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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 1, 1999 - The Independent)---A total of K 11.3 million in checks is ready to be paid out to 692 retrenched public servants in line with the public service retrenchment plan.

However, according to Public Service Minister Peter Peipul, the 692 public servants are not among those currently employed within the public service.

The 692 officers were retrenched in the last two years, but there were no funds to pay them out until now.

Mr. Peipul said yesterday that the funds were made available by the Department of Finance, but as to exactly from where the money was drawn, he didn’t say.

One government official revealed that the K 65 million initially budgeted specifically for the retrenchment exercise was to be taken out of the US$ 120 million loan from a European loan syndicate, but to date the loan is still unavailable for use.

In anticipation of the loan drawdown the government recently "borrowed" K 60 million from the Central Bank to fund its operations. The Central Bank has warned of further problems if the loan funds are not cleared for drawdown.

The payout funds for the retrenched public servants have already been distributed in checks to the various departments, and those retrenched officers still waiting for their money will be contacted by their respective departments.

Department of Personnel Management Secretary Bill Kua said that departments had been given a tight budget ceiling so there was no alternative but to retrench, retire or relocate officers.

The 692 officers are from 26 departments. The department with the largest number of retrenched officers is the Teaching Services Commission with 212 officers and a total of K 3.3 million for their payout.

Simbu is the second largest with 104 officers (K 1.2 million) and the Prime Minister’s office and National Executive Council has 92 officers retrenched with K 1.8 million paid out.

Mr. Peipul said the officers to be paid out were part of the total 7,000 initially budgeted for in the exercise.

He said the money to pay out the other 6,300 is still to be located. He explained that it was the government’s aim to assist those retrenched officers to put their money to good use by starting up small businesses.

"I wish them well and express my thanks as minister. We wish them and their families well," Mr. Peipul said.

Mr. Kua said that many of these officers retrenched had spent their whole working lives with the public service and what the department was doing was "starting them off with a new life."

As for the rest of the remaining public servants to be retrenched, the department was still waiting for feedback from departmental heads for their lists of officers to be retrenched or relocated under the reform program.

The Department of Personnel Management, Mr. Kua said, had already received lists from some departments, but it had given departments till the end of January to submit all the names.

Although Mr. Peipul is confident that the retrenchment exercise will be undertaken and the deadline of the end of February will be met, there are fears that the two months in which the retrenchment exercise is to be completed will place the public service in dire straits by the middle of next year.

One government insider raised concerns that because the retrenchment exercise will not be completed until the end of February, departmental budgets for personal emoluments will experience shortfalls after having to meet salaries for officers listed for retrenchment or relocation but still employed throughout the months of January and February.

Under the Budget Implementation Plan, the proposed credit scheme for retrenched workers is supposed to be set up by January 30 next year.

By early February, the Department of Personnel Management is expected to hold seminars and workshops for affected staff on steps to be followed and payment options available.

A communications ‘hotline’ will also be established during this time to assist affected staff on logistics.

The Budget Implementation Committee is expected to issue retirement and termination notices during the first week of February, and by the end of the first week of February all departments and agencies are expected to begin moving to their new offices.

Throughout the month of February training programs for retrenched staff have been scheduled to take place.

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