Putting the cart before the horse

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday July 1st, 2013

 DEPUTY Prime Minister Leo Dion said last week that the Government had pumped the lion’s share of the national budget into the provinces and districts.

“This was a conscious decision,” he said, “to demonstrate that we trust the provinces and the LLGs to be our allies in the service delivery system.”

Well said. Can the trust be reciprocated?

That is an answer Dion, more than most, should have a ready-made answer to having served as governor for two terms of parliament.

We would submit, yet again, that while the desire might be high to become “allies in the service delivery system”, capacity is next to nil on the ground for actual goods and services delivery.

There is nil capacity for planning, for budgeting, for accounting, for reporting, for project submission and appraisals – just about every link in effective service delivery is missing in the districts and at the LLG level.

Before actual disbursement of funds to the districts, the Government would have done well to empower the provinces and local level governments as institutions first.

In the absence of that, we are afraid much of the money might end up being spent in the wrong places and for the wrong purposes.

This is exactly what the District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) was originally intended to do before it was hijacked during the Somare administration to become cash handouts in the current form.

The DSIP had its beginnings in the 2002-2003 period under the tutorship of then Treasurer, Bart Philemon.

It was part and partial of a package. 

Having inherited an economy that was hemorrhaging badly through unplanned expenditure immediately prior to the elections by the then government of Sir Mekere Morauta, the treasurer performed a number of emergency operations, capping expenditure and putting in place safety valves through debt and fiscal strategies.

Then he programmed for a comprehensive district treasuries roll-out programme. 

The concept was to build up each district’s capacity to plan, budget and account for funds. 

There was to be built a modern district treasury with sufficient housing for workers, with back-up power, with the treasury doubling as a postal agency as well as a Bank South Pacific agency. 

Vehicles or boats were purchased and a Visat was set up with a dedicated link-up to Treasury HQ in Waigani.

Up to six treasury officials were to be established right there in the districts. 

In places as remote as Telefomin, men wept openly when the treasury was opened and teachers could get their cheques paid and cashed at the same time at the treasury office.

The next programme was the DSIP. This was to involve the roll-out, not of money, but of public servants into the districts. 

Again outlay of substantial amounts for housing and equipment.

The roll-out as planned then was to have a medical team headed by a doctor or health extension officer to run a fully fledged rural hospital, a police contingent, a Correctional Institutional Services contingent with a rural lock up, agricultural officers, education officers, treasury and provincial affairs officers.

The mobilisation was to be massive but in the end trained men and women in all divisions of the Government were to be present on the ground in districts.

Finally, the financial disbursements were to be made to the districts.

Such was the plan but alas it was hijacked, knocked on its head and the current exercise got into high gear.

This is placing the cart before the horse surely. 

Money has gone on ahead without there being people on the ground to manage it. 

Where it ends up is anybody’s guess.

It would have been so much easier had Philemon’s well-planned and organised strategy been implemented fully.

But, as always, politics got in the way. 

Politics is having its way, all the way now and that is never a good thing.