Far more pressing needs than Falcon

Editorial, Normal

SIR Julius Chan will defend to his dying day his Government’s decision to buy the Grumman II aircraft for use by Government VIPs. It was necessary, he will tell you. For him and others, it was a symbol of pride and maturity as an independent nation.
He will tell of how good it always felt when he was on State visits when he could descend out of the skies onto a foreign land in his own aircraft at his own time, never dictated by commercial airline schedules. He loved the thrill of picking up leaders from smaller Pacific Island nations, particularly Melanesian neighbours Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, on the way to meetings such as the South Pacific Forum.
Although he might baulk at the price tag, it is almost certain Sir Julius will not say much against the Somare Government’s decision to buy the K100 million plus Falcon jet. It is certain that he is not alone in this.
It is easy to understand this reasoning and if all things were equal, this newspaper would support the purchase. All things are not equal, however. There are so many areas where K100 million could be put to much better use for the benefit of the people.
At the same time that the jet was being received in Port Moresby, the deadly cholera epidemic had spread into the Angoram electorate of Public Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare. Five people have been confirmed dead and 90 infected. 
From there it will follow the waterways up the Keram River into the Ramu River and down into the mighty Sepik. It is easy to see that the epidemic will spread into inland areas of Madang, East Sepik and Sandaun. Given the people’s lifestyle, this disease will become a major disaster unless it is contained swiftly.
So just how much money has the Government set aside for cholera and dysentery since the discovery was made in Menyamya in Morobe province in the middle of this year?
HIV and AIDS continues its uninterrupted assault upon the people of PNG, yet the fight is carried on mostly by overseas donors such as AusAID and UNAIDS. Malaria and pneumonia, both preventable and curable sicknesses, today claim more lives than all other diseases.
National doctors will today be given their long awaited awards. How much is in it and will they be happy? In the end, what is the worth of a doctor in this country to the people and what is the worth of a luxury aircraft?
Outstanding awards for police and Defence Force, nurses and the Public Employees’ Association are due this year as well. Although the Government has allocated money for these purposes in the 2010 Budget, will it be enough? Would not an additional K100 million in the kitty have made a handsome difference?
Implementation has fallen behind expectation on the Medium Term Development Strategy and by its own admittance, the Government is “way off track” in meeting its international commitments to the Millennium Development Goals.
The “Green Revolution” never quite caused a stir in the countryside, never mind a revolution.
If there is a public body that requires modern equipment, including aircraft, it is the PNG Defence Force. The PNGDF has repeatedly demonstrated its capability to Government of what it can do. With its surviving Casa aircraft, it has airlifted agricultural produce out of remote areas, attended to civic duties and ferried Government teams to remote locations for the Treasury rollout programmes.
A number of new aircraft, including one with luxury configurations, could be added to the air element to continue this task more effectively. As with Australia and other countries, the military could look after the Government aircraft since security for the VIPs can be part of its role.
When you superimpose the purchase of an expensive Government-use-only aircraft against a background of urgent need, it would seem the Government has become uncaring and blind to the needs of the people.
It would seem as if it has become unnecessarily extravagant and some might even go so far as to suggest that it has done so at the expense of its own population.
There would be far less hue and cry if allocations to needy areas matched or surpassed spending on one-off items like the Falcon aircraft. As it is, K100 million far exceeds the budgets of most Government departments. And that is quite unfair.
There is a far greater need to house all the various departments in central government offices in Waigani by renovating the Marea House and Central Government Office, which received K15 million in next year’s budget.