Plethora of paper plans

ON PAPER it may seem that Papua New Guinea has more development plans than most countries around the world – with a 2050, or 50-year vision, as well as five-year development plans that mesh into a 30-year strategic development plan. By Wantok.

Each November the national government brings down its budget for the subsequent year and the current government has begun the practice of publishing them within a five-year framework so there is a sense of the totality of spending on specific infrastructure projects within that timeframe.

Most national government departments also have their own five-year plans or visions and, if that is not enough, each of the nation's 89 districts is meant to have their own five-year plans.

It is questionable if much of this planning is based on any sense of reality and although the latest five-year plans are meant to come within the gambit of the 30-year development strategy, there is little sense of cohesive planning or continuity.

Clearly one of the big problems or challenges is the quantum of government funds that never accounted for and does not end up in the infrastructure or service it was meant to facilitate or build.

The lists of incomplete or never undertaken projects are legion.

In the past few years there would have been several hundred millions allocated for roads in Lae, where some construction seems underway but no reflection of the amounts that have been allocated for the purpose.

Large amounts have been allocated to other road projects, hospitals, universities and schools with little to show for it at the end of the day.

The cocoa pod borer has been a major issue on the agricultural front and huge amounts of funds have been allocated for research into this issue over the years but no one seems to know how this money has been utilised and whether it has gone to the right hands.

Government has made huge commitments to landowners within the PNG LNG project area but these funds have not been adequately accounted for - major infrastructure projects to be undertaken under these commitments do not appear to have got off the ground.

This is part of why the country is also widely known as "the land of the unexpected".

Anecdotal evidence suggests that while annual budgets have grown some sixfold over the past decade to the proposed K15 billion in 2014, the increase has probably been matched by the amount of funds embezzled or that has done a vanishing trick.

It is in this climate that the government is promising to put in place an independent commission against corruption but there are gnawing public doubts about its likely efficacy or whether it would go the way of another dinosaur, the so-called Ombudsman Commission, which has become less effective while the amounts of disappearing public funds rises inexorably.

These concerns take on even greater urgency as the architecture of government is about to undergo a major transformation as the nation prepares to become the newest entrant to the world of LNG exporters in 2014.

Huge inflows of export revenues, taxes and dividends are anticipated and, as a protective measure, there has been much talk about the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund, ostensibly to transparently and efficiently handle the government's huge revenue inflows.

Like the government's annual budgets the problem lies not in the plan or the SWF itself but in the efficacy of the manner these funds are utilised.

Even before these issues have been sorted out, plans are also afoot to house government equity in petroleum and mining projects, now held by Petromin, in newly constituted government companies, Kumul Minerals and Kumul Petroleum.

All state-owned enterprises, such as Air Niugini, PNG Power and Telikom PNG, are to be housed in a "Kumul" corporate entity.

Although these plans have been discussed for a year, much of the detail of when they would be set up and the legislative framework for them is still unclear.

As these plans get better laid out and implemented, one has to wonder whether the age-old PNG question will still continue to be asked: "Why are we poor in a rich country?"


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