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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Sept. 20) - Public servants who borrowed money from "loan sharks" owe PGK56 million [US$19 million] in loans to the finance companies.

Chief Secretary to Government Isaac Lupari revealed this yesterday, saying an estimated PGK7.5 million [US$2.6 million] is paid to finance companies every fortnight from the Government payroll system to repay public servants’ outstanding loans.

"Today 80 percent of our 76,000 public servants are living a borrowed life. In fact, they are in serious debt trap," Mr. Lupari said at the orientation program for Members of Parliament yesterday.

Lupari said many public servants borrowed loans from three-five finance companies, who charge interest ranging from 25 percent to a maximum 50 percent.

"As a result, the net take-home pay a fortnight on average is PGK50.51 [US$17.92] or negative. One of my officer has been taking home PGK15.51 for the last five fortnights."

He said that with this level of net income, the public servants would resort to other means to survive.

"In fact, they are forced into doing illegal activities to support their family or sometimes families are abandoned by their fathers because they can’t afford to take care of them."

He said in addition, 90 percent of their time was spent outside the workplace chasing new loans or looking for other means to provide food on the table.

"Teachers are away from their classroom. Even if they are at work, their minds are not focused on the job."

He said many human resource people are processing new claims and have no time to do their work.

Lupari said a decision had been made to cancel all reduction codes given to all departments to stop using the payroll system for loan repayment.

"Financial instructions have been sent to all departments to cease new salary deduction by November 2007."

He said another case in point was the management of landowner issues where resources and time were diverted to dealing with landowner issues. He said public servants faced physical threats and intimidation from landowners seeking their money.

Lupari said criticisms had been leveled against public service being weak, ineffective, too big, lack coordination, no leadership and corrupt.

"We should not simply turn a blind eye. We must fix them."

He urged MPs and departmental heads to work as a cohesive team to make the public service effective and efficient.

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