Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

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The National
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

July 1, 2002


Tens of millions of kina have been spent so far in conducting what has to be the poorest managed election in this country's history.

And the crux of the issue is that the National Government and the Electoral Commission remain at thinly disguised loggerheads over the cost.

This is a matter that cannot long continue to be hidden from the public.

On the one hand, Mr. Kaiulo is presented as the beleaguered Electoral Commissioner expected to fund Election 2002 on late or non-existing funding.

On the other, the Chief Secretary Robert Igara maintains that the Electoral Commission has received all the funds agreed to in the lead-up to the election.

Mr. Kaiulo says that the National Government suddenly withdrew four million kina [US$ 1,027,200] at the very moment when he needed it to pay electoral staff and helicopter charters.

Only K500,000 [US$ 128,400] was subsequently returned, he states.

Mr. Igara is known to be watching every toea spent by the Commission.

So he should, if he is the responsible Government officer for its expenditure.

This is public money, not some bottomless pot of gold.

But if Mr. Kaiulo's Electoral Commission needs the extra K20 million [US$ 5,136,000] they have now requested, then somehow, somewhere the National Government will have to find the funds.

What we find incomprehensible is how this situation could have come about.

There have been five years in which to work out an appropriate budget for the conduct of Election 2002.

Agreed -- in that time costs would have soared, so perhaps the first three or so years of that five can be discounted.

But not the past two years.

How can there be such a huge shortfall in the Commission's funds?

Twenty million kina (US$ 5,136, 000] is a figure most of us find hard to comprehend.

If that shortfall is the result of the direct failure of the government of the day to release funds, then Mr. Kaiulo should say so.

If on the other hand it is the result of a massive blowout in the Commission's budget, then both the people and the Government are entitled to know why.

It appears to us, based on reports received from one end of the country to the other, that helicopter companies and electoral officials have both so far missed out on a major part of their agreed payments.

Both groups were presumably factored-in to the Commission's projected costs.

We have said it before and we repeat -- if either the Government or the Commission expected private enterprise or the electoral officers to work on credit, then we find it hard to credit their naiveté.

The doubtless cozy days when the all-powerful Administration decreed the credit arrangements it would accept and private enterprise toed the line have long since faded into history, along with the colonial era that spawned them.

If you want certain services from private enterprise -- and many of the electoral workers fall into that category, as well as the helicopter charter companies -- then you pay up on the spot.

Blame for this shambles can attach to neither the unpaid electoral workers nor the principals of the helicopter companies.

The question is whether the problem originated with the Electoral Commission or the National Government.

The worst aspect of the whole affair is the least immediately obvious.

It is the effect this kind of public bickering between the National Government and the Electoral Commission has on the rest of the population.

We said before these elections began that hopefully this would be the election when some vestige of belief on the part of ordinary people in government and the electoral process might be restored.

The reverse has taken place.

Every conceivable form of electoral corruption has occurred, a disturbing amount allegedly at the hands of electoral officials.

There has been violence, and in some areas a vicious program of destabilization. There are hundreds of calls for new elections.

Far from going some way towards restoring faith in the electoral process and in the principles of democracy, Election 2002 has come precious close to hammering home the final nail in the coffin.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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