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Official: Money is a national embarrassment

A REPORT HAS described PNG’s public finances as a "profound national embarrassment" which has robbed people of basic services.

Public finances are so shambolic that only now has the Public Accounts Committee been able to hand down a report into the 2007 financial year.

Committee chairman Martin Aini told parliament the record keeping was so bad they could not confirm the balance of public accounts.

He said money had been spent in breach of the constitution and other laws, bureaucrats had given themselves huge and illegal cash advances, and many departmental heads were untrained and ignorant of their duties.

"Those failures have resulted in a failed system of delivering development to our citizens," he said.

Treasurer Peter O'Neil agreed the committee's findings were embarrassing.

Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation


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Barbara Short

If dishonesty is behind all the inaccurate account keeping then PNG people have a big problem.

Remember the story from the Bible of the rich man who kept building bigger barns...and then he died. Jesus reminded his followers how they should live and it is certainly not by wanting to get richer and richer.

If a man clothes his soul with the garments of honour, purity, honesty and goodness, nothing on earth can injure them. If a man seeks the treasures of heaven his heart will be fixed on heaven.

But if he seeks the treasures of earth, like wealth, inevitably, one day, he must say goodby to these treasures, for as the grim Spanish proverb has it, "There are no pockets in a shroud."


Paul - I believe lack of accountability is the actualisation of a more fundamental problem. Lack of principle.

Without principles, what have we?

The principle in question is honesty.

Accountability is the route by which we assure each other of our honesty in dealings.

We make laws and establish processes to keep each other accountable. But we have lost each others trust.

Methinks, that the issue of the PNG/Melanesian Way - defining our principles - is important right now because the PNG people still trust the old notions that their 'own' elected representatives will bring benefits to them, by hook or by crook.

That's no longer true, and there are so many more crooks to choose from.

What does it say about a nation where people vote back into power leaders indicted of crimes, what, that we have a vibrant democracy, or perhaps have few choices of leaders?

It is because we have fewer good men who can afford the 'price tag' of taking on political leadership.

I believe that people and politicians are coming to the negotiating table without any fundamental guiding principles. And I'm not talking about some vision statement.

If the people of PNG are tired of getting robbed, then they shouldn't allow thieves into their house.

Paul Oates

What David is saying goes to the heart of the problem: accountability.

Everyone knows what the problem is and everyone talks about the problem but no one is prepared to confront the problem head on. Let’s explore a few scenarios.

Scenario 1: You work in an office of a business owned by your boss. You need some pens and paper and you go to the stationary cabinet to get some and find it empty. You know you bought some pens and paper yesterday using the office petty cash. Only you and another have access to the cabinet.

It is the start of the school term and the other worker has children at school. What do you do? Do you ask where the pens and paper are? What do you tell the boss when he asks you what happened to the petty cash?

Scenario 2: You work in a government department where you are responsible for providing a service directly to the public. A person comes to the public counter with a request.

After you start work on the first person’s request, another person arrives and requests you give urgent attention to their request. A ‘six pack’ appears as if by magic. Whose request do you process first and what would you do with the ‘six pack’?

Scenario 3: You’re responsible for processing government funds. A person arrives with a cash cheque that is signed by a government minister, yet there is no paperwork or justification as to why the cheque has been drawn.

When you ask for more details, the minister rings you personally and demands to know why you are holding up the government’s business? What do you do?

Scenario 4: You are responsible for a publicly funded project. A number of quotations are received from contractors. One of the contractors calls you and invites you to have a meal with him at a expensive restaurant. What do you do?

These scenarios are not peculiar to PNG. They happen every day, all around the world.

Installing a presidential system of government in PNG for example, will not change the need for accountability at the grass roots.

David Kitchnoge

Bernard - Perhaps a presidential system is what is needed to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

It's called 'the tone at the top'. If we get it right at that level, then maybe we can expect to see some positive changes seeping through the rest of the government machinery.

Our problem is lack of accountability. If we can’t make the system accountable, then we should try and directly hold the head of the system accountable.

He then turns around and holds those immediately under him accountable and the chain reaction should ripple down the rest of the food chain.

Bernard Yegiora

Reginald - Every educated PNGean knows about what is happening in the country including the politicians. But we choose to be ignorant because we want to live and enjoy life. Maybe that is our Melanesian way? I don't know.

We can discuss and write about it but nothing is going to be done because it has already become a norm. The essence of my previous comment is that it has already become a bureaucratic culture and will be difficult to change, even if there is a more honest regime in place.

What is the guarantee that a new transformational political regime will be better? Even if a new government goes in they will put in new people who will then recruit their own cronies and the practice will go around in a cycle.

I guess that is human nature, how moral can we be? how rational can we be?

Reginald Renagi

This has been happening for many years under the watch of a weak and incompetent political leadership.

The pollies themselves know what is going on.

But they have been too slack to fix the problems for a very long time because they are also the problem.

The present government has proven in the last nine years that it is corrupt, and not interested in solving the country's problems.

It is time to get rid of it now and put in a more honest and tranformational political regime!

Bernard Yegiora

Steve - What you said is very true, many university graduates are without permanent jobs. However, the question is can these university graduates go against the tide, do they have the potential to challenge the status quo?

When they hear that unqualified people with secondary school certificates are working in different government departments because they know someone in authority it is a slap in the face.

Over the years people working in various government departments are running the departments like their personal business, removing people who are a threat to them and who they do not like, in their place recruiting their own cronies.

The cronies are puppets controlled by their master. They jump when their master tells them to jump and sing when they are told to. They know that their job was given to them on a golden plate by their master so they must do anything and everything to please their master.

Currently, a certain departmental head has removed people who he feels are a threat to him or people who he does not like. He has now put people who are his cronies to head the various divisions in the department making it easy for him to do what he wants.

If this corrupt culture continues we will have a lot of unemployed university graduates, and the problem of proper financial management will persist because everyone will act in their own interest.

This corrupt culture has from observation made it difficult for university graduates to make a difference.

From my understanding of what John Fowke wrote, I think university graduates have the potential to be the "outspoken and idealistic people" who can change the public service system.

But if they are recruited through wantok system or if they fear for their jobs they will find it difficult to bring positive change to the status quo. Meritocracy is fast fading in PNG.

In the case of unemployment, what is the Department of Labour doing? Can it or the Office of Higher Education keep a record of all the students passing out of universities and colleges?

Also they should have a system in place to track down their place or type of employment and give the data to the government so we can know the exact number of graduating students who are employed either in the private or public sector.

Barbara Short

OK John, then they are "dishonest".

How do you teach PNG people that self-respect and the knowledge that others respect you as being an honest person, is more precious than gold?

Fear God, Honour the Queen, Salute the Flag.

Maybe the reason why some Australian people seem to be no longer interested in PNG is because they no longer respect the people because of their dishonesty.

This is all very sad. The truthful minority must stand up to those who are dishonest.

God bless PNG.

John Fowke

Steve and Barbara - You had your tongues in your cheeks and sad little smiles on your faces when you wrote that, didn't you?

But you mustn't make ironic little jokes about the overwhelming prevalence of dishonesty in PNG society.

It has gone a long way to paving the way for a most depressing future in the near and mid- and perhaps even the long term unless some unusually outspoken and idealistic people step into public life there and forcibly put a stop to all the thieving and laziness in public life.

Dishonesty is not dishonesty when its an employer or a stranger who is on the losing end. That's the flip-side of the Melanesian Way.

Steve Gallagher Darong

It is time now that the government got rid of unqualified bureaucrats and officials in public office. The old aged people holding onto office jobs and other jobs in public departments should retire and go home.

There are lots and lots of degree holders who are capable of doing the job who are still without jobs. Ministers from all the departments should now look at this problem and solve it, otherwise the problem will continue.

Barbara Short

I have this feeling that lack of understanding of basic accounting methods is behind a lot of the accusations of corruption.

Someone needs to start up some drive for general public understanding of what is revenue, what are costs and what is true profit.

It appears that the Public Accounts Committee is very understaffed.

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