Crackdown ends fun and games

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday July 10th, 2013

 GOOD call, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Chief Secretary Sir Mansupe Zurenuoc.

We would have wanted the ban on travel by senior civil servants to have been enforced several months earlier, but as the saying goes, better late than never.

Sir Manasupe announced yesterday O’Neill had placed travel restrictions on Personnel Management Secretary John Kali, Attorney-General and Justice Department Secretary Dr Lawrence Kalinoe, Communication and Information  Technology Secretary Pau-

lias Korni, Defence Secretary John Porti, Internal Revenue Commission Commissioner-General Betty Palaso, Chief Migration Officer Mataio Rabura and Tourism Promotion Authority head Peter Vincent. 

Now, we await the next list stopping certain ministers from travelling abroad for the balance of the year.

It really did not need to come to this.

The prime minister announced soon after he took office last year that there would be a moratorium on overseas travel by ministers and their departmental heads.

The only minister excluded, apart from himself , was the Foreign Minister, who by virtue of his job, must travel abroad to represent PNG at important commitments.

That is a prime ministerial directive. No minister or department head should chose to flout it. 

The only person who can grant a minister or department head an exemption from the ban would be the prime minister himself.

The amount of gallivanting since then appeared to all as if the ban had been quietly withdrawn.

Ministers were already travelling before the ink was dry on the prime minister’s directive.

At least one secretary of an important department was removed by the prime minister for being abroad when important government policies were not implemented.

Still the message did not hit home and the travelling continued unheeded.

Nobody seems to appreciate the role of Papua New Guinea’s ambassadors and high commissioners abroad.

They are the representatives of the country. 

Surely they can be called on to attend conventions, conferences and even undertake surveys and inform relevant departments or ministers.

The persistent travelling despite the ban served to reflect on the leadership of the prime minister as well .

It seemed he was unable to ensure his troops heeded his decrees.

Well, we are glad the prime minister has finally decided enough is enough and is cracking the whip.

We urge that he does not stop there.

He must also tell errant ministers to toe the line.

It is alarming to hear that before 2013, the government’s annual travel bill was in the extravagant region of between K20 million and K40 million.

That is money that could have been put to work in many positive ways in the country. 

It could have put medicine in half a dozen hospitals or built several classrooms and   maintained roads, bridges, jetties or airstrips throughout the country.

In his letter yesterday grounding the seven department heads for the balance of 2013, Sir Manasupe said: “As a departmental head your primary responsibility is leadership of the department. Any absences from the department have significant effects on staff morale and productivity.”

Sir Manasupe ought to follow up this action with a mid-year review of work in progress on the three impact projects that each department head and his minister promised the country they were committed to achieving this year.

Ministers and department heads who show little or no progress ought to be asked to show cause why they should not be replaced by  more competent people who can deliver.

This is the year of implementation and all government departments and agencies should be marching to that tune and that tune alone.

The overseas trips, aside from the millions of kina squandered, have become plain embarrassing.

Boarding carriers other than Air Niugini, you sometimes hear airline employees address PNG dignitaries in friendly terms such as: “Welcome back, sir. Where are you off to this time?”

It might be an ego boost for them to be so recognised but are they travelling on own money and on their own time or that of the people of PNG who employ them?