DURING the PNG Games in Port Moresby last week, a participant and manager from the Oro province remarked: “We have been given figures, we have smelled the money but the actual cash went somewhere else. It remained in Port Moresby or it went to some other place. We do not see it in Popondetta.
“And now we have a new disaster so we can expect more promises and we will not get the funds.”
The person is also a local level government councillor and he was rather bitter that recent floods had carried away the Girua Bridge separating the Girua airport from Popondetta and his family and home.
Little did he know that his exact sentiments would be shared by Public Services, Works and Transport Minister, Peter O’Neill, this week.
An inquiry must be conducted into the management of funds and emergency supplies that were allocated to the Oro province following the devastation caused by Cyclone Guba.
Mr O’Neill was shocked when he was told that most of the money allocated for relief and restoration efforts following the heavy flooding of two years ago has not been released.
Indeed, he was told that more than K60 million allocated by the National Government for emergency relief and restoration efforts has simply “gone missing”.
K11 million was allocated for restoration work following the 2007 disaster and a further K50 million was parked at the Department of Treasury in Port Moresby but these funds never reached the province.
So where is it? Nobody seems to know.
Government accounting is such that all unused allocations automatically revert to the Consolidated Revenue at the end of each year.
Is this what happened?
In many cases, special funds such as that allocated for the Oro Restoration Authority would be parked in a trust account. We have not been told whether or not there is a Oro Restoration Trust Fund.
To add to the confusion, Sohe MP, Anthony Nene, said K20 million was released only last month to the Oro Restoration Authority. Where did this money come from? Is there more – the balance of K41 million – where this came from?
We are quite flabbergasted that the K20 million took nigh on two years to reach the province – that is if this money is indeed part of the K61 million committed by Government in 2007.
It would have been there earlier if somebody undertook to crawl on his belly over the Kokoda Track with the money.
Seriously, it is a scandal and even criminal that Orokaivans have had to suffer further inconveniences while money was sitting in Port Moresby or was being diverted to other unbudgeted expenditures.
The managers of the restoration activity are the custodians of all funds and goods allocated for the exercise.
Blame must be laid squarely at their feet for their inability to pursue and draw down the committed funds and to get restoration projects and programmes up and running.
Restoration Authority chairman Sinai Brown is over in East New Britain and was to have flown in this week to be briefed on the new flooding disaster threatening the province.
He should himself be now in a position to brief Mr O’Neill and through him, the Government, on what has happened since 2007.
Similarly, provincial administrator Owen Awaita ought to have cried foul earlier and repeatedly if the allocated funds were not forthcoming.
While we would expect allocated funds to move smoothly from Finance and Treasury to the provinces, our PNG processes are not as smooth and pristine as one would expect them to be.
One has to be constantly knocking on the door and reminding people to get what is rightly due to one.
Many have been the times when allocated funds have been rerouted or misdirected into some unbudgeted area.
So where is the missing K61 million?
A proper assessment needs to be undertaken into the management and implementation of funds and goods which were given for disaster relief efforts in the province.
We must remember that the Government was not alone. Governments, multilateral agencies, NGOs, community organisations and individuals donated in cash and kind to this effort.
We have not seen a report on how all these charitable efforts helped the disaster-stricken people of Oro.