Marape walking the talk

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday April 8th, 2016

 THE distribution of District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) funds has been a contentious issue since the O’Neill Government took office.

The Government maintains that it has been in distributing the funds to the 89 districts throughout the country while the Opposition has accused them of discriminatory practices.

Finance Minister James Marape this week confirmed that there were sufficient funds to support the DSIP programmes and the tuition fee-free education policy in the second quarter.

Marape said the first 10 per cent of DSIP funds would be submitted to the districts this week, “irrespective of whether they are in Opposition or Government”.

The minister insisted that the political leadership has been fair to both Government and Opposition MPs.

He added that government revenue in other sectors was starting to pick up. “We are on target, we’ve paid our bills.”

This is welcome news for all MPs, especially those in the Opposition who have been skeptical of the Government’s sincerity and fairness in distributing DSIP funds.

Late last year, Opposition members like outspoken Bulolo MP Sam Basil were rather concerned that they would not get their total DSIP funding for 2015.

Basil said his district had received only K4 million of the K10 million budget allocation and it was uncertain whether the balance would be paid before year’s end.

The Deputy Opposition also questioned Marape whether the remaining balance of K15 million DSIP funds would be paid by the end of the financial year or will be rolled over to this year.

Marape had clarified that an additional K5 million was specially designed and quarantined for health and education infrastructure. “It’s money that is parked at the National Planning Department waiting for districts to submit plans for education infrastructure and plans for health infrastructure.”

He urged all provinces and districts to submit their health and education infrastructure plans to National Planning so that funds could be released.

Finance Secretary Dr Ken Ngangan provided further clarification, saying the remaining balance of DSIP and Provincial Service Improvement Program (PSIP) funds would be paid before the close of government accounts. “All districts have received K6 million and the remaining balance of K4 million will be paid to the districts before the close of government accounts.”

Despite fears by Basil and other MPs, Ngangan said the remaining funds would not be rolled over to this year.

Ngangan also clarified that the disbursements of the funds to the districts and the provinces was based on government cash flows.

“They were budgetary allocations by the Government and it will be paid once the funds are available. If we have budget appropriations, that doesn’t mean that the provinces and districts automatically receive all their funds. It depends on the cash flows. MPs in the government or opposition all received their K6 million. We have given assurance that the funds will be paid to each districts and provinces before the close of account.”

Moreover, Ngangan pointed out that the Finance Department did not differentiate between Government and Opposition MPs in the disbursement of DSIP and PSIP funds. 

“Whether an MP in the opposition of government, everyone gets it, there is no distinction. Some MPs in opposition are complaining but that is politics. We are not only paying DSIP and PSIP funds to MPs in the Government.”

The Finance Minister’s assurance this week should put to rest further fears and concerns about delays in the distribution DSIP funds.

The Opposition and critics have continuously accused the O’Neill Government of using the DSIP programme to buy political support.

With the next general elections 15 months away, the use or abuse of the DSIP programme will come under even greater scrutiny.   

Vanimo-Green River MP Belden Namah had been one of the main critics of the Government’s handling of DSIP funds when he was Opposition Leader.

Namah had claimed that the Government has been “discriminatory and unfair” in the distribution of the funds.

We agree that delays in the disbursement of DSIP funds not only hurt the Opposition MPs but more importantly affect the delivery of vital government goods and services to their electorates and people.

It is therefore reassuring to note that Marape is walking the talk on this hot issue.