Bart Philemon’s deformed baby

The treasury rollout programme was a brainchild of former Finance and Treasury Minister Bart Philemon.

BART Philemon, 77, is the man responsible for the various service improvement programmes – District Service Improvement Programme (DSIP), Provincial Service Improvement Programme (PSIP) and Local Level Government Service Improvement Programme (LLGSIP).
Only Philemon never intended for it to turn out in its current format and those were not the names he gave his programme. The name he gave his programme was the District Services Rollout Programme (DSRP). There were actually two programmes both intended to complement each other.
They were the District Treasury Rollout Programme (DSRP) and the District Services Rollout Programme (DSRP). The District Treasury Rollout Plan (DTRP) was underway when Philemon got the boot as Finance and Treasury Minister for putting up his hand up as a successor to Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare, contesting the leadership of the National Alliance around April 2006.
Philemon championed the hugely successful District Treasury Rollout Programme under which he introduced treasury offices in all the districts throughout the country.
Under the plan he built a district treasury complex in each district complete with V-Sat communications direct to Waigani Treasury HQ and cheque printing facilities for all district treasury operations.
Working together with the Bank South Pacific, Post PNG and Telikom, the Treasury complex had banking and postal services as well as limited telephone lines connected to V-Sat. Up to six staff accommodation were built for the treasury staff and vehicles and boats provided.
For the first time public servants operating in the districts could get their pay at the district office and projects and programs could be paid for on the spot.
Throughout the country a new pitch in excitement was introduced. Philemon personally drove the program, arriving at each destination to open the district treasuries.
He shed tears publicly with local people who were seeing a level of services they thought would never visit them in their lifetimes.
A staunch Lutheran from childhood Philemon obtained a grant from the church to attend St Peter’s Lutheran College in Brisbane and after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of PNG he worked in the aviation industry working his way up to assistant general manager of Air Niugini and later as Chairman of the National Airlines Commission.
He distinguished himself as chairman of the South Pacific Games held in PNG in 1991 when PNG achieved the greatest medal haul in the history of the game.
Philemon entered politics at the provincial Morobe legislature in 1984 and in 1992 he was elected to the National Parliament. His time in the Morobe Provincial Government is quite colourful as has been alluded to in this space before but this discourse will skirt that for now.
In a 20-year term across four parliaments, Philemon has been an influential politician serving variously in the ministries of public Service, Transport and Civil Aviation, Foreign Affairs, Bougainville Affairs, Finance and Treasury, and Public Service and Sport.
He gave his advice honestly and stood by it, losing his commission twice as a result of this resoluteness – once when his friend, now the late Sir Mekere Morauta sacked him for giving “unwanted advice” and another time by the late Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare for daring he (Somare) to step down and offered himself (Philemon) in his stead to lead the National Alliance Party..
But it is his District Services Rollout Programme to which our urgent attention is here drawn.
In 2002 Grand Chief Sir Michael came to power and appointed Philemon Finance Minister.
The economy was in the doldrums. Sir Mekere had done much to give Independence to financial institutions and introduced stability into politics with the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates law but he had allowed runaway expenditure in the 2002 National Elections by his People’s Democratic Movement which placed the economy in an untenable position.
Ever the astute economist Sir Mekere bitterly resigned soon after the national election from the PDM Party he led as Prime Minister and formed his own PNG Party, now led by Opposition Leader Belden Namah.
It fell to Sir Mekere’s friend Philemon to restructure the economy, which he did, introducing such concepts as the Fiscal Responsibility Act which set the debt to GDP ratio, limiting and the ambitious programme around 2003 onwards.
Philemon, a staunch Lutheran with hands-on experience at managerial as well as farming experience behind him, is an honest and practical man.
He served for a time at the Morobe Provincial Government before entering national politics in 1992.
Whenever he is not in office, you are most likely to see him on his farms outside Lae.
Now this man, who had seen both the colonised and independent Papua New Guinea in his mature years, was ever conscious following Independence that what little services there had been in the rural areas pre-Independence had retracted and regressed.
As Finance Minister Philemon quickly applied the brakes with austerity measures such as introducing the Fiscal Responsibility Act which capped debt at a certain percentage of GDP.
Then he came up with his spark of brilliance on the District Treasury Rollout Programme (DTRP) for which, both he and his Prime Minister at the time Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, have received very little recognition. The DTRP was only a precursor, an appetiser as it were. The main course was on its way.
You see, Bart Philemon wanted to establish a fully functional public service operation down at the district level to roll out the services that were missing or sporadic.
Under his District Services Rollout Programme (DSRP) which was to follow the treasury rollout, he wanted to transfer district education advisors and inspectors, health advisors and managers, a full contingent of police personnel with a district commander, a district lock-up with CIS presence, a full contingent of agricultural extension officers and advisors, transport personnel, and representatives of all other relevant government departments and agencies which had business at the district level.
He intended for donors, development agencies and non-governmental organisations to follow in the Government’s footsteps and establish in the districts where the real bulk of the work of development was.
He had started with the district treasury rollout to establish the essential financial, banking, postal and telephony requirements that would be needed to make the programme work.
He budgeted K50 million per district for the programme.
Alas he was never to see his brainchild alive. It was still born.
His was a spark of brilliance never before seen or acted upon, an answer to the crippling goods and services malady that has afflicted the country and held it in a stranglehold.
Then that which was strangling development efforts of the Government arrived in the nick of time to blow out Philemon’s spark. POLITICS happened.
It was stillborn in the year it was meant to be rolled out, the fine year of 2006.
After Don Polye refused an offer from the Papuan camp at March Girls to lead the Government offering allegiance to the National Alliance Government of Somare, Philemon announced he would challenge Somare for the party leadership. Somare triumphed and gave Philemon’s Ministry to Patrick Pruaitch, Forests and National Planning and Implementation minister at the time.
Philemon lost his Finance Ministry and the country lost the District Services Rollout Programme.
Pruaitch lost no time in implementing Philemon’s programmes. He continued with the treasury rollout programme but tweaked the district service rollout programme and gave it a political slant.
Calling it the District Services Improvement Programme (DSIP) and budgeted K10 million per year to go to the districts with the proviso that the checks would be collected and the programmes in the districts designed by the sitting MP of each electorate.
To appease governors and LLG presidents who were left out of the DSIP, the PSIP and LLGSIP were added later.
It was an instant hit, of course, and had there ever been a time when Patrick Pruaitch should have put up his hand to become Prime Minister, it was then.
Many politicians have become millionaires overnight and this funding arrangement has changed the political landscape of the country much, affecting electoral politics.
Entering Parliament is now seen as a conduit to instant riches and the MP has quite suddenly become CEO and Chairman of District.Org, a company rather than a political entity.
The National Budget at present time approves each year K890 million under the DSIP (89 electorates at K10 million each); K445 million in PSIP (K5 million per electorate for provinces) and K198 million in LLGSIP (K0.5 million each for 396 LLGs). A total K1.53 billion of the National Budget is expanded through this programme.
Across one term of Parliament, if these funds are religiously allocated yearly, a whopping K7.65 billion is spent by politicians.
Each district receives K50 million across a five-year term of Parliament. Each province is allocated K5 million per electorate so the amounts vary for each province but the total disbursed to all provinces is K455 million.
A glaring discrepancy occurs here. Notice that the Provincial Services Improvement Programme (PSIP) is awarded at K5 million for every electorate in a province when each electorate is covered by the DSIP at K10 million each. The DSIP covers every LLG in the country and yet each LLG is awarded its own K0.5 million.
In truth then every one of the 89 electorates or districts in the country is allocated K15.5 million a year under these various guises.
Do the districts actually see K15.5 million or a staggering K80.5 million each term of Parliament is a million-kina question that requires answering.
In the humble opinion of this writer, there has never been an idea born since Independence that offered a decent answer to PNG’s developmental problems.
Never too was a brilliant idea so roughly pulled from the birth canal, and through rough handling, so hideously deformed and offered up on the altar of political expediency to the country in the name of development.
I repeat what I said in this space last week. It is a useless exercise to continue to fritter away at the form and structure of the decentralizsed government system in the name of goods and services delivery and to allocate more and more resources towards such a system if the delivery is not happening whatever system is in place.
Perhaps, and this is a serious issue for consideration, it is not the system but the man that requires major adjustment.