Kali moves DPM ahead

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday January 27th, 2016

 WHEN John Kali took the reins at the Department of Personnel Management in 2009, it was the dawn of a new era for this key government agency.

Like other run-down departments, DPM lacked capacity and competency. 

“It was weak and there were cumbersome government processes. Each division was working in isolation which resulted in poor performance,” Kali recalled this week.

He revealed that DPM had achieved all its outcomes in its 2011-2015 corporate plan which include effective leadership, high performance, ethical workforce and information sharing. The development of the corporate plan in 2011 was aligned to Papua New Guinea’s Vision 2050.

As one of the Government’s top bureaucrats, Kali should be proud of his achievements over the past five years.

A hallmark of his stewardship was the overhauling of the large and cumbersome public service payroll, which had been open to abuse by unscrupulous people for many years. 

Several years ago, a shadow provincial public service had been allowed to actually siphon large amounts of public money. For a time it seemed that a separate payroll of ghost civil servants was being run in parallel with the actual payroll of actual people occupying the same public service jobs. 

Over time the ghost employees were uncovered and their free money stopped flowing although recouping all that loss is much too difficult. Similar situations have and do exist in other provinces and yearly the country continues to lose money through loopholes in the public service payroll.

By and large, the losses can be put down to the Government’s ineffective and outdated accounting and reporting processes and systems. It is unfortunate that some people take advantage of such loopholes for their own selfish gain.

Nonetheless, DPM and the Finance Department have made a lot of progress in the management of the public service.

Manpower and financial audits have contributed to various downsizing and rightsizing exercises.

Investments in information technology replacing old paper records and manual entries have contributing to cuts in costs and savings and it can be said that government accounting is today is far better than it was then. 

And through the use of better and newer software in information technology a lot of wastage in the public service can be cut out.

More than K1.2 million was saved through a rationalisation of the government payroll by DPM which Kali said was achieved through an exercise aimed at restoring the integrity of the government payroll system.

These savings were the result of the “data cleansing” of government agencies, which ensured that public servants were being paid the correct rate against their job classifications.

The savings implied that a number of public servants in the government agencies – in this case mainly provincial administrations – have been paid incorrect rates against incorrect job classifications. 

According to DPM, the savings could more than double if the data cleansing approach was applied to all government departments and agencies.

The operation is part of a programme involving the checking of records of every public servant to ensure that he or she is being paid at the correct rate.

Further savings are expected to be made through the elimination of illegal employees and a crackdown on unattached and unbudgeted positions. 

In some instances, employees were being underpaid but Kali said the software used would identify this error so some public servants could expect a pay rise. 

Interestingly, the exercise identified public servants in two provinces being overpaid by K587,000 and K346,000.  For provincial departments, these are large amounts that can fund a programme under any division or branch.  

The use of modern accounting software and payroll management systems has proven results. Investing in this area in order to rectify and streamline expenditure, accounting, auditing and reporting mechanism is commendable.

While it is true that a lot of money has gone to waste or deliberately stolen, ineffective and outdated government record keeping and has also contributed to some of the loss over the years.

More investment in modernising the public service, especially at the provincial and district level would naturally lead to result-oriented spending and cut out wastage.

Over time this will ensure government money does not get lost in a jungle of paper and to ghost public servants.