The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Nov. 18) - Nobody expected Budget 2005 to set the Fly aflame. But Papua New Guinea can be thankful for the handing down of a reasonable, sensible and practical set of figures.

If the goals they represent can be met during the coming year, PNG will be one step further ahead on the road to resumed prosperity.

Treasurer Philemon, despite the sniping of an Opposition that spends much of its time desperately seeking targets, has brought in the budget that most observers were expecting.

It takes few risks. It makes no rash predictions.

And it seeks to apportion limited funds to the best possible effect.

Among other initiatives, there is an allocation to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Given the difficult economic times this country still faces, the grant of K10.5 million (US$3.3 million) is a realistic and welcome recognition by the Government of the need for speed in addressing this devastating disease.

The money will not simply be thrown at HIV/AIDS in a doomed effort to make it go away. It will be allocated by the National Aids Council, and a careful plan with reachable goals has been devised. For the first time the people can see that a proportion of the funds to fight HIV/AIDS is coming from their own Government. That ten million kina is significant.

For while it is a tiny amount in terms of the size of the problem and the likely number of years HIV/AIDS will remain in out midst, it sets a precedent and sends a signal to all concerned that the PNG Government intends to do all it can to combat this killer disease.

More good news came on the sports front, where veteran sports administrator John Kambuou could hardly conceal his glee at the unexpected windfall of an extra half a million kina for the PNG Sports Commission.

In tandem with the obvious needs of the anti HIV/AIDS sector, sport needed a boost, and the 2005 budget will take a step towards providing that additional funding.

Kambuou referred to an important aspect of this funding, when he expressed the hope that the Government would eventually recognize the role of sport in development agendas.

He linked sport with HIV/AIDS in this respect, and it is refreshing to see a senior administrative leader taking a broad and constructive view of not only his own sector, but of those other areas that could benefit from inter-relationship.

Sport is a field that can never have enough funding, whether that support comes from private enterprise, the efforts of the players themselves, or from the Government.

At the same time as the budget was being presented, the PNG Weight and Powerlifting Associations were recognizing that, in their spokesman's words: "I think we have outlived the generosity of our sponsors..."

These remarks were a preamble to a joint recognition by the two associations that the ultimate responsibility for funding their sports lies with the players and their administrators, rather than hard-pressed outside donors.

The budget, as expected, put the available money where it is most needed.

The Highlands Highway will attract rehabilitation and maintenance to the tune of K52 million; provincial road maintenance and re-structuring, including funding from various overseas donors, will receive some K181 million.

Development funding represents about 40 percent of the overall budget, and totals almost K1.9 billion.

That's 72 percent more than was allocated in the 2004 budget.

Within that development sector, law and justice attracts K510 million; the huge boost to this vote is accounted for by the Australian funding of almost K400 million for the Enhanced Co-Operation Programme.

One apparent casualty of the budget is the Independent Consumer and Competition Commission; no budget allocation was indicated for the consumer watchdog in budget 2005, compared with K1.38 million in the current year.

But we note with pleasure that the national broadcaster's slice of the cake has risen by nearly K20 million.

We trust that the newly announced members of the NBC Board will use every toea of that grant to its greatest effect.

We commend the Treasurer and all those who devised the 2005 Budget, and trust that the Government will be able to continue in power and see the benefits of their cautious and prudent planning.

November 19, 2004

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