Health Department let down

Editorial, Normal

The National – Thursday, December 2, 2010

IN this era when the government hands down record budgets, and there is runaway excess funds sufficient to bring on successive supplementary budgets, what is happening to the management of simple things such as payment of bills.
The non-payment of a mere K11,040 worth of electricity bills has put at risk K6 million worth of medicinal supplies, which are kept in the Lae area medical store, for most parts of the country that requires constant cooling.
It is not good enough that the accounts section of the Health Department yesterday released a cheque to pay the bill.
The power was turned off at 10 am on Monday.
More than 24 hours had elapsed. Were it not for the use of a diesel generator by the time the power was switched on, most of the medicine could have been beyond recovery or use.
Much of the drugs are antibiotics and other medicine for pathology and laboratory.
The drugs in the area medical store supply Morobe, Northern, Eastern Highlands, Chimbu, Western Highlands, Enga, Manus, West Sepik and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
The bills were sent to the Health Department on Nov 15. PNG Power Ltd had waited a full two weeks before disconnecting electricity to the Lae area medical store.
What is absolutely ridiculous is the explanation given by the Health Department.
Payment was delayed because only a faxed receipt was on hand rather than the original copy.
While it might be standard practice in government circles to always action payment upon receipt of an original receipt, or bill or whatever, it is quite incredible to put at risk so many millions of kina worth of medicine in order to get an original receipt.
For that kind of action, a senior officer ought to be dispatched to Lae or to PNG Power to get that original piece of paper authenticating payment.
PNG Power would not normally disconnect health or education institutions and would allow them to pay in incremental instalments until the total amount outstanding is paid.
This is good, but it can be an exception if the department is hard-up on cash. It should never become a practice.
PNG Power, while wholly government-owned, is a business entity with its own bills and operational costs to meet.
How long can departments lean on PPL charity, particularly when the departments are supposed to be flushed with cash?
From salaries and allowances to batteries for torches used in emergencies, bills must be paid on time.
Nothing is critical to the efficient running or management of any body as is the prompt payment of bills for goods and services.
If there is a slack in this regard, efficient running of the place will suffer.
PNG is a great place with great potential but, almost across the entire spectrum of public and private sector, management of micro issues such as payment of bills and management of leaks, wear and tear and other maintenance issue is so poor.
And, so long as these seemingly miniscule issues are left unattended, while everything plan for the big picture, PNG’s poor management and poor accounting records will continue and get worse.
The big picture is already in place with the much-publicised vision and mission statements and strategic plans.
The real magic, which can breathe life into them, is when the managers of this country attend to the small, everyday mundane issues.
This entire medicinal affair in Lae also brings into focus a further issue.
Generators are not an option. They are essential to the smooth operation of all important institutions and installations in the country.
Had it not been for the presence of the diesel generator in Lae, K6 million in medical drugs would most definitely be flushed down the toilet.
We have defended the action of PNG Power in this instance, but it can never guarantee the country’s uninterrupted power supply.
Most electrical and electronic items are lost to power outages and surges than anything else.
It is incumbent upon all organisations to opt for secondary power supply options. They will not regret this advice.