Deal better with service providers


THE PNG Electoral Commission may find dealing with service providers or small business owners throughout the country a bit problematic in the 2017 national election.
After the experiences of the 2012 elections and by-elections, and the fact that the commission still owes service providers at least K17 million, they would need some convincing to render their services without being paid up front.
In fact one such business said last week that the commission would have to pay up front for their services in any future election-related operation.
Hire car owner Atis Deme of Madang is among many others small businessmen and women throughout PNG who have provided goods and services to officials engaged in the last general election and a few by-elections thereafter.
In Deme’s case, the Madang election office hired his two vehicles to conduct the 2013 by-election for the Madang open electorate.
He said from Madang last week that the vehicles had been used for several weeks without any payment made.
His trade store on Karkar Island is likewise owed money by the district returning officer and his polling officials for the foodstuff they had obtained during the 2012 general election.
Many others like him in the province are also waiting to be paid and it appears they will be paid only after passage of the 2017 national budget.
These are people like the women’s catering group, the village trade store owner, the dinghy owner, the three-car hire company or the district guest house owner.
They are part of what is commonly referred to as the informal economy and the small to medium enterprise sector.  They may not be providing significantly to employment or the nation’s tax revenues but have an equally vital role in the wider economy of the country.
The PNG Electoral Commission had relied heavily on the services provided by this class of entrepreneurs in the 2012 election and the few by-elections and even earlier.
For ease of operation with a mutual understanding, election managers and returning officers in respective electorates have found dealing with such service providers convenient.
And those small business operators have, in good faith, provided their services even on credit believing that the election managers and ultimately the Government would pay, even if that took a little while.
However, the wait has extended to three or five years now.
The Electoral Commission was told during a recent provincial election managers’ meeting that service providers in Madang were owed about K4 million.
Combined with outstanding payments to other service providers throughout the country, the Electoral Commission has a total debt of K17 million to be factored into its overall preparations for the forthcoming national election only a few months away.
The treatment given by the PNG Electoral Commission to these small businesses throughout the country should not be repeated in this and future elections.
It reflects badly on any government and particularly this government who preaches the promotion of SMEs and wealth creation for the small people on the one hand yet one of its organs is seen to be choking some of these very people.
Unlike bigger businesses, most of these small enterprises do not have the benefit of credit facilities or bank overdrafts but instead depend entirely on their daily operations and pretty much a lot of faith they would not have to contend with long-standing debt.
Those who have had the unfortunate experience of the 2012 election and by-elections thereafter are both worried and wary of the Electoral Commission and its officials at the respective provincial centres.
They would naturally be reluctant to dealing with the Electoral Commission in the 2017 national elections.
Electoral Commission officials on the ground are themselves subject to assault by frustrated service providers like in the case of the Madang provincial election manager who last week told of being attacked.
Shortfalls if funding is a budget issue, perhaps beyond the control of the Electoral Commission itself.
However, the commission will have to better deal with service providers in future elections and pay their bills as a matter of priority.
Alternatively, for it to avoid dealing with a myriad service bills in every election it might want to consider awarding large contracts to or several reputable companies to cater for its needs in the conduct of the elections.

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