Honour MoA and other commitments

Editorial, Normal

The National – Friday, December 17, 2010

WHEN hundreds of men and women gathered on the steps of Vulupindi Haus, the building which houses the important departments of Finance, Treasury, and National Planning, the reaction from the government was unanimous.
These are Port Moresby-based con artists who wanted to have a last go at the national purse before government accounts for the year are closed.
Indeed, we are led to believe that instructions were given to the police commissioner to disperse the crowd using whatever force necessary.
In many respects, there is much truth in the theory of con artists who sluice off tens of millions of kina meant for landowners throughout the country.
But, there is another side to this story which was revealed by Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru yesterday, and this begs attention.
Agiru said the majority of people gathered outside Vulupindi Haus were there at the behest of a number of ministers of government.
He said the people had been invited and that they were promised funds. They were there to collect on their dues. All landowners from the oil and gas resource areas of the Southern Highlands, the pipeline route people of the Gulf and some from the plant site outside Port Moresby.
Agiru said the people were there with letters of commitment which carried the names of ministers of the ministerial economic committee, letters which promised certain amounts of money which, taken together, amounted to K155 million.
The governor also said there was a second group of people outside Finance who had applied for and wanted release of what is referred to as “seed capital” to assist them to participate in LNG spin-off projects during the construction phase.
In both instances, Agiru said it was criminal negligence for the government and its instrumentalities to withhold money that was promised to the people, or the seed capital, to participate in business opportunities.
Indeed, the governor had warned that unless the outstanding K120 million or so of seed capital money is released before Christmas, he would take the matter to court to compel the government to honour its duty to the people.
We agree with Agiru in both respects. 
If ministers have made commitments, totalling K155 million to landowners during the Kokopo umbrella benefits sharing agreement meeting but failed to factor these commitments in this year’s and next year’s budgets, then, they are singularly to blame and they must be held accountable for what appears to be a public exercise in deceit.
If the ministers have made a commitment individually, or as a group, then it is incumbent upon government to honour these commitments.
That is the nature of the system of government we have. A commitment by a minister commits the state.
As Agiru said, the government is faced with honouring commitments for which not a single toea had been budgeted.
If this is indeed true, then, ministers have been cheating our landowners.
Since they are said to have been members of the ministerial economic committee, they are identified and each will have to come out and answer for this most serious allegation.
It is indeed sad that new Acting Prime Minister Sam Abal and new Finance Minister Peter O’Neill are burdened with honouring these “irresponsible and unbudgeted commitments”.
Still, we further agree that “commitments are commitments” and this, or any government, is obliged to honour them.
The government cannot honour those ministerial commitments by taking money out of the outstanding MoA funds, infrastructure development grants or the high impact projects.
These funds were committed to projects that had been identified. The outstanding MoA funds are commitments from as far back as 1992 and are money meant for projects in Kutubu, Gobe, Moran and the Hides gas for electricity.
These projects have contributed enormously to PNG’s economy at a time when the economy was going through one of the worst crises through the 1990s and the government’s singular neglect of its commitment to the MoA borders on criminal negligence.
Now this government has made a commitment, it must and can only go to what this money was intended for in the agreement. It must not be diverted on ministerial whim.