Probe scholarships issue promptly

Editorial, Normal

TWENTY-FIVE recipients of NZAID’s women in agriculture scholarships will not undertake studies this year because the Timber and Forestry Training College (TFTC) has not acquitted previous funding it received.
The New Zealand High Commission said yesterday that the TFTC had not complied with its reporting requirements, so no scholarships will be awarded at the TFTC for 2010.
The High Commission said: “As with all our PNG partners … New Zealand requires full reporting and acquittals for any funding that we provide.”
These scholarships are regarded as the centrepiece of New Zealand’s development assistance to PNG, with more than 2,200 women recipients so far.
New Zealand has had a long and productive relationship with TFTC, and this current administrative blunder sends a bad signal and has the potential to impact on future funding.
This is a very serious issue that needs to be investigated promptly. The TFTC administration must consider it a top priority to acquit all funds received.
Its failure to comply with the reporting requirements has not only placed the opportunities for these 25 women in jeopardy, but also those of potential recipients of this scholarship in future.
This is unacceptable. Agriculture is an important sector of the PNG economy, contributing immensely to GDP growth, poverty alleviation and rural development.
This is the sector that provides real opportunities for our people, the majority of whom live in the rural areas, to meaningfully take part in the growth and expansion of our economy.
The Government has recognised this, and in recent years allocated K100 million each year on top of recurrent budget allocations to grow this sector.
Women’s role in the social and economic development of PNG is increasingly being given the recognition it deserves. The government of New Zealand, on behalf of its people, has generously made available resources so women here can go on to become major and influential players in the agriculture sector.
The opportunity opens doors for them. We cannot allow the slackness, incompetence and inefficiency of one or two people to have this door close shut in their face.
The TFTC and administration of the University of Technology must immediately get to the bottom of this urgently.
We do not wish to be judge or jury to say the non-acquittals are a result of mismanagement, but The National did run a series of stories last year on this institution that still leave some questions unanswered.
According to information made available to us last year, two executives at TFTC were alleged to be turning TFTC into a “corrupt institution” by abusing funds and assets for their own personal satisfaction.
We had reported then, from the documents given to us, that more than K250,000 in donor funds, university grants and internally acquired funds had allegedly been abused.
Prior to our story, college staff had actually petitioned the Unitech administration to investigate these allegations. We understand a private firm was hired to check out the TFTC books.
Unitech Vice Chancellor Dr Misty Baloiloi said back then that “any further action or decision will need to await the outcome of the audit.”
We would like to kindly remind the VC to tell us what the outcome of the audit was and whether any action was taken.
We hope that the allegations raised then are not linked to the suspension of the scholarships.
It is bad enough as it is, because such scholarships are given on a mutual understanding and trust between the donor and the institution.
The TFTC has a moral and statutory responsibility to acquit and report on how the funds were spent. And Unitech must ensure that this happens.
We urge TFTC to delay no more so that the 25 women recipients and any other future recipients can obtain the education they deserve.
Every institution that receives donor funding must understand that it has a duty to ensure proper financial management in accordance with appropriate norms.
The scholarships are a generous gift from the people of New Zealand. Our womenfolk deserve to utilise them to the fullest.