MOROBE BUDGET CUTS REFLECT FINANCIAL STATE OF PNG

Morobe Province is a cross section of  Papua New Guinea with geographic and cultural diversity representative of all four regions. The impact of budget cuts in 2016 will show how the whole country will be affected over the next 12 months.  There are tough times ahead.

Local Level Governments (LLGs) in  Morobe Province will be hit hard in 2016 by drastic cuts to National Government grants  given  annually to the province. 

            The downward trend became evident in 2015   when LLG funds  in in Papua New Guinea were reduced from K500 thousand  to  K100 thousand  per LLG.
What was obvious in Tuesday’s  budget presentation  in the Tutumang was the 28 million kina cut  in the National Government Grant to the Morobe Province.   From 326 million kina  in 2015,  the grant which makes up a significant portion of the provincial government budget as been reduced to K298 million.
And that’s not all. Morobe’s budget has  seen most of its financial arrows pointing downward in 2016. 
After funding  allocations for each local level government was  slashed in 2015,   The Provincial Services  Improvement Program or PSIP funds which were used to  prop up LLG budgets in 2015  have  also been drastically cut from K45 million to just K10 million this year.
            “When the National Government cut the LLGSIP funds, the Provincial Government stepped in to assist,” said  Morobe Governor, Kelly Naru.  “We used some of the K45 million in PSIP funds to support them.
            “Now that too has been cut. There is inequitable distribution of funds.”
For those who are closest to the people in the villages, the LLG presidents,  the pain is evident.   Local Government President for Morobe Patrol Post,  Oti Bagiro sees disappointment mounting in an LLG area  that has seen little in terms of law and order funding.
            “Policing houses need maintenance.  We have increasing reports of sea piracy.”
            While the National Government attempts to talk up the economy at various forums, the evidence of  belt tightening  has become obvious in  various sectors in the country.
            Last week, Education Minister, Nick Kuman, announced  the government’s decision to relax the  ban on school project fees imposed previously  after the Government’s Tuition Fee Free (TFF)  policy was put in place.  The decision was made to cover the void expected  with the  “late arrival” of this year’s TFF. 
            Critics, meanwhile,  have pointed out the TFF has not worked because funding has never arrived on time since the policy was introduced. 
            In Jiwaka province,   funding  woes  have  also hit the Nazarene  church hospital in Kujip after K15 million kina was  cut from the national Church Health Services  budget – a budget that  also covers  health services provided by  Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist missions.
            Culturally and  geographically,  the Morobe Province is like a cross section of the entire country.  There are  highland, coastal, islands and grassland regions each with their own unique  service delivery needs.  How the budget cuts affect those various regions of this province,  is a  relatively accurate  gauge of the impact of  national government budget cuts.
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BEWARE: THE POST DROUGHT PERIOD IS MOST DANGEROUS

For eight months in 2015, the people of Konge in the Kabwum district of Morobe province experienced the worst drought conditions since 1997.
The impact of the drought was so severe that by the second term in July, all the primary and elementary schools in the district were forced to close as people dealt with the food and water shortages.
Already suffering from a host of other problems, one of the first to shut its doors was Sikam primary – an isolated village school a three hour walk from the nearest airstrip.
“I can tell you that our children didn’t have food to eat every day,” says Rauke Samangau, a teacher at Sikam Primary School.
“Their parent still cant find enough food to feed them.”
With the dry period ending, a new challenge is emerging.
Nimson Mariu, head teacher of another school, Konge Primary, is now seeing a food crisis developing – a crisis being largely ignored because after eight months of dry, the rains have come.
But the green brought on by damp weather is very deceptive. It is complicating an already difficult situation.
“During the dry period, we still had food in the ground. Now that the rains have come, the tubers are rotting in the ground.”
Far away from Kabwum, at the headwaters of the Sepik river, the people of Urapmin a village tucked away on ridge in the Telifomin District of Sandaun, are facing a food shortage of similar intensity.
Karina Letap, saw the worst of the drought pass but now she and her family are facing a bigger challenge. With no guarantee of government food relief, they remain unsure of how their families will survive when the last of their food stores are exhausted.
Sweet potato and their primary staple crop – the taro – central to their cultural ceremonies are being destroyed by pests.
“This short nosed beetle,” she says holding a black insect, “is what burrows into the taro and eats it.
“Everything is gone. The rains have poisoned our gardens.”
Like other villagers in Urapmin, Gabriel Letap, planted several patches of taro when the rains came. But the seedlings are riddled with disease.
“What the people are experiencing is an increase of fungal growth on the roots of crops,” says Dr. Sergie Bang, Director General of the National Agriculture Research Institute.
“Crops that suffered damage during the drought succumb to fungal growth with the onset of rain.”
Over the Last 48 hours, NARI has been in touch with district authorities to gain an understanding of the new problems emerging during the post drought period being experienced in areas like Telefomin.
NARI is one of the few government agencies that warned of the impending drought 12 months prior. Now it is at the forefront of monitoring post drought impacts on food but with very limited financial resources at hand.