By ALEXANDER NARA
It was a wet and murky evening.
The hour hand under the cracked glass of my old ‘palang’ phone was sniffing 6pm as I stepped out from beneath the roof of the Senior NCOs Mess at PNGDF Headquarters, Murray Barracks and into the fading twilight.
Light figures of showers left behind by the heavy downpour burrowed their way through my thin black jacket and chilled my pathetic scrawny frame.
Shadows had crept in under the thick rain trees alongside the soldier’s parade ground and cold squally winds hissed furiously through the branches as if conspiring with nightfall to rob that day of its last light.
A small bird, probably scared of the wind’s discourtesy chirped shrilly and fled down to seek comfort on neatly cut lawns.
My lungs begged for more narcotics as I lit another cigarette, sucked in the nicotine and stared across the parade ground and through the trees towards stumpy blue-painted buildings that nest PNG Defence Organisation (PNGDO) headquarters.
For many years, heavy clouds of criticisms hovered over Department of Defence (DoD) administrative and financial structures, fuelled with allegations of serious maladministration, poor coordination and ineffective leadership.
Lack of policy-guided planning and budgeting had brewed unplanned expenditures over those years that have smeared inefficiency on the organisation’s ability to fully coordinate and achieve the Commander’s Intent and priorities in line with government directives.
I took another pull at the cigarette and stood there staring at the buildings, almost silhouetted against the overcast sky.
Few doves sailed over the rooftops and headed towards light patches of mist that hanged about loosely around the peak of nearby Brigadier Hill.
It was in recent months that the department managed to raise its sails of integrity and dignity once more amidst the reeking odour of in-house differences, greed, nepotism and lack of transparency and accountability that is drifting up from underneath old carpets along the corridors of DoD.
Recently, the acting Secretary for Defence Trevor Meauri said internal governance and control mechanism were slowly but surely improving and would positively address these issues.
This will serve as the principle basis for Defence to realign its plans and activities in force growth and development.
The desire to do more lurked about his eyes as he smiled and simply waved aside the subject of allegations saying there were more important issues on security, PNG, its people and sovereignty to concentrate on as well as provision of strategic guidance in the hierarchy’s decision making.
Meauri in support of the Commander’s Intent also placed strong emphasis on budget discipline and cost consciousness during the first quarter Force brief recently where he highlighted concerns relating to the Defence spending trend over the last five years.
These may have orchestrated pathways to a backdrop of continuous ‘cut of the pie’ from the Government’s oven but Meauri affirmed that the past year and half since taking up office in early 2017 had set the frameworks to realign Defence spending, embraced with transparency and accountability.
The winds have gone blustery, forcing the cigarette to burn faster as I sucked in what was left of it and stepped further under the trees along the parade ground, feeling my clean boots sinking into the surrounding soggy mud.
An evening bird shrieked somewhere high up on the tree branches, adding a lead vocal to an orchestra of nightly insects that had begun their tuneless carol from somewhere under the nearby shrubs.
A commanding voice from the gun gate cut through the air then faded into the echoes of late twilight traffic along Hohola way.
The winds of cynicism that usually blew in from Waigani may have changed sequence and the black clouds of criticisms hanging low over the organisation had begun to fade as more efforts were steered towards appropriate expenditure driven by government policy directions.
Meauri said the Department was fully operating and committed in providing appropriate administrative and financial management advice, guidance and support to the PNGDF as well as sound reporting back to government which had been neglected over many years.
I let out a puff of greyish smoke that tasted more like ash and tossed the butt away as I negotiated my way through the trees and the gathering blackness heading for an undisclosed location.
The last light may have died behind the thick clouds hovering above but I know the sun is set to shine very soon over Murray Barracks come morning when shadows will retreat to nowhere and the orchestra of nightly insects stopped their tuneless carol from under the nearby shrubs.
Dawn it shall be at PNGDF HQ.
By ALEXANDER NARA