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Many MPs in PNG have wasted the people's money

JOE WASIA

IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA political candidates, especially in national elections, come up with constructive and attractive policies to be elected to parliament. However, from experience, people PNG have seen they are goats in sheep’s coating.

They have never done anything to develop the country. The lifestyles of the people have never changed. About 75% of all Papua New Guineans are still living in rural areas where there are no basic infrastructure services like health, education and roads.

I was sad to see the attitude of people living near Lake Kutubu in the Southern Highland’s – in the Nipa-Kutubu electorate. When I asked around the villages about the 2012 general elections, they said they have nothing to do with it.

They attached no importance to voting as none of the successive MPs had done anything for them. I think similar stories would be told by people in other parts of PNG.

So how much have MP’s done for their people? They should have done a lot. After all, many millions of kina were given to each MP under the district services improvement program over the last three years.

This is a big shame for the elected MPs. They have been feeding on people’s money by investing overseas and diverting funds into their personal accounts.

A few corrupt practices have been identified by the Ombudsman Commission, Task Force Sweep team and police investigation teams, but most money is still unaccounted for – probably never to be seen again.

We pray that such greedy and self-centered leaders will not be returned in this election. This nation is for God and not for devils.

Joe Wasia is a former president of the Enga Students Association at Divine Word University

Comments

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Joe Wasia

I agree with David. Increasing the GST would be one of the options that would make the leaders accountable for their dealings with public money.

Almost 75% of our people are uneducated or having problem with their attitude. As mentioned by Paul, we have to really educated and convince them on this matter.

One thing, as mentioned by Peter, the government needs to restructure the District Support Improvement Program (DSIP). In the current structure there is no security for the funds use.

MPs themselves are no longer legislators but managers of the funds. And that is very dangerous.

You see, the chairman of the DSIP is the MP of that electorate and the few council presidents are the committee members. These people are handling millions of kina annually. Even the National Planning and Monitoring system is no well established in all electorates.

Therefore, if the government restructures the DSIP and implement other ideas suggested by Paul, David, Peter and other commadaters, I believe, the leaders would be made accountable for every dealing with public funds.

David Kitchnoge

Joe - The point Paul and I are trying to make is simple. It is about the pain factor. People shout the loudest when they feel pain.

There is no gain without pain. So it follows that if we can make our people feel some pain but see no gain in return, then perhaps they will stand up and ask questions about why they are feeling the pain for nothing.

In fact we have been feeling the pain (by paying GST) but not enough to make us shout. So we need to find a way to exaggerate the pain and make people shout.

Perhaps by increasing the GST rate or as Paul suggested by making it obvious on the shelves how much goes to the government when we pay for a tinpis.

Or better still change the name GST to something like Government Tax or something that can make people directly associate it with money given to the government.

Accountability and transparency are abstract words that must be brought to life.

Paul Oates

Joe - You are 100% correct when you say: ‘What PNG needs now is transparency, accountability and good governance.’ The problem is how to make this happen.

The nexus I am trying suggest is in educating and convincing PNG voters that they have to keep their elected MP’s accountable for not only their actions and the actions but also of the PNG government and public service.

The current methodology is just not working. The majority of rural voters are either being excluded due to lack of opportunity and education or seduced by handouts of ‘goodies’ that are apparently directly controlled by their MP.

Educated people like yourself now have to stand up and sweep that curtain of lies and deceit away. Clearly there are now some who don’t see themselves as benefitting from the current system but are at the same time excluded from traditional wealth.

These people are now voicing their belief that the PNG ‘elite’ are just as much to blame as the corrupt politicians and government officials. This is a dangerous situation and could very easily end up with everyone trusting no one and no one being able to fix the problem.

There are plenty of people who know how to successfully run a government and would be prepared to help.

The initiative must however come from the PNG people who need honest and reputable leadership. Unfortunately the majority of PNG people and therefore voters, currently don’t seem to have any way of making that happen.

Joe Wasia

Thanks, great commentary. I really agree with Peter Pirape's points. Its not that PNG needs money. Not all money for country's annual budget comes from tax collections (eg.GST, VAT, tax on wages & salaries etc). We have other sources of money as well.
What PNG needs now is transparency, accountabilty and good governance. If our elected leaders and beuracrats are accountable I believe there would greater outcome with the little that they budget. Currently the high level of systematic corruptions in all level of government from national down to the local level government. This is cripling the nation from going any further.

Paul Oates

Hi Peter and Phil and thanks for your thoughts. The thread of this discussion seems to be in danger of bifurcation. On one hand we started out by discussing the reason why voters can’t seem to hold their MPs accountable. Now the responsibilities of each level of PNG government has been raised.

Phil is however correct about the old local government system demonstrating a good example of where the local voters were able to see what was happening to their personal tax money and what their local Councillor was doing about it.

Every nation however demonstrably needs a national government otherwise it cannot be seen as an independent nation. The issue about whether PNG really needs to fund a third level of government, (i.e. Provincial government), can be debated elsewhere.

Provincial MPs are no different to national MPs in that all their funds are provided centrally from sources other than directly from the vast majority of rural electors.

At the moment, most voters don’t associate the wastage or malfeance of public funds with their own personal taxes. This is a message many MPs try to foster. There is a constant theme about how PNG is a rich country and how the people aren’t getting what they’re rightful payments.

The point I make is simple.

If all PNG voters could see how their personal wealth was being misspent or corruptly disappearing, the MP’s responsible might well have to answer directly to their electors whenever he/she visited their electorate. At the moment, MP’s are just seen as a source of funds and wealth, but wealth obtained from sources unseen and therefore not directly affecting ordinary voters.

If ordinary people at the moment can’t see the correlation that MPs are in reality, spending the voter’s own money, then one suggestion could be to legislate to have all prices note the GST separate to the cost of all items on sale. It’s done elsewhere, why not in PNG?

If every time PNG people bought items at a store they could directly see what they were paying their national and provincial MPs in GST, they might demand a better deal on how their hard earned money was being spent? At the moment, the majority of voters seem to believe their MPs have cracked the source of where the money comes from. Guess what? They’re right. (Gutpla bengbeng ikamap pinis ya!)

Here are some examples of how it could work:
Suppose a theoretical MP or Provincial Governor (?) were to use hundreds of thousands of kina to launch a number of legal cases of questionable outcomes, clearly aimed at enhancing his own position, is that what the electors who elected him wanted him to do with their own money?

Suppose every time a rural voter buys a bag of rice and can add up how much he has personally paid the government, what might happen if his local MP decides to support a government that agrees to fund something the voter disagrees with?

Under these circumstances, perhaps electors might well demand accountability every time they saw their own MP.

Peter has correctly pointed out that PNG has enough money. It’s just not being spent correctly. Why? Because the majority of voters don’t seem to be able to hold their MPs personally accountable.

That’s the issue that must be corrected.

Phil Fitzpatrick

There was a system in PNG that allowed people to see the correlation between paying taxes and service provision and that was the local government system.

Under that system people paid a head tax. They were also able to see how the councillors used their money, either by asking them ot going along to council meetings.

It was also an equitable system with people unable to pay the tax eligible for exemption, usually exercised informally on the spot during tax collections.

I'm not exactly sure how councils are funded these days. I think there is supposed to be a distribution from the Provincial government but that doesn't appear to be very effective in most cases and many LLGs are chronically short of funds.

I think the disconnect between polly performance and taxes paid is another good argument for a shift away from centralised government to the local level.

It might be argued that most LLGs are ill-equipped to handle the large infrastructure repair and development so urgently needed but on the other hand the central government doesn't seem to be very good at it either. I don't think this is a valid argument against empowering councils.

It would be a matter of turning the collection of taxes on its head so that LLGs collect personal and business tax as well as aid money and resource rents and royalties and then filter them up the line to the central government for specific 'national' purposes at predetermined rates. In affect the central government would be looking to the councils as the source of their income.

Shock, horror you say but at least people would make the connection and maybe see to it that their money is spent wisely. I also suspect that local level corruption would be easier to deal because it would be a lot more visible.

Peter Pirape

Great commentary, Paul and gang. I believe the central issue here in this country is not about money. We have enough money in the government coffers.

However, the real issue should be all about translating money we already have to tangible outcomes in basic infrastructure like schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, etc which are the enablers for a robust inclusive economy where the disconected populace are absorbed into the formal market economy.

While the idea of DSIP came about to provide real and meaningfull services to our rural population, the idea of DSIP got twisted and appears to be MP's discretionary funds to be used for political convinience and for building personal empires and temples.

Meaning there is no effecient system and process to ensure funds are going directly towards addressing real issues.

For want of such systems where MPs and bureaucrats are held accountable to governemnt and to the people, issues of accountablity and corruption have been bred through want of such systems and processes and have eventually become parasitic creatures.

As such, we now more than ever need a system where MPs should only be seen as legislators instead of funds managers and equally the National Planning & Monitoring Office should be more interested in evaluating and monitoring of projects and services expected to be delivered through such funds as DSIP on a real time basis.

Services and infrastrucutre outocmes are as good as the systems and processes we have and sadly we we dont have the systems and processes. It's a dilema given that the meams can not justify the end or vice versa.

Paul Oates

Lindsay - My reckoning, as you put it, of PNG politics is the same as politics anywhere.

Either politicians are directly responsible to the voters that put them there or they don’t deserve to be in office.

As far as PNG is concerned, the system of government bequeathed to PNG at Independence was essentially disconnected from the vast majority of the population.

The external designers of PNG’s political system apparently had very little contact, let alone experience with the then 95% of the population who lived in a village environment.

The local acceptors of the current system were content to accept any format that gave them power as soon as possible.

I believe that even Sir John Guise would probably now turn in his grave at the recent actions of the current Speaker of Parliament.

The vast majority of PNG people in 1975 were no way ready for a Westminster system of government. It was not their traditional way of doing things.

The education system then and the lack of opportunity now, to try and understand how the modern PNG political system works has not allowed any real improvement in this level of understanding.

Voters elsewhere are naturally very conscious of the tax rate and the use their taxes are put to by their elected leaders.

This connection does not exist in PNG where the majority of voters do not pay direct income tax. This disconnection allows PNG politicians to basically dole out the goodies that people other than voters in the villages have provided, while some take the opportunity of salting away any largesse while they can.

Given the five year period between PNG general elections, any PNG voter has no real opportunity to hold their politicians accountable. Commentators like Martyn Namarong have been constantly pointing that aspect out.

Additionally, the average rural voter in PNG does not see their personal wealth depleted by direct taxation and therefore see any direct correlation between the actions of their politicians and their own wealth.

All they see is a ‘big man’ doling out other people’s resources. Resources they have not directly contributed to. It’s just become a modern day equivalent of a cargo cult.

If however, PNG voters see a direct link between what they are left with in their pockets and what their elected politician hands back to them in services and service, things might well be different when next their politician visits the voter heartland.

Lindsay F Bond

Paul - By your reckoning of politics (and maybe by Martyn Namorong's), detachment from involvement by the populace, is the prime reason (i.e. non participation by the majority of population) for a lack of closer accountability into parliamentary representation and office-holder performance reporting.

Firstly, is this not akin to the prevalence of 'deference' as a standard in the options presented by religious denominations for 'grass-roots' activism, upon which too many religious leaders and more-so politicians seek advantage?

Secondly, what additional ingredient do you suggest for curricula to primary and and secondary education (assuming too few learners reach tertiary strata)?

Paul Oates

David - Excellent point mate. Increase the contribution of the average voter while giving some tax relief to those who are paying income tax.

You would have to ensure each voter understood the % they were contributing however. That might be difficult in a cashless society or one where payments were 'under the counter'.

Still, everyone has to buy something at the trade store and the GST or indirect tax could be marked separately on each item.

Paul Oates

Phil - That's exactly my point. The taxpayers of Australia, PNG businesses and the foreign companies aren't the ones electing the PNG MPs. Well, maybe that doesn't apply to the first two groups anyway.

If the average PNG voter had to personally cough up the dibs to keep their PNG MP in the manner they might become accustomed to, then they might well hold them accountable for what they do all through the 5 year period between elections.

At the moment it could be viewed by many as just a game being played with someone else's money.

David Kitchnoge

Spot on Paul. People's uninterest in holding public officials, including elected representatives, accountable is due to a lack of directly associating the act of giving up income in return for a service.

The sooner the people connect the dots in this regard, the better it will be.

A majority of our people don’t pay income tax but we all pay Goods and Services Tax (GST) which was introduced to net the rest of the non income tax paying population.

To drive the point home to our people regarding paying taxes and expecting services, we should consider increasing the GST rate from the current 10% to say 15% (with a corresponding reduction in income tax rates to provide some respite for the small income tax paying population).

This should create some controversy and a healthy breeding ground for debate and increasing awareness among our people. Let’s help them to connect the dots by first creating a controversy.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Without trying to sound too facetious, Paul, isn't it primarily the tax payers of Australia, PNG businesses and the foreign resource developers paying for the government of PNG?

On that basis the Australian taxpayers, businesses and the resource developers should have a say in how its spent. If they want some of it spent in rural areas so be it, the government should comply.

Perhaps PNG's tax system needs an overhaul so that those paying taxes get the services. A value added tax or a gst would seem the most equitable.

Paul Oates

Most people these days can accept that in order to have government services, you have to have a government.

Given that most, but not all, people will only work if they are paid, you must therefore have a paid government workforce.

Since governments don’t actually create wealth, in order to have government services and paid government employees to provide those services, you therefore have to extract funding (i.e. real money) from somewhere or someone who has wealth.

Simplistically speaking, the equation should be: Everyone provides some of their wealth so that collectively, everyone benefits from the synergy of a central government who manages the combined resources it receives for the benefit of everyone.

Yet this equation falls down when there is inequality of contribution and an unequal distribution of collective resources.

E.g., in the so called western world, people pay taxes and in return receive government services.

In PNG, a few people pay direct taxes and a very few people benefit while the majority are not really involved.

In effect, if everyone in PNG contributed a fairly equal amount of their direct tax money to the government, they would surely expect a reasonable degree of service in return.

Yet much of the government’s resources are not directly received from the majority of PNG people in rural areas who may only pay indirect taxes that are not openly attributed to the government.

So could the real problem be that until and unless everyone in PNG pays an equal amount of their monetary earnings in direct taxation, any elected government will be unlikely to be held accountable for their actions.

Since the majority of PNG don’t directly contribute to fund MP’s salaries and government services, why would they bother to demand accountability?

Joe Wasia

All PNG need is transparency, accountability, and good governance. That's all. It does not need bachelors degree, masters degrees, or PhDs.

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