Service providers be wary

Editorial

IT is no secret that the Government does not have the kind of money it would have wanted to conduct the 2017 national election.
The election will be run on what the Government can realistically provide without sacrificing too much on other critical areas of expenditure including its recurrent programmes and activities.
The Electoral Commission’s own budget would therefore be quite tight.
It is incumbent on all citizens and institutions charged with ensuring a “free, fair and safe” election to bear that in mind in whatever they are tasked to do.
The PNG Electoral Commission’s initial budget submission of more than K600 million has got knocked back to just a little over K400 million.
This does not mean that the commission’s budget estimates were based on some grandiose plan or extravagant spending.
The amount submitted was what the commission figured would enable it to successfully run the election with contingencies or unforeseen circumstances factored in.
However, the Government in its wisdom slashed that requested amount quite significantly.
The Electoral Commission is expected to carefully manage the budget to ensure all aspects of the election are well funded.
In the 2012 election, the commission incurred a lot of debts running into millions of kina.
Much of that has been owed to service providers.
It is unfortunate that the commission was unable to settle these bills with the election funds at its disposal at the time of the election and even when tidying up its books post-election.
Some of these outstanding amounts will be settled five years later – in another election year! No service provider or cost-conscious business would want to continue doing business with a client who pays five years after being invoiced.
Hopefully, with the announced improved system of payment, such situations will be avoided in this election.
According to Finance Secretary Dr Ken Ngangan, service providers will be paid electronically through a trust fund.
While there are genuine claimants who have not been paid for services rendered, the Electoral Commission and the Finance department have reason to believe that a lot of money has also been accounted for in the past elections.
Ngangan says service providers were paid money in previous elections but nobody knows what they did or how they used it.
The use of technology such as electronic banking is also expected to improve the ability of the commission or Finance Department to better account for election-related funding and hopefully enable faster settlement of bills from service providers.
The assurance from the secretary is that the new system of payment will allow no room for credit or liability as in past elections.
Security would obviously be a major expenditure item in the commission’s election budget.
Yet the commission, provincial election steering committees and the security forces themselves know that the level of funding for this crucial aspect of the election will be much less than what they would have wanted.
In a perfect world perhaps only police personnel would stand by at polling booths as voters freely mark their ballots and the packed ballot boxes are taken to a central counting centre.
Not so during elections here. Police and other security personnel would keep a watchful eye on every aspect of the election – from polling to escorting ballot boxes to counting of counting of votes and declaration of winners.
Obviously some parts of the country such as Hela would require a lot more vigilance on the part of security personnel than others.
Police Commissioner Gari Baki last week warned Hela people about withdrawing the security forces from this year’s general election if a gun-related incident takes place there.
Baki said that when he witnessed the destruction of 96 factory-made and 719 home-made guns in Tari to end the first stage of a call-out operation aimed at disarming people in preparation for an expected peaceful election.
It is very doubtful though that the illegal guns surrendered and destroyed last week in Tari was everything Hela tribesmen have had in their possession. It is very likely that more illegal firearms are still out there.
For the success of the election in Hela and other electorates in the country, all must cooperate fully with those entrusted with running it.
With the current financial situation we cannot afford to do less.

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