Has our public finance system collapsed?

Editorial, Normal

IS it to be believed that the public accounts system of the PNG Government has collapsed completely?
This is what we are led to believe by the Auditor-General and the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee.
What is staggering beyond words is the fact that not a single comment has come from Finance, Treasury or the Department of Prime Minister and, indeed, from any agency of Government or minister of State to deny or accept the reports by the two constitutional watchdogs.
Year in and year out, the same reports are tabled in Parliament. They are accepted and debate is postponed – indefinitely.
How can we talk about planning, about programming, about budgeting and any other activity of Government and governing if the very important process of accounting for public monies is weak or, as has been mentioned in the latest reports into the trust accounts and trust accounting system of Government, has “collapsed completely” and has “failed in its functions and effectiveness”.
Hundreds of millions of kina are disappearing from the public purse through trust accounts.
The Government has lost control and command of the public service and, in particular, trustees and trust accounts.
This had distorted the constitutional scheme to a point where the executive Government has lost almost all control over public monies, trust accounts and fiscal accounting.
In doing so, it had ceded power to unaccountable and unelected public servants and mere ministers who treat public money as their own.
The Government has a regime for approvals ranging from the smallest in the hands of a section 32 officer through to hundreds of thousands approved by departmental heads, millions by the Central Supply and Tenders Board, to tens of millions by Cabinet and hundreds of millions by Parliament.
It would appear this system has long been abandoned. Abandoned too are guidelines for use of money and, particularly, oversight functions by auditors.
We know not what exactly is going on out there but there is a huge black hole into which hundreds of millions and even billions are disappearing. It is small wonder that PNG suffers from chronic underdevelopment on the one hand but its ministers pronounced that there are billions in surplus funds on the other hand.
The number of Government trust accounts is unknown. Some say there are 2,500 trust accounts across the public sector, others say there are between 10,000 and 15,000 trust accounts while others number them in the hundreds.
The balances of those trust accounts that can be traced are uncertain.
Even the identity of the trustees is unknown.
The law on trust accounts has been ignored for years by responsible officers of the public service.
Trust instruments are ignored or breached and trustee obligations and duties are breached on a daily basis.
These are just some of the long list of faults which the committee has found in the trust accounts and trust accounting system of PNG.
Scarcely one agency of Government could make even basic reconciliations of trust accounts or monies passing through these accounts, the PAC said.
The systems of recording and accounting for monies held in trust have failed to the point where there are virtually no records, reconciliations, accounts, reports or documented histories of trust accounts available to the Auditor-General.
 Trust accounts have become uncontrolled, abused and misused by the very persons whose duty it is to properly manage the accounts and the monies passing through them.
The PAC has called on the Parliament to take control immediately. Indeed, Parliament must exert its full authority and call upon executive government and its agents to account for all the public monies they have spent.
The abuses occur right across all sectors of Government down to the district level.
These failures directly impact service delivery and development and, therefore, the welfare and well-being of Papua New Guineans.
We agree entirely with the PAC that these failures, misappropriation and illegal conduct are “a direct challenge to the power and independence of the National Parliament, the Government and, in particular, the fiscal power of the executive”.