Take heed of warning signs

Focus, Normal

The National, Wednesday June 10th, 2015


The TFF policy is an important policy of the O’Neill Government. The Government has allocated a significant amount of money (in excess of K600 million) annually since 2012 to provide paid school fees for children attending elementary school to Grade 12 level, including  Flexible and Open Distance Education, approved permitted schools, and inclusive education.  

As a result, over one million students are benefiting from the TFF policy which sees an increase in enrolment across all grades of students and particularly increased enrolments of female students for the first time in as many years.  

The TFF funds have impacted many schools across PNG. While the TFF policy has touched many families in a positive way by easing the school fees burden on parents, many schools (genuine and ghost schools) and some crafty individuals are benefiting from the TFF funds.  

Given the varying nature of difficulties and problems experienced by the schools and the Department of Education, opportunists have capitalised on the messy situation to abuse the TFF funds.

The Government has a duty to get to the bottom of the problem of the uses and abuses of the TFF funds beginning at the national level and cascading down to the individual schools to ascertain that the TFF funds are spent on the intended purpose to achieve the intended objectives.  

Level or the degree of use and abuse of the TFF funds can only be established via a thorough investigation conducted by a competent authority.  

Only then will we be able to understand the dynamics involved and the realities in existence to strengthen or improve the service delivery mechanism used to distribute TFF funds.

The Government is intent on making sure that TFF funds reach every school regardless of where the school is located and every school gets their fair share of the funds available in their correct school bank accounts before school starts in a school term or the academic year.  

The establishment of Tosali investigating team is an excellent start to focus on the impediments and challenges in disbursement of the TFF funds.  

An investigation is the only way where we can identify what the bottlenecks or impediments are in our efforts to successfully deliver the funds.  

Hopefully the investigation will reveal those individuals and corporate entities which have been incorporated between 2013 and 2014 and draw TFF funds into their respective accounts in the last two to three years. 

Let’s go a step further and state here that completing a successful investigation is half the fun and I have no doubt the Tosali investigation team will have great fun uncovering the ‘who is who’ and ‘who owns what’ in using and abusing the TFF funds.  

In order for the fun to be complete and to give further hope to the greater majority of the people in PNG, including parents, teachers and head teachers, the individuals (or consultancy companies) found to be corrupt and corruptly obtaining TFF funds should be held accountable and prosecuted.  

Such individuals are much smaller than PNG as a nation and they should not hold the country to ransom for their selfish interest.  

If we don’t prosecute anyone then the perpetrators will walk out a free person and render our system of financial management and accountability a laughing stock.  

It would make a mockery of the TFF policy and the subsequent management and disbursement of the fund to operate in the same chaotic manner, having negative impact on the education indicators for PNG.  

The perpetrators will move swiftly to continue to use and abuse TFF funds to build their personal wealth at the expense of the taxpayers and PNG’s education indicators do not get any better.  

The 2017 national election is just 24 months away and it won’t be surprising if someone is accumulating or utilising TFF funds to contest against the very government that came up with the TFF policy.  

Just out of curiosity, has the residue or the unused TFF funds from the previous years been returned to the consolidated revenue or could they have been diverted to many more ‘ghost service providers’? 

Further, if the TFF residue funds are not returned, then where are these funds?  

Such questions critical and significant to be asked and answers sought through an investigation.  

Wrongdoers must be caught and punished so that the greater majority of the students benefit from the TFF policy by having access to a school which offers quality educational opportunities.  

If wrongdoers are not prosecuted and arrested then we have been unresponsive to the bells and whistles or the red lights flashing in our system to pay critical attention to the use and abuse of TFF funds.  

The red lights are flashing because there is a problem in the delivery of the TFF funds. 

By turning a blind eye to the warnings given by a sector of the community will only exacerbate the work of the small band of criminals actively involved in the management and administration of the TFF funds to channel resources away from the intended area.