Another effort gone to waste

Editorial, Normal

The National – Monday, July 4th 2011

 IF The National appears to take up the case of the public accounting mishaps of this country often, it is because we sense this is the single most important aspect of good governance that is not being attended to seriously enough.

Year after year, reports after reports come before parliament decrying the atrocious state of public accounts across the entire public sector.

And these reports receive scant attention by both parliament and the executive government.

This lackadaisical attitude suggests incompetence at one level, a no-care attitude at another level and, perhaps, most sinister of them is the supposition that nobody in political authority cares to make a move on the reports because they are deeply involved in the rot.

In other jurisdictions, the whiff of a scandal would have people in responsible positions resigning in droves. No so in PNG. 

Leaders take comfort in the judicial principal adopted by PNG that “all are innocent under the law until proven guilty”.

A scandalous person, even with his or her integrity in tatters, will hang on for dear life until the fraud squad or the leadership code or some other authority tears him or her loose from the position so many think is their birthright.

So, once again, we revisit a department that we have occasion to report on so many times in the past: National Planning and Im­plementation.

This time, a report by a private law firm raises again the nagging topic of corruption being rampant in the department.

That this report seems to give a time frame for when this corruption has got quite out of hand – the three-month period when there was a change of guard and one secretary was replaced by another – seems quite shallow and would seem to point to why this report was insti­gated in the first place.

For such an important issue to have been put toget­her by one law firm, inside the space of three or four weeks, does not do justice to a matter of this importance.

It also seems to point to this very significant matter of absolute national importance being used as a tool in a stand-off between feuding departmental heads and political heads. 

Still, the instances of corruption raised in the report, including the general run of hundreds of millions of kina in the country’s programme budget, is most worrying.

The national development budget is exactly half of the national budget or K4 billion. This report mentions a figure of K1.1 billion having been disbursed inside three months. This seems hard to believe but, then, so many things talked about in relation to PNG government accounts are hard to believe.

If this has indeed happened, the department needs to be wound up and its responsibilities and staff divided between Finance, Treasury and the Prime Mi­nister’s departments.

It would be a great waste of time and money to have a commission of inquiry as these singularly produce no results.

The auditor-general has reported that National Planning has, for years, failed to lawfully or competently manage, administer or account for money under its control so it cannot only be recent.

Very significant amounts of development cannot be accounted for or audited because the department has not made, kept or submitted accounts or records as it is required to do.

Now, we learn that individuals inside the department have a number of companies which they have unabashedly registered in their own names and which they are now awarding contracts under the development budget towards.

We just do not know how we can appeal to the government to take a close look at this department and do something about it. This is not the only department involved in such tactics.

It is wonder that so many billions of kina has been expanded without there being anything to show for it in the development of the country.

As we have often said before, if this country cannot fix its accounts, it does not matter a wit how much more money is to come in from the liquefied natural gas project or from any other of the exciting new developments taking place. 

It will all be wasted, and that is a fact.