Good advice for bureaucrats

Editorial, Normal

The National,Monday 11th of February, 2013

THE National Leaders’ Summit, convened last Monday by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to discuss the implementation of the 2013 Budget, should have succeeded in getting the attention of the top bureaucrats to set in motion the government’s money plan.
With effectively 10 months to complete this mammoth task, the public service will be under immense pressure to perform a miracle by implementing the budget according to the wishes and whims of the O’Neill government.
The nation is all too aware of the current inefficiencies and other shortcomings of the public service but the prime minister’s message is loud and clear – the budget must be fully implemented.
O’Neill has not said what he would do with senior bureaucrats who fail their assignments this year but if the recent removal of a particular departmental head for failing to implement a key government policy is any indication, it would indeed be wise to for them to administer what the good prime minister has ordered.
Some good advice for bureaucrats and politicians alike, have been offered by two foreign experts in The National today.
Stephen P Groff, vice-president for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Paci­fic at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), highlights his concern about a number of issues affecting the PNG economic, notably “inclusive economic growth” and poverty.
Prof Stephen Howes, director for the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University (ANU), on the other hand is concerned about the deplorable state of “front line service delivery” and the country’s ability, or lack of it, to address this issue or challenge.
According to Groff, the PNG economy has undergone a remarkable 11 straight years of economic expansion, averaging gross domestic product (GDP) growth of almost 6% per annum.
High levels of foreign in­vestment coupled with strong commodity prices for PNG’s mining, oil and agriculture exports have stimulated output, enhanced government revenues and buffered the economy against some major global economic shocks.
This impressive growth performance, Groff says, has also been made possible by prudent government monetary and fiscal policies.
Furthermore, structural re­forms in financial services, telecommunications and aviation have boosted business investment and encouraged economic diversification.
“Yet, PNG continues to face significant challenges in translating a booming economy into ‘inclusive growth’ – the kind that brings opportunities to even the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society,” Groff says.
“PNG’s future prosperi­ty, and the eradication of poverty, will require much more than simply high economic growth.
“Active steps must be taken to balance the country’s economic expansion with more inclusive policies.”
Groff also warns that PNG is currently not on-track to meet any of the millennium development goals by 2015.
His statement should start ringing alarm bells in the ears of all politicians and bureaucrats who profess to have the pulse of the country at their fingertips.
How are they going address these challenges in this so-called year of implementation?
Does the prime minister really think his top bureaucrats will walk his talk?
If it’s any consolation, the ADB has offered to help the government achieve the results by working across the country from central agencies in Port Moresby to rural local level governments, supporting their efforts to execute timely, cost-effective projects that provide value for money for the local communities.
Howes also warns that too much funding of the PNG development budget will result in a shortage of funding for frontline service deli­very.
While the budget is continuing the tradition of rapid expansion of government expenditure on key areas of development, too much emphasis is being put on new infrastructure and too little on the recurring budget which caters for maintenance on frontline delivery services such as health, education and law and order.
Indeed, this is an exciting time for the O’Neill government’s budget with its many reforms and initiatives but as the good professor correctly stated, monitoring of implementation of funding will be the key to its success.