By FRANK SENGE KOLMA
The sorry state of planning without implementation
IN four short years, Papua New Guinea will be 50.
A further five years will see us arrive at 2030, the year when PNG is to become the richest, black Christian nation on the earth by the exhortations of our Prime Minister James Marape.
The year 2030 is when we are also to have grown micro, small and medium enterprise from the present less than 50,000 to 500,000 by the calculations issued in the SME Policy and Master Plan released in 2016 by then National Planning Minister Richard Maru under the government of Peter O’Neill.
Two decades from 2030, PNG will arrive at 2050 now at the ripe age of 75.
In 2050 PNG is supposed to arrive at developed nation status where its populace is healthy, wealthy and living in a harmonious relationship with one another. That is the rich scenario painted in the Vision 2050, released in 2008 under the Somare government by then Deputy Prime Minister Sir Puka Temu.
So different prime ministers across four decades have each given us these goals to look forward to and work towards in their annual budgets, their national public expenditure plans, their medium term plans, their strategic programmes and national visions and missions.
Within realm of the possible
None of these are quite off the mark, all within the realm of the possible, and all of them startlingly rich in content but history shows no discernible achievement of many of these plans and strategies.
Perhaps we should employ a time-worn metaphor here to better understand the underlying cause of this dilemma: ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss.’
PNG’s plans have been on the roll in an ever shifting political landscape where no government has held power for a full term in 10 parliaments except twice – 2002- 2007-2011 (Somare) and 2012-2017-2019 (O’Neill).
In such an environment, no plan, however good it might be, can find ready acceptance or gain traction.
A policy will need to be developed into a set of programmes across several divisions of a department and often be crosscutting several departments and agencies.
It will need revising of existing programmes and reshuffling of teams. Mobilisation of manpower and resources, acquisition of land which is itself a time and money eating exercise, will take many months. A policy or programme might be broached in one year but the funding for it is factored in the next year’s budget. Therefore, a full 12 months is needed for any programme to be fully set up and running and another 12 to see start up.
A full four to five years is required for a programme to come to fruition. That is the underlying philosophy behind a five year term of Parliament. It is the minimum time required to allow one government to plan, develop and deliver on its policies and programmes. If the government is capable five years should see it deliver, if not the evidence will be conclusive and the next elections will see it bundled unceremoniously into the streets. PNG has rarely had that luxury excepting the two periods referred to above.
Since most governments in PNG have changed below 30 months, there just wasn’t time to see any policy or programme come to full flower and produce results. All efforts, including financial commitments, have been a waste and the desolation we have inherited is the inevitable and disheartening outcome of policies and programs that were aborted or still born.
Where a government has survived a full term the results have been startlingly different and positive.
To put the point beyond dispute, the 2002-2007 government of Prime Minister Michael Somare took the country in an economic mess. His predecessor, Sir Mekere Morauta, coming off a mid-term change of government himself in 1999 had tried valiantly to arrest spiraling budget deficits, burgeoning debts, and milking of all accessible money from super funds but election 2002 caught up with him.
Nevertheless, Sir Mekere made changes to the laws governing the Central Bank, giving it and financial institutions independence and guaranteeing the growth of those institutions and robust performance of workers’ superannuation funds.
Sir Mekere arrested for the first time the rowdy kindergarten behaviour of politicians by introducing the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates law which ensured the immediate next government stayed a full term.
Sir Mekere fell victim, not to anything his own making, but the legacies he inherited and to the vicissitudes of a political party facing general elections.
Following the 2002 formation of Somare’s government, the badly ravaged economy, bolstered by good commodity prices, grew in leaps and bounds and over its lifetime a supplementary budget had to be introduced each half year to redistribute excess funds outside of budget forecasts.
At one stage there were some K6 billion parked in trust accounts. It is another of PNG’s continuing tragic stories that those excess funds were never put to good use on major impact projects such as the highlands highway or the trans-island highway or the East Cape to Wutung connection.
But a government serving its full term can produce startlingly rich results as this instance showed.
Peter O’Neill’s government between 2012 and 2017 produced the biggest rollout of infrastructure projects than any other administration. Of 78 impact projects named in Alotau I Accord, 72 were fully implemented in the lifetime of that Parliament. Airports and sea ports, the hubs or business around the country were completely upgraded and transformed.
Back to square one
But we never seem to learn.
The Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates law has been challenged and its effects watered down. The motion of no confidence provision has also been challenged with the result that it is now back running its untrammeled dissonance through our political cords. One threatened MoNC produced the James Marape government of May 2019. That government, in its wisdom has removed the Independence of the Central Bank again and suddenly we are back at square one.
Square one is a weak, fluid political scene where a prime minister must constantly look over his shoulder and plot for his immediate political survival rather than plot for the country’s long term survival and prosperity.
Square one is where the central bank prints money to keep a government afloat.
Square one is where there are runaway fiscal deficits and huge debt burdens over and above the Fiscal Responsibility Act limits.
Square one is where policies and programmes do not get off the ground or gain traction.
You get the drift, no need for more depression capsules from me.
The point to capture here would be that the country has never been devoid of plans and strategies. It has been there from day one and every government has produced some depth of brainpower in the planning department that are nothing short of brilliant.
Nothing can quite surpass the striking eloquence, the succinctness, and the depth and breadth of coverage of the National Goals and Directive principles contained in the preamble to the National Constitution that were given to us at the start of our journey into nationhood.
The simplicity and focus of the 8-Point Plan produced in 1973 is evocative and wonderful.
Each national public expenditure plan, medium term development goal, district and provincial development plans, the 2030 National Strategic Plan, StaRS, and Vision 2050 are magnificent and all practical.
Can we do it at all?
Plans are dreams.
Where PNG has failed is implementation, translating the plans into practical reality.
And after four decades of it we have to ask ourselves: Can we do it at all?
There may be a psychology in this and some person trained in this field might want to enlighten us but we seem averse to doing anything we plan to do.
We do not give ourselves time. We have no need to “Takeback PNG” from anybody or any place.
Clearly, we need to give ourselves decent time to implement our programmes.
We recognise no deadlines or move towards them, we drag our feet, we procrastinate, we blame everything and everybody but ourselves.
Our management of time and resources is positively scandalous.
We are jealous of each other’s small successes.
We would rather tear than build, deride than encourage, back gossip than front-correct, make babies rather than plan babies. There is no priority listing of what to do in a day or even prepare and execute a to-do list. Sound familiar? That is us, Papua New Guineans, to a tooth.
We have never made time to implement our programmes.
We have never made consistent monetary allocations to implement our programmes.
We have rarely found the professionals to implement our policies and programmes and where we did, feathering of their own nests seem to have been the unholy rule.
We have hardly attempted to move from strength to strength, working on the success of one government’s programme to the next and so on.
Time, the silent observer knows, but it keeps its own counsel as always.