FAT AND HAPPY IN THE FACE OF PNG POVERTY

Editorial

The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Mar. 1, 2010) - If you are a State minister and you take a business class seat in an airline, does it ever enter your mind that perhaps taking economy might save the nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) some money?

Does the same thought enter you mind when you are booked into a first class suite in a hotel?

Some people on your entourage would definitely cut cost, but do you think of it?

It must begin with that single reminder from your conscience that nothing about an economy class airline seat or an economy class accommodation makes you less comfortable or less important than when you are home in your own country.

Just that simple concern exercised by all the VIPs travelling abroad at public cost would save this country an enormous amount of money.

A recent example of absolutely unnecessary extravaganza was the huge entourage accompanying the Prime Minister to Copenhagen last December for the global climate change summit.

The trip cost, by conservative estimates, 8 million kina [US$2.9million]. It turned out to be a flop in the end. Papua New Guinea contributed little and gained even lesser.

Less than 1 million kina [US$364,000] spent with only the Prime Minister and his Environment Minister in attendance with a small retinue of staff out of the Brussels or Bonn embassies would have been sufficient.

But no – we have to travel big and make a statement. Just what that statement is, we will never know for it seems to make no sense to display wealth when at home we have people dying from preventable diseases and neglect at the hospital doors because there are just no hospital beds or not enough trained staff or medicines to go around.

Foreigners new to PNG who travel with our leaders or who meet them in some foreign land would never know that the bulk of the population in PNG suffers from extreme poverty.

By poverty, we mean a very high and disproportionate size of the population living below US$1 per day and who live in unhygienic conditions, have poor access to clean water and basic services such as health, education and telecommunication facilities.

Members of Parliament, ministers or heads of departments and statutory institutions and constitutional office holders who travel on business or first class and who are accommodated in five-star hotels should immediately reconsider these habits.

Political leaders who normally travel with one or more staff and perhaps one other leader should cut back on extra staff members travelling.

VIPs must travel. Certain invitations to important events have to be taken up and international obligations and protocols have to be met. We ask why such trips have to be taken by way of first class or in five-star accommodation.

The behaviour within the country is even worse. Leaders will go into a poor rural setting travelling on the most rugged and washed out roads imaginable with police sirens blaring and a convoy of the latest Toyota Landcruisers to deliver a cheque for 200,000 kina [US$73,000].

The worth of the cars in the convoy is possibly three times the worth of the cheque and almost all of them are usually hired.

The poor recipients of the cheque will then have to walk or travel back the same road in their own broken down trucks often dragging the vehicle for most of the way.

It would be far better if the MP just added all the cost for the hire of the vehicles into the one cheque and double or triple its value.

Once, all government vehicles were of a standard design supplied through the Plant and Transport division of the Works Department. All department heads would get a standard class of vehicle. So would ministers and so on.

Then that responsibility was taken away and vested in each departmental head under the reformed public service. Suddenly, the latest and the biggest four-wheel vehicles were making their presence felt.

If the departmental head gets a big vehicle, obviously the minister for the department would have to drive one better.

Suddenly, there was something else added to the vehicle allowances of the VIPs called support vehicles.

And if you were to visit the homes of many of these VIPs, the wife and perhaps the first son or daughter are driving something quite expensive and latest in design and technology.

This just won’t do and must be stopped – even if by law.

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