By BARNABAS ORERE PONDROS
THE Department of National Planning and Monitoring has been described by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as incompetent and unable to manage its own budget, Papua New Guinea’s development budget and effectively implement service delivery over the last five years.
In a report, compiled after perusing reports by the Auditor-General’s office, the PAC concluded that the department that was tasked with planning the nation’s development path was incapable of managing budgets or undertaking proper accounting.
“This situation has prevailed for years,” the PAC said in the report and concluded that “the result of this failure is clear” because development and services are not delivered.
“The money that is allocated is generally without control or oversight and does not result in coordinated development for our people,” the PAC paper added. This grim picture comes after the department has been given the undertaking to implement PNG’s biggest development budget ever – K3.4 billion next year.
Government sources present during budget lock-up had said the increase in allocation for development budget was timely, as access to rural areas, including services and infrastructure was worse than 20 years ago.
According to the PAC, the situation at the department is protracted because the Auditor-General’s reports dates back to 2006.
Back then, the department was responsible for a development budget of just over K480 million.
It was also noted that the department management took no steps over the last five years to address these failures identified by the Auditor-General’s office.
“This committee has found a management team in denial of these failures and unable to even bring themselves to admit the need for internal auditors … a basic tool of management that the department has not had for years.”
The PAC said the department had no internal systems, plans, processes or ability to conduct and manage its affairs lawfully.
Another grim finding is that the department has been under constant political interference which has grown in a “haphazard and chaotic manner … over the last two decades”.
“This is a significant national failure that needs to be urgently fixed,” the PAC said.
It said during its investigations the department executives “failed to cooperate and give candid and true answers” to certain questions.
“In particular, when the inquiry asked searching questions and addressed failures in the department, the head absented himself from the inquiry.”
It is also understood that department officials refused to cooperate with the Auditor-General’s office “to a point where responsible department officers walked out of the meetings”.
In its recommendations, the PAC urged Parliament to accept its report and for it to be addressed without delay.
It also recommended that:
* Urgent attention be given to devise a system of implementation and control of development budgets that ensure effective service delivery and full accountability;
* A new system must be based on precise statutory foundation that clearly sets directives, powers, performance benchmarks, audit control and penalties for non-compliance, among others;
* The Government gives service delivery the highest national priority and make the department become an professional agency;
* The Auditor-General’s office be adequately funded and resourced to conduct regular audits; and
* A management team be recruited from external sources if necessary to ensure professional and effective performance.
The report that will be presented to Parliament for tabling also comes at a time when the department is undertaking key development initiatives, both in-house and externally.
These include the drafting of the amended National Planning Act, formulation of the long-term development strategy 2010-30, public private partnership (PPP) programme, church-State partnership programme and the PNG development assistance database (PNG DAD) among other on-going initiatives.
Last month, during budget lock-up, Planning Minister Paul Tiensten reflected on the initiatives and said the main target was to achieve high quality investments and programmes that would enhance capacity to improve service delivery.