A database for development

Normal, Weekender

For national planning to be effective and successful the Government needs accurate information and good knowledge of their constituencies, writes BARNABAS ORERE PONDROS

INFORMATION is a powerful tool for effective governance through sound planning and budgeting.
With the economic ‘boom and bust’ from oil and gas, how are we expected to roll out our riches to the disadvantaged sector of the country’s population if we do not know much about the real socioeconomic circumstances in the rural areas?
The questions that baffles a lot of people are ‘do the planners really understand the real situations on the socioeconomic status of the rural folks?’ and ‘what justifications are National Development Plans framed?
Seriously, there is an urgent need for a paradigm-shift away from these adhoc and piecemeal practices of planning for development.
It is time we have a different and solid approach as professed by a local development planning consultant, Wesley Aruga who has worked with the government as Planning Director for many years and has also been engaged with United Nations.
He is a career planner with 25 years of professional experience in development planning field both within PNG and overseas.
Mr Aruga has since developed a database which he believes can help planning and budgeting achieve results meaningfully.
The district and LLG database is a map-linked database for all the districts and LLG districts in the country.
The database was developed over 3 1/2 years by capturing all the vital information relevant for planning and budgeting at districts and LLG levels.
“Radical approaches to planning and budgeting decisions are needed to prepare ourselves for the new economic bonanza,” he said during an interview to promote his product.
Many would agree that a change must be implemented in the way Government plans and budgets to shift from spending and committing on an adhoc basis.
Mr Aruga said it has been widely acknowledged that poverty-ridden rural sector associated with mass urban migration to cities and towns are symptoms of weak governance and bad national development policies.
“For over three decades since political Independence, the level of development in this country had not been appreciably remarkable,” he said.
Mr Aruga said the urban sector still continues to dominate with no trickle-down effects to the remote rural areas as far as Daga in the Milne Bay province or Siliambil village in Telefomin district of Sandaun province.
Indeed, in my time with The National newspaper, as a journalist, and working with development agencies and landowners, I have witnessed first hand the dire situation our rural areas and people are in.
Services do not reach far flung and remote areas. This is sad but true.
For instance, there is a village called Gobakigolo in the Rigo District of Central province.
It sits ideally on the foothills of the mighty and rugged Owen Stanley Range and is of close proximity to Port Moresby. About five hours drive, added all up. 
But to get there is a nightmare, the roads are horrendous, and teachers carry school materials and walk to the village, as PMVs dread the ride up.
To seek health care villagers, including children, have to walk for hours to the nearest health centre at Sivitatana village, near the main highway.
The health centre was built by an Australian NGO, ChildFund PNG. 
A good friend of mine, Momoro Kini, who hails for Kalo on the beautiful Central Coastline, described the road as “the worst in the Southern Hemisphere”.
The bottom line is that these remote communities’ needs must be integrated in the national development plan and not to be listed as any other business in the national development agenda.
Whatever system the Government decides to adopt we can say that there is a real need for an information database.
Governments will change and with it their national development plans, but an information database about the people and their socioeconomic environment will not change.
Many experts have agreed that an information database is a vital tool for ‘checks and balances’ in developing a fair and egalitarian society for a nation.
The governance supported by good information database will have a more humanitarian approach to development and benefit sharing where everyone is assured that they are counted.
This is where the information database for the country becomes relevant for the 2050 Strategic Plan. 
Such socioeconomic database would provide the benchmark to translate the 2050 Strategic Plan into local development plans and strategies.
Unless plans are based on real data, this national development is another unachievable dream for the ordinary people.   
In PNG, we have wealth of information available but are scattered among Government agencies, research institutions, churches and individuals.
This country laments for accurate information database for sound planning, good and responsible governance. 
“Accessing this information to advice the Government is the biggest institutional weakness in this country,” Mr Aruga said.
Paul Barker, executive director of the Institute of National Affairs, an independent think-tank highlighted the importance of information database which is lacking in this country.
With the ‘boom and bust’ expected from oil and gas, has the Government prepared itself with right information tools to deliver the services?
Knowing where people are and how many are there, their living conditions and constraints in accessing basic Government services are vital information for sound planning and budgeting in any national development strategies.
The current Organic Laws on Provincial and Local Governments provides that enabling environment for participatory planning and budgeting process, seeking ‘bottom up’ planning process as the mechanism to integrate grassroots concerns into the LLGs-to-District-to-Province-to-National Development Plans.
The design of this planning and governance process at the local level is intended that ‘no one would miss out’.
The beauty of this local planning process is for Governments to deal with real people to address their real socioeconomic circumstances.
If any planning is to be effective and expected to succeed at the third-tier structure, the Government needs accurate information and good knowledge of their constituencies.
Not all areas are the same, as areas differ in terms of resources and socioeconomic opportunities and others have their own unique challenges, needs and aspirations. 
How the local governance can harness these range of local concerns and prioritise them into development budget requires good information database for the districts.
Our leaders need proper advice and guidance. 
“Leaders need to be well advised with accurate and up-to-date information by the public service system so that planning and budget allocations are justified based on real needs and priorities of the people,” Mr Aruga said.
A need-based planning and budgeting decisions based on accurate information will only ensure that spread of development benefits are fair and equitable.


Barnabas Orere Pondros was until recently chief political reporter with The National. To contact him or find out more about the database email [email protected]