ago. The self-financing system would operate through a management levy but that issue was still going through the court system for approval.
Most of Tomuriesa’s programmes were carried out in the final nine months of his tenure as political head, following the appointment of Tunou Sabuin as managing director in May this year, a move that would ensure the fulfillment of Tomuriesa’s dream.
“I believe PNGFA can contribute more to the development of PNG. We are looking forward to the decision yet to be made by the courts on the management levy,” Tomuriesa said.
“If the management levy comes into place, PNGFA won’t be the same. It will transform PNGFA as well as a lot of things in this country in terms of development.”
Before leaving to re-contest the general election Tomuriesa said he hoped that the new minister would look at improving staff benefits because he believed a happier workforce was a more productive workforce.
The PNGFA with its 609 staff is one of a few government agencies that has offices in all 22 provinces in the country, including the newly created provinces of Hela and Jiwaka. There are workers also based at project sites in rural PNG.
Tomuriesa also helped increase the annual staff housing subsidy budget from K60,000 a year to K200,000. Sabuin said that while only K150,000 had been received it still was a big jump from K60,000.
“But amortization applies,” he said.
“Staff who receive this have to work for five or more years before leaving PNGFA if they wish to.”
“The Forest authority’s housing committee wants to increase the amortization period from five to 10 years.”
In March last year Tomuriesa opened the Forest Minister’s Park at the PNGFA grounds at Hohola, a project aimed at encouraging top management to mingle with those below.
PNGFA also signed the casual rationalisation programme agreemeent and is the only signatory to have made its 236 casual staff permanent, starting at grade 1.
PNGFA workers are also looking forward to a new remuneration package.
- Fay Duega is public relations officer at PNG Forest Authority.