The answer lies in PNG

Editorial, Normal

THE Government introduced the Medium-Term Development Strategy in 2004. This was the Somare Government’s five-year blueprint for socio-economic development running from 2005 to 2010. The life of the MTDS ends next year.
There are many things said in this plan, good things that, if all of them were implemented, the country’s socio-economic indicators would most certainly improve. The very first guiding principle in the MTDS calls for private sector-led economic growth.
The plan explains that this would involve triggering the private sector, as well as ordinary Papua New Guineans in rural communities, to become productively engaged in growing the economy by harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit. This is the land of spirits. We have got plenty to spare but how has the Government gone about harnessing this particular spirit?
Between 2004 and 2009, how many new Papua New Guinean businesses have started up, for instance? Or how many new jobs have been created?
Remember these are the years when economic growth was huge and the Government continued to tell us it had billions of kina in reserves and in trust accounts. Government received and spent close on K40 billion between 2002 and 2009. A further K7 billion is planned for next year.
Where is this money going?
How is it that our roads continue to deteriorate, hospitals lack medicine and schools lack desks, black boards and text books?
How is it that children continue to die from preventable diseases and mothers in labour?
How is it that our people have turned away from their coffee, coconut and cocoa gardens and are begging for money and food on street corners?
The answer does not lie in the bank accounts of some foreign businessmen of Asian origin.
Neither does it lie in a conspiracy theory concocted by the World Bank or the IMF or Australia and New Zealand.
The answer lies in PNG – but not in the planning such as the MTDS, not in the budget documents handed down last week or all the other budgets, or in all the documents presented to Parliament and the furious debates in that hallowed chamber and not even in all the Cabinet decisions.
The answer lies in the character of Papua New Guineans. It lies in the will, the determination and the convictions that Papua New Guineans have to carry out all that they set out to achieve.
The plans are magnificent right from the first National Public Expenditure Plan in 1977 to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) signed in 2000, the MTDS launched in 2004 and the Vision 2050 launched last Wednesday.
The focus of each plan is right and the strategies for their implementation are do-able and for the most part within our means. When the MDG were announced in 2000, PNG took stock of its own house and downgraded some of the goals, making the strong case that under the best of circumstances, it could not be expected to deliver on all the goals because it just did not have the capacity.
That was an admirable confession but now five years shy of the 2015 goals, the country is not only short of the MDG, it is far short of its own downgraded goals and those others in the MTDS.
Looking for PNG’s entrepreneurial spirit is the right place to start because that spirit is not resident in some beautifully crafted language in a planning book. The spirit exists in the flesh of humans, of political, bureaucratic and business leaders and in their ability and skills to ensure that any plans made are translated into action. This is the answer, the missing link.
Some think, and the current MPs come from this stock – that pouring more money into the rural sector will “empower and transform the rural sector and promote sustained economic growth”. This is not new planning but it is new action and it has the potential to produce the desired result if all the hundreds of millions of kina pouring through this policy are spent on the purposes intended.
All the allocations are being distributed through Waigani via cheques made to district treasuries or to MPs’ names, which are picked up by each MP. Once the cheques of the Office of Rural Development or Finance offices are handed out, the public accounting system in PNG loses touch of them.
About K1 billion has been spent so far in this fashion. Next year, a further K250 million to K300 million will be distributed in the same way. We have seen no discernable increase in the level of services to the rural sector but we have seen far more cars and houses being bought in the cities and urban centres of PNG.