PORT MORESBY - As most countries have begun scaling down safety measures against Covid-19, Transparency International PNG (TIPNG) has heightened its efforts in calling on the government of Papua New Guinea to implement measures to safeguard state of emergency funding against misuse and misappropriation.
This call to action by TIPNG comes after concerns raised by PNG treasury minister Ian Ling Stuckey in early April regarding allegations that a bulk of the initial K23 million released by the PNG government for the Covid-19 state of emergency had been spent on hire cars and media consultants.
Although PNG prime minister James Marape and police minister Bryan Kramer have since refuted these allegations, the government has yet to provide verifiable evidence in support of their statements.
Mr Marape and other ministers have said that roughly K40 million has been earmarked for the Covid-19 emergency, although the exact sum of funding currently at the PNG government’s disposal is unverified.
TIPNG has collated public statements in the media and created a funding timeline, of both internal funds and external contributions to the Covid-19 budget.
From mid-February to mid-April, a total of K123 million was pledged or released, including K70 million from the World Bank.
However, there is no independent verifiable information or data on exactly how much funding has been spent so far or how it has been spent.
This lack of information has created suspicion and undermined public confidence in the government and in political leaders.
This should be a concern for everyone in PNG, a country already vulnerable to corruption and with a history of impunity for corruption.
The greatest concern for Papua New Guineans is PNG’s track record of grossly mishandling government sanctioned special projects for which project funding and management are exempted from strict transparency and accountability protocols.
Such protocols are normally provided under the PNG Public Finances Management Act, and include competitive bidding and the Integrated Finance Management System or IFMS.
The most recent example of exemption from these requirements was the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, hosted by PNG, during which, millions of kina are believed to have been spent by the previous government, often on questionable expenses.
The debacle notoriously came to a head when hundreds of police, military and prison guards stormed and vandalised the PNG parliament over unpaid allowances.
Despite calls from TIPNG and other PNG citizens, no financial reports have been made available to the public since, with many service providers still waiting to be paid.
PNG’s track record of mishandling funds has been a serious cause for concern since it gained independence in 1975.
A recent report by TIPNG on the availability of public information revealed that the absence of a law protecting citizen’s rights to information has nurtured a culture of secrecy in a nation where corruption has been described as systemic.
In order to build public trust in the government and safeguard state of emergency funding from potential abuse and misappropriation, TIPNG has made the following recommendations to the Marape-Steven government.
- Respect citizens and media’s right to ask questions
- Provide timely, accurate, accessible reports on funding
- Present audited spending reports on Covid-19 at the sitting of parliament on Tuesday 2 June
If corruption is not prevented, Covid-19 could have a devastating effect on PNG, with the potential loss of life exacerbated by mismanagement and the misapplication of resources.