Help provided by cooperative societies

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday 14th Febuary 2012

LOCAL communities of the Porgera valley, in Enga, celebrated the launching of a rural farmers cooperative society last week.
Adding flavour to the celebrations was the delivery of K3 million funding to the organisation by local MP Philip Kikala. The funding was reported to be from the national government’s development budget.
During the presentation, Kikala, urged the society to make use of the funding for the benefit of the members of the society and the community at large.
At about the same time in Port Moresby, Minister for Commerce, Trade and Industry Charles Abel made a request to the Task Force Sweep team to investigate alleged misappropriation of funds earmarked for cooperative societies. The minister was concerned that substantial amounts of money have been allocated through the development budget to cooperative societies in the country since 2007 and the government has not received any acquittals to date. The minister named some of the recipients, but we assume there are many such societies out there, that may have received different level of funding or other forms of support, either from the state or from other sources.
The minister now wants to see that mechanisms are in place to ensure cooperatives receiving government funding are accountable and transparent. This is a step in the right direction as huge amount of money is being paid to various cooperatives and not many have lived up to their expectations.
Cooperative societies exist in almost every country in the world and have played crucial roles to a range of human needs and aspirations. They have proven to provide vital services in health, education, gender equality, the environment, agriculture, to name a few.  By providing such vital services, they have contributed to the wellbeing of members, to their communities and to overall nation building.
Cooperatives have demonstrated that they can contribute to economic and social development. Though the value which cooperatives contribute to society may differ depending on their individual objectives, they stand to play a vital role in finding solutions to unemployment and promoting other much need skills. They ensure their members are in a better position to meet their everyday needs, especially in rural areas where jobs are scarce and basic services are lacking.
Cooperatives are usually formed by groups of people with a common purpose to address specific need or problems. Most cooperatives exist to capture various opportunities in the economy to address the needs and aspirations of their members and their communities.
They aim to empower the people by enabling even the unprivileged segments of the population to participate in economic activities.
They can create job opportunities for those who have skills but little or no capital and provide the necessary support to promote self help in communities.
Agricultural co-operatives have been the most popular traditional mode of co-operative development and we have a number of them in PNG including the recently-launched Porgera Farmers Cooperative Society. Establishment of agricultural cooperatives in PNG should not be seen as accidental as agriculture remains the backbone and over 80% of the population depend on it for their livelihood.
There are many such cooperatives in the country and there have been reports of many successes as well as failures.
Cooperative societies are founded on good intentions and they are seen to be critical to rural development in general through creation of employment, access to markets and social services.
Where cooperatives are seen to be achieving their objectives, we see no reason why the government or other development partners should not support them. Their roles are important and they should been seen as an agent of change in rural areas where hardly any government services are seen.
On this note, we commend the vision of the Porgera community in launching their cooperative society. The government through their local MP is also commended for making available much needed funding. We hope the money is put to good use and many people in the local community will benefit from it.
We also hope the concerns raised by Abel are noted seriously. The success or failure of many of these cooperatives depends on how they are managed, including financial resources.
Many failures are reported to have come about due to poor management.
Cooperatives should be responsible to their members and to society at large. Their roles and presence in many rural areas, provides them some sense of hope, especially to rural folks.
The onus is on the cooperatives to demonstrate to their members, their communities, the government, and to the people that they have a purpose to exist and that they are equal partners in development.
They should ensure their roles are clearly defined for us to know exactly why they exist and what is expected of them.
While cooperatives are independent organisations, we should consider them as important partners in development. And for those that have been successful, we see no reason why the government should not support them.
And, where possible, the government should enter into partnerships with cooperatives for the benefit of the people.