Promises and more promises

Editorial, Normal

The National Thursday, 26th January 2012

FREE education, the rock on which the O’Neill-led regime is building its case for what most pundits are describing as a vibrant and proactive government, will face its truest and toughest test yet in just two weeks.
Already, there can be heard some loud grumbling. Schools are asking parents to pay fees now and get refunded later.
Some fees will be paid by secondary and vocational schools students who, we are told earlier, will not pay any tuition fees.
 Our advice is that nobody should be attacking the government on whether or not it promises this or that and fails to or half-delivers on a promise.
Everybody who has ever lived in this country knows what politics is like. If anybody thought that some fundamental shift has been made in the bedrock of politics in this country, we urge them to think again.
With the best intentions in the world, no government can deliver utopia.
Papua New Guineans have suffered a lifetime of lip-service. If nobody has learned from that, they will never do so.
The important indications are that the O’Neill government has stuck by its promise to have a substantial part of the money available at the start of the school year.
We have received confirmation that K300 million is already in the bank having been deposited on January 9. This is excellent news and something that has never happened before.
Now it is up to other people in the social contract hierarchy to pull their weight. School boards and managements ought to have started accounts and supplied information including the number of student intakes this year to the Education Department.
It is up to the Education Department to encourage that and to give the necessary information to Bank South Pacific which will then roll out the K300 million in its vault to the respective schools.
If schools have not done the leg work and expect government to bring home the goodies, they will never get it.
That said, nobody should complain if schools are insisting that parents continue to carry the burden of educating their children.
Do not bring children into this world if you are not prepared to care for them. This is all there is to it. It is the bottom line.
Schools must protect their primary interest which is to provide quality and consistent education for their pupils – at all costs. The academic year and scholastic programmes must not be held to ransom.
The mantra of state-funded public services such as education and medical care is noble and genuine, and seems to be borne out of a desire to alleviate
society of its burdens however far-reaching and ambitious goals always come at a price.
To not take into account the pitfalls and problems associated with such policies is to be living in the here and now and disregarding the future which ironically is what education is all about.
The O’Neill regime has commendably moved to put their money where their mouths are and released funding of K300 million. 
The same was the amount allocated in the national budget handed down two months later in December showing to many observers that O’Neill and his majority government were intent on following through.
The staff at the Finance and Treasury office was required to work through the Christmas and New Year period to prepare the funding mechanisms for the roll out to commence as soon as possible.
We are told K300 million has so far been transferred to Bank South Pacific to facilitate payments.
So far, so good. But, then, the education minister sends out mixed messages with his recent statement saying only a portion will be paid.
Is it a simple matter of making allowance for slow public service machinery and therefore spreading the available resources over the entire public school system with the plan to complete payments as the year progresses? It sounds like a plausible strategy. But with this being an election year one can only hope intentions are pure. We appeal to parents to adopt a cautious approach and not be suckered into putting all their eggs in the one basket.
They must remember that in PNG history, free education has been mooted on many occasions but has never become a reality. With the current political turmoil, coupled with a looming election, nothing is for certain. What is certain today could just as easily be a distant memory post-elections.
The onus is on parents to accept the O’Neill government in good faith but at the same time to practise some good sense and set aside money for worst case scenario should a new government with different priorities be formed later this year.