Too much money in MPs’ hands

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday July 3rd, 2013

 PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has said more than once that the country has nothing to show for all the money that has flowed into this country’s coffers in the past few years.

Much, much more is about to flow into its treasury when the Ramu Nickel/Cobalt mine starts exporting; when the LNG project harvests its first shipment of gas next year; and when major new mines start up in Wafi and  Frieda River.

Where is all this money going to be invested to finally reverse the trend O’Neill speaks about? 

Will it show up in major infrastructure projects that the nation can be proud of for years to come?

Even the redistribution of financing to the rural areas might not show up in anything, as we have alluded to in this space on many occasions.

This is a hugely maritime country with major river networks crisscrossing the mainland and the seas that separate it from its island provinces.

Yet our marine transportation system is so poor as to be almost nonexistent.

Government-chartered air and sea transportation no longer operate to remote parts of the country.

Infrastructure for remote areas which are largely dependent on air transportation is absent. 

And when there is an air accident, government leaders join the people to decry the operators, threatening to shut them down. 

Sadly, air transportation will be the only means of travel available to many remote locations on the coast, in the highlands and the islands. 

But airstrips for remote locations hardly warrant any mention in budget papers.

This most definitely is not a case of there being not enough money to go around.

This is a case of sheer management incompetence which must be placed squarely at the feet of the government.

This newspaper’s bone of contention is that there is far too much money given to individual politicians to distribute. 

The various schemes such as the National Agriculture Development Programme (NADP) into which K200 million has been sunk annually but which has evaporated into thin air according to reports before Parliament,  the Rehabilitation of Education Sector Infrastructure (RESI) funds which receives K300 million annually, the District Services Improvement Programme (DSIP) where K1.2 billion is parked annually and the Provincial Services Improvement Programme (PSIP) which recives K20 million annually, are all distributed by members of Parliament.

However well-intended the rationale behind these funds might be, politicians are not the people to handle their distribution.

Two simple reasons demonstrate clearly why politicians should never be charged with tending money.

Firstly, their administrative and financial accountability capacities in their electorates are inadequate.

Secondly, they have to meet far too many demands from their supporters in the electorates to distribute money properly for much-needed infrastructure. 

By and large, much of the money has been and will continue to be misspent for these reasons alone.

Treasury officials have reported that officers dealing with implementing the budget are running into problems because they are under tremendous political pressure to find money outside of the budget. 

We understand several in senior positions have actually died prematurely because of the stress.

In 2012, an additional K2.2 billion was asked for by the executive government outside the 2011 budget we heard on the grapevine. That was clearly against the Public Finances Management Act.

To correct this anomaly, PNG must find a way to ensure that politicians should only be given some discretionary funds for their electorates. All else should pass through the public service machinery which should be reformed to ensure it performs as the implementation arm of government.

When legislators and policy makers – who are the politicians – try to take on additional responsibilities as implementers when they clearly do not have the capacity, there will be big problems.

This is PNG’s problem.

And it will get bigger so long as this is not reversed.