NONE of the hue and cry over what actually happened to white goods at the Defence Force commander’s office need have occurred had very simple principles of account keeping been followed.
Following any change of guard – whether it be the Government of the day or an officer vacating office – there would most normally be a transition committee appointed to ensure the change is conducted smoothly.
Such a committee’s job is not merely ceremonial. There are a lot of housekeeping issues to sort out. This is done by taking an inventory of all assets and equipments that were purchased by the State.
This can be anything from houses and motor vehicles to office equipment and eating utensils.
There ought to be none of the confusion and, indeed, bad blood accompanying the stripping off of household white or brown goods from the Flag House if these very simple procedures were followed.
We can only surmise from what has been reported that no inventory of asset and other goods have been kept.
If they had been kept, the proper procedure would have been to have the inventory checklist done before the previous commander moves out of the Flag House. This check list would have been done against all that the State had paid for over the years since the commander had been occupying the house.
If this inventory has not been done or, if it had, it has conveniently disappeared somewhere, then we wonder at what the bigger picture might present.
For instance, if the chiefs of the three elements were to be called before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee or a military inquiry and asked to account for State assets, equipment, property and even manpower under their command, might they be able to provide such a checklist off the top of their heads or even be able to access it from a easily retrievable system?
They might if they are extremely good and, therefore, rare managers in this country. More likely, they might not.
This is not a problem that is peculiar to the PNG Defence Force. It is a general malady that seemed to permeate the entire Government system of PNG.
Governments are changed and, often, the old guard moves out with everything moveable that they can lay their hands on from cars to computers and telephones.
The cost to the new Government to replace State assets just so that the machinery of Government can run normally amounts to tens of millions of kina.
It has become standard practice these days but it has not always been so in this country.
There was once a time immediately after Independence, and for a term of about two parliaments after that, when transition committees used to play an important role in ensuring the smooth transfer of powers, functions and responsibilities from one administration to the next with a minimum of fuss.
Incumbent officers were held responsible and liable to pay if State assets were unaccounted for.
Keeping an inventory might seem a mundane, and even boring, pastime but it is the most basic of accounting tools.
That the inventory keeping system has failed is symptomatic of a bigger problem; the total collapse of the public accounting system in the country.
If one does not know how much assets one has under his control, how one can possibly mobilise resources for the benefit of the organisation?
Yet, annually, the Auditor-General and the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee decry the sorry state of affairs to do with almost every department and Government agencies’ ability to account for the whereabouts of State assets.
These are normally fixed and tangible items.
If we cannot account for items, then how can we account for money which is not very visible?
Former Defence Force commander Peter Ilau today faces an embarrassing situation, perhaps, because he simply overlooked the basic task of ensuring everything under his control during his watch was carefully recorded.
Other managers would do well to learn from this saga.
Sometimes, it boils down to just simple good housekeeping.