PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Feb. 10) - WHAT is reform and what is acting like a wild card operation? The way some provinces are being operated has caught the attention of the Public Services Minister, Peter O’Neill.

He intends to have government officers look keenly at the way affairs are being run in three provinces — the Southern Highlands, West New Britain and New Ireland. The first-named is his home province and the Minister will be well aware of the need for officers to tread a cautious line for fear that he will become the target of recriminations from his political rivals. New Ireland is another sensitive bit of turf. There, the Governor, Ian Ling-Stuckey, has declared open war on slack and mischievous public servants and in turn has been subjected to a campaign of sullen resistance. It has been claimed by critics that he has set up his own self-appointed cadre of public servants from outside the Personnel Management set of procedures.

The Governor, a go-getter from the private sector, says he has been stymied by those who have done wrong and are afraid of being caught with their hands "in the cookie jar’’. It will be a difficult assignment for the central government officers to unravel. In West New Britain, the oil palm funds, for so long the major source of local revenue for the provincial government, were frozen pending investigations into allegations of misspending too. Governor Clement Nakmai, a former bank executive, has been caught up in that funding logjam and is now affected by the court decision which overturned his selection of appointed members for his provincial assembly.

The Southern Highlands is a tough one. Huge amounts of money are being unearthed from the soil there, primarily from oil and gas, and large sums are going into provincial government hands. Reports indicate that the public service in Mendi is largely moribund and that decisions are being made in the capital city by politicians and administrators who seem to live in Port Moresby.

It’s a difficult target but one that has to be looked at.

February 11, 2004

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