Govt must support church services

Editorial, Normal

The National,Wednesday March 30th, 2016

 CHURCHES play a vital role in primary health care service delivery in Papua New Guinea.

The Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Seventh-day Adventist, Nazarene and other Christian denominations account for almost 80 per cent of the country’s health services.

Until only a few years ago, these churches were responsible for everything from building infrastructure, procurement and distribution of medical drugs and equipment and workers’ salaries and wages.

In recent times, the Government has taken over the responsibility of salaries and in some cases allocated operational grants to some of these vital establishments throughout the country.  

However, what was a welcome move by the Government became problematic for the churches, which were not getting the funds on time.

The issue first came to light recently when the Catholic Health Services voiced concern that government funding for church health service providers was not being received on time.

CHS said the release of salary and operation funds to the churches was often delayed.

It added that there had been frequent delays in the release of salary and operational grants for church-run facilities. As a result, many church health workers were not paid for two or three months at a time.  

Surely, this injustice and violation of the rights of church healthcare providers is avoidable.

The O’Neill Government had assured the churches that significant funding had been allocated to the Christian Health Services (CHS) in the last three years to pay for the salaries of health workers.

However, a glitch in the CHS budget allocation this year resulted in K50 million being cut, which caused grave concern among the churches.

Health Minister Michael Malabag confirmed the budget cut in Parliament on Tuesday last week, saying the cuts were for staff salaries and not for healthcare delivery.

He said the National Executive Council was aware of the shortfall and would discuss a solution.

The NEC’s response was immediate with National Planning Minister Charles Abel assuring the church health sector that its K50m budget shortfall would be replaced. “It is unfortunate that we discovered through the bureaucratic process that there have been some 35 per cent cuts,” he told Parliament last Thursday.

Indeed, it is heartening to note that the Government will continue to fund their work to improve health services in the vast rural and remote areas.

The O’Neill Government and the Christian churches have built a good partnership in the delivery of basic health services throughout the country.

This partnership must be nurtured with greater understanding between and among the various parties for the continued and improved provision of health services.  

It is a known fact that the government bureaucratic processes are too cumbersome and time consuming, which result in prolonged delays in the release of funds. 

What may be considered normal system delays by a government institution could easily cause serious disruptions to the provision of churches health services. 

The Government’s recommitment to the Christian Health Services is most commendable and puts to rest fears by the various church health providers that they will continue to face problems of delayed government funding.

What must follow such commitment is ensuring that what is slotted to the various expenditure items is released on a timely manner.  

The churches have previously spoken out on this critical funding issue, which is faced by many other institutions that are dependent on the public purse for the provision of services. Besides the churches, there are other institutions including government agencies which had been facing similar funding problems in the past.

The call by the Catholic Health Services was a timely reminder to the O’Neill Government to crack the whip on the bureaucrats in Waigani to ensure timely payments are made to the churches.

Just as Prime Minister Peter O’Neill warned on the bureaucratic delays in the payment of Tuition Fee Free funds, the Government needs to ensure that churches get their funds on time to continue paying salaries of their health workers who in turn provide these vital services to our rural people. 

The Government’s continued support and financial assistance has answered the prayers of churches in driving the delivery of health services, especially in the rural parts of the country.