Is Govt counting the beans?

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday July 9th, 2013

 ALWAYS, in Papua New Guinea, the attention is on expenditure and rarely on revenue.

Yet, expenditure can never happen without there first being revenue.

Expenditure plans take up perhaps 95% of the space in national budget documents. Public accounting takes the cue, concentrating heavily  on public expenditure. 

Very little attention, it would appear, is given to revenue collection for the country.

This is perhaps a tragedy because the country is not collecting all the revenue it can or possibly, money is being siphoned off in corrupt deals with impunity because of this lack of scrutiny.

Where revenue is concerned we see only two major sources: Taxes and aid.

By concentrating on these very easy sources of revenue, the government has taxed the heart and soul out of its workers and the few corporate citizens which have not been granted any exemptions. 

It is fair to say the government is taxing its citizens into poverty rather than alleviating poverty as it should be doing.

And the government performs the annual begging ritual of going, hat in hand, from donor to donor – a sorry sight at the door of the club of industrialised or industrialising nations when it should be a proud and long time member of this exclusive club.

Other sources of revenue appear to have been put in the too hard basket. 

Too much scrutiny, too much procedure, too much counting, too much calculating.

Take the fishery industry of the country. How much fish and other marine resources are being taken from the country, illegally or legally? Who keeps a count and we mean a actual physical count of the types of fisheries harvested, the weights involved, what the current market prices are and how much is the harvester getting for them? How much of that is due the state? 

We are certain that if all these questions were answered in the positive, even the amounts that could 

be legally collected would knock one or two aid donors off the list.

And what about forestry? Do we keep a count of all the logs being shipped out? Who assesses how much the resource ought to be fetching and what the state’s share should be? Do we know how much the resource provinces and the resource owners are being paid? 

We are certain the missed millions are substantial.

Mining and petroleum, the big money spinners, also must come under scrutiny.

Who counts how much gold is taken out or how much copper or how much oil is pumped out? 

Are there government officials performing the actual task of physically being on the spot, day in and day out, crosschecking all that the companies are reporting as their daily, weekly or monthly production figures? Should that not be a primary task? 

We do not accuse resource companies of cheating but if government scrutiny is weak, the temptation to under-report would be high.

The Lands Department should be a mega-million kina spinner competing with Customs and the Internal Revenue Commission. So too should Labour and Industry, Immigration and Citizenship Services.

There are government license fees, exploration fees, stamp duties, passports, work permits, visas – the list is very long.

Revenue collection details must be detailed to the last toea in any budget to make any sense of the opportunities available in Papua New Guinea.

The country is reduced to a being beggar because it has given scant attention to money-making opportunities while focusing on spending what little there is in the kitty. 

That is a shortcut to economic oblivion, we reckon.