The Government is projecting a tough year in 2020 as it contends with a shrinking economy on several fronts and a K4 billion deficit in next year’s budget.
Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey, yesterday, handed down the K18.7 billion money plan whilst issuing a scathing attack against former Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, for what he described as the ‘mismanagement of the PNG economy.’
“Mr. Speaker, why does this nation have a massive budget deficit? The honest answer is a simple answer. PNG has the largest budget deficit because of the economic mismanagement, the irresponsibility and the deceptions of the former Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill.
“Every year, the average living standard every person went backward by over K100 per person.”
Treasurer Ian Ling-Stuckey is not expecting 2020 to be flowery for Papua New Guineans. In the budget strategy paper he painted a bleak picture of an economy depressed and struggling with debt.
The budget, he handed down, that comes with a 50 percent cut to the Tuition Fee Free Education (TFF) policy, stringent debt servicing measures, tighter control on the government salaries and higher taxes.
Citing the cuts to education, the Treasurer said education is a shared responsibility and the funding resources would be directed towards higher education costs which are a lot more burdensome to Papua New Guinean families.
The Government has been careful not to pressure obvious revenue like the goods and services tax and the personal income tax.
But it introduced a 25 percent ‘sin tax’ on tobacco and alcohol. It maintains the 100 percent tax on imported vehicles. Other tax reform measures include a simplified tax regime to help SME growth.
In its post budget analysis, international consulting firm, KPMG, highlights that export tax revenue is expected to be boosted to K425 million as a result of increases to excise duties on the export of unprocessed logs.
Commenting on the budget, former treasurer, Charles Abel cautioned the government over the possible substitution effect as a result of the tax increase on alcohol and tobacco.
“We have a massive problem with illicit trade. One of the main reasons is because they are so highly taxed. This means when you import illegally and don’t pay the tax you can sell at a huge profit. So what happens is that legal sales by compliant manufacturers goes down, taxes go down, jobs go down, and unregulated activities go up.
“As Treasurer, I slowed down the rate of excise increase (not stopped altogether) and revenue from tax collected went up and illicit trade went down.
There is an incorrect belief that by increasing taxes on these products revenue will go up and consumption go down. Experience has shown the opposite,” Mr. Abel said.
The treasurer has also highlighted, PNG’s employment market is not looking good in 2020.
He reiterated estimates by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank that say that formal job creation dropped from an average of 15,000 per annum to 10,000 over five years. The Government will have to pick up the pieces and gradually raise that figure to an acceptable level.
The Opposition is expected to issue a budget response when parliament resumes.
All the systems we put in place must serve the people.
We can pull our people out from the quagmire of poor health and low literacy. We can educate more women, reduce violence, build great infrastructure, strengthen our internal and external security.
We can be a learning hub for our Pacific neighbors with world class university campuses that use the research and the skills to mitigate the effects of climate change.
We can pull our 10 million people out of poverty, change mindsets and build a country of wealthy families. We can build a great military that focuses on nation building and protects our national borders with pride and builds the characters of our young.
The noble concepts of free health and free education can work beautifully. We have the people, the natural resources and the means to do it.
We have land enough to provide housing for all our people. We have the systems that can do it.
But we can’t achieve all that if the people running the systems are selfish and corrupt. Selfishness stems from an inward looking mindset. It puts self ahead of the rest. It prioritizes taking instead of giving.
Our education system can be among the best in the world. Yet the people who run it steal from it, starving our future generations of what is theirs. Many commentators defend the Tuition Fee Free education as an important policy for rural families and their children. Yet the truth of the matter, is that a large number of those schools did not get TFF money. The infrastructure component meant for new buildings never went to them.
It was either diverted of stolen. This in itself needs and investigation.
There are ghost names on the payroll. Teachers are posted to schools that are closed or teachers who have not showed up to teach for years. The case of the late Grace Gavera killed by her de facto partner, Andy Baro, exposed part of a network that involved the production of fake IDs linked to the education payroll section. Andy Baro had several names and was a teacher according to the fake IDs found in his possession.
Travel agents charge 15 percent processing fees for leave fare entitlements transferred to their accounts by provincial administrations. These are travel agents who don’t even have to work for the money they get. How does that happen?
The Public Accounts Committee has exposed the corruption within the National Department of Health. It exposed a Department Secretary who depended on and trusted bad advice by his ‘technical team.’
The PAC exposed a ring that thrived on bribes. It also showed how defective tender application documents that quoted more than K600,000 for sea and air transport for medicine deliveries in the City of Port Moresby went through.
Why would the Health Department choose the most expensive service providers to deliver and supply medicines and on the other hand tell the PAC that they were trying to save a few thousand kina by not testing for the quality of drugs in Australia?
In National Housing Corporation corruption is rife.
The stench is sickening and those who feed off the misery of evicted Papua New Guinean families walk around unpunished. They’re still doing it. Towards the end of the year is when they start issuing eviction orders again. Don’t think we don’t know. Their customers are foreign business owners looking for cheap properties to buy. Documents appear legitimate and, like the health department, they are aided by NHC insiders.
We can’t live like this.
We can’t continue to be the butt of sarcastic jokes at diplomatic and corporate functions. We can’t accept the corruption and continuously expect things to go wrong. We have to stand up and expose the people behind it. Name them, shame them and make them run for cover.
We have to be willing to fight for our country and demand that those in positions of trust and authority do the right thing.
We can’t accept the rot and expect to continue living a life in a cocoon.
Inside a packed conference room on the first level, B-Wing of Papua New Guinea’s Parliament house, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) waits for senior members of the Health Department.
Already present are representatives from logistics and pharmaceutical companies who have been summoned to give evidence in an investigation into a health system in crisis.
After arriving half an hour late, Health Secretary, Pascoe Kase, walks into the packed conference room, sheepishly smiling and nodding an apology to the waiting committee headed by Chairman John Pundari and Deputy, Gary Juffa.
They’re not impressed by his lack of punctuality.
Over the past six years, Pascoe Kase, earned a reputation of dodging the media at every occasion. But in October and November, his evasive maneuvers were halted and his arrogance cut down to size by the parliamentary committee summons that compelled him to attend the investigation and give evidence as the star witness.
Kase’s mood quickly shifts as a barrage of questions hits him.
He is asked about logistics, pharmaceutical standards and the contract bidding process that the committee has come to find, is riddled with corruption and ‘insider trading.’
Deputy Chairman, Gary Juffa, is relentless and unforgiving. He squeezes out vital pieces of a puzzle that show how Papua New Guinea’s Health Department lowered standards by ditching international quality management systems to allow pharmaceutical companies to qualify for the tender bidding process.
“I want to go back to the ISO 9001…What’s your understanding of specific set of standards? What does that mean according to your knowledge?” Juffa asks.
“My personal knowledge? Or my…”
Kase attempts to answer and is cut off by the frustrated Deputy Chairman. “…Well, your professional knowledge. You’re the Secretary for Health so I’m assuming you would know about this…”
Secretary Kase gives a long winded response about how there are technical officers who give him advice about various operational areas of the department. But falls short of answering the question.
Juffa again cuts him off.
“Sir…Sir… what does the acronym ISO 9001 stand for? Do you know?
“I don’t know. I would want some of the technical people to tell me,” Kase replies.
Juffa then lectures the Health Secretary about the meaning of the ISO 9001, about international standards and asks why the requirement was removed prior to the bidding process for a pharmaceutical tender.
It was just one of many examples of the incompetence at the management pinnacle of the health department, shamelessly demonstrated in front of thousands of Papua New Guineans watching the proceedings live on Facebook.
MEDICINE SHORTAGES STILL EXIST. Chronic shortages of medicines continue in nearly all rural clinics.
MOST EXPENSIVE BIDDER CHOSEN. Borneo Pacific’s bid of K71 million was K20 million higher than the second bidder, City Pharmacy Limited.
NO PRIOR EXPERIENCE. At least two logistics companies awarded drug distribution contracts did not have prior experience in drugs distribution.
NO ELECTRONIC TRACKING. One Chinese owned logistics company told PAC that it does not have an electronic tracking system because it was “too expensive.”
COLLUSION WITH LOGISTICS COMPANIES. Former and current Health Department staff alerted individuals and companies to upcoming drug distribution tenders and assisted in drafting tender documents.
OPERATING WITHOUT CONTRACTS. LD Logistics operated without a contract for three years after their contract expired and were paid more than K20 million. They were paid in portions of K500,000 through provisions under the finance Management Act.
STANDARDS LOWERED. The National Department of Health removed the ISO9001 compliance requirement prior to a bidding process, thereby, lowering standards to cater to demands of companies who were bidding.
BRIBES PAID. A Senior Health Department Manager, asked for and was paid bribes totaling well over K100,000 in 2014.
The committee found that that health compliance standards were deliberately lowered so that companies could qualify. They also found that a drug used to induce birth had failed lab tests, yet may have been distributed. The health department team, when grilled, could not say if the drug had been recalled and removed. They didn’t know.
A litany of irregularities continued to be highlighted over the next three days.
One of the logistics companies – L & Z – owned by a Chinese national with no experience in medicine distribution, was still awarded a 17 million Kina contract because of the owner’s links with a former health department staff who wrote the tender application.
Another logistics company that operated for three years without a formal contract, was still paid more than 20 million Kina, with the secretary using his legal provisions to make part payments of up to half a million kina.
Then the bombshell came when the owner of another logistics company named a senior manager who he had paid bribes totaling up to K100,000.
The public has followed the inquiry with keen interest. Some have offered leads to new evidence that is being used by the committee.
The revival of investigations six years since the last hearings is quite refreshing for the PNG public.
My father, Killian Raka, was 68-years-old when he died of oral cancer (cancer of the tongue) on 24th November 2018 at Ward 7D (surgical ward).
My father was a retired cop who worked at PNG Unitech as an Assistant Chief Security Officer since 1980. He was retrenched in 2014. He served the university for 34 years.
My father discovered that his tongue was sore 19 months ago (in April 2017) when he was preparing to go to work as a police reservist during the 2017 National General Election. He didn’t know much about cancer. But he stopped chewing buai to see if the sore would go away. He was not a heavy chewer.
During the elections, he was stationed at the 9 mile area. After the election, the sore in his mouth became worse. He never told anyone about his sore. Not even his wife. Mum noticed that he was spitting a lot because of a lot saliva in his mouth and asked him about it. He showed her his sore tongue. My mother immediately recommended that he see a doctor of which he did. He went to see Dr Beaso who was a consultant to the Unitech clinic and Dr Beaso referred him to Angau Memorial Hospital cancer ward.
I started following Dad to Angau to provide support and told my siblings about dad’s illness and we all paid our undivided attention to this medical condition. We helped him chang his diet. We moved him to several locations in Lae and Port Moresby over the next couple of months. His doctor at Angau was Dr Kundi. He would assess his sore tongue and get a prescription written for dad to purchase Methotrexate at the pharmacies outside the hospital because the hospital pharmacy ran out of that medication.
The prescription was to purchase 4 Methotrexate at K32.00 per tablet. It would cost dad K128.00 a doze for a month, 1 tablet every Monday week and when his completed his medication he would return for review. We visited the cancer unit again and was advised to continue using the Methotrexate but this time the price had risen to K136.00 for 4 tablets. Dad was a retiree and I left work to take care of him. We both couldn’t afford the K136.00 straight away so I would ask relatives to help us.
This continued for several months and his sore worsened and he couldn’t afford the tablets anymore at the pharmacy. He was not recovering. He lost weight. He went from a size 38 to a size 28. His food intake was now in liquid form and my sibling would use a blender to prepare his meals. His migraines got worse and there was no morphine to control the pain.
On November 8, 2018, I forced my father to get admitted at Angau because I could not take care of him anymore. His condition had already deteriorated. At first he refused to go to Angau because he said that is where people die. So I took him to see a private Doctor who referred us to Angau. That made dad except the idea to be admitted to Angau. Dad was admitted at the Emergency Ward and was put a drip on him. The doctor from the ENT clinic visited him at the Emergency Ward and inserted a tube into his mouth to this stomach so that he can feed using a syringe. They allowed 100mls of liquid in every feed, the doctor gave that advice because his stomach had become smaller.
After 3 days at the Emergency Ward we were told to vacate the bed and go home and I refused to take my father home and insisted that he be admitted to the cancer ward. I will refuse to leave. I was told that if I insisted, he will have to sleep on the floor just like everyone else along the corridor and make the bed available for more serious patients.
I refused again and visited the cancer ward several times asking for a bed but was told that cancer ward cannot receive anymore patients due to bed shortage. I begged the senior nurse at the Emergency Ward to give me at least a day more to find bed space in the hospital. I did most of the running around looking for bed space between the Cancer and the surgical wards.
We stayed the weekend at the Emergency Ward, waiting and hoping that that cancer Doctor would come visit him. My visits to the Cancer Ward were to negotiate for a bed and collect the Methotrexate in 2.5mg (7 small yellow tablets) to be taken daily for 7 days. Dad was still able to swallow food before the tube insertion so he had already taken 5 tablets. I was advised that the Methotrexate 2.5mg is a doze for a month (30 tablets). However, there was a shortage of this medicine at the Angau Pharmacy. I was only given a 7 day supply and would collect another 7 tablets the following week soon after he finished his last tablets. I was given an appointment card to keep track of medicines that I was collecting.
After the weekend, I got good news that Dad had been allocated a bed and we would move. We moved to the Surgical Ward (7D) because the Cancer Ward was still full. I had already given him his last 2 Methotrexate that I dissolved to feed into his tube when he was attached to the tube. I went to the Cancer ward to collect this next dose and told the nurse that I fed my father his last Methotrexate yesterday through a tube because he was unable to swallow.
The nurse got angry at what I did but she didn’t realised that I wasn’t advised on how to use the Methotrexate. Methotrexate will not work once exposed to air and must be swallowed. She refused to supply me anymore Methotrexate tablets. She said that my father would be treated with a Methotrexate injection instead, and delivered the bad news that there was nil stock at the Pharmacy. I knew my father would not survive. The hope my entire family had was shattered by the news.
I was fuming but held back my anger and was talking nicely to her.
Where I can buy the injection? Is it sold at the shops? or can I order it from overseas or from Port Moresby? I asked her. She said the Methotrexate injection is not sold on the shelves and that I will have to wait for the cancer doctor to visit my dad and recommend something else. I almost broke down in front of her while begging her in desperation to get that medicine right away. I knew that it was a week already and no cancer doctor had visited my father since he moved from the Emergency ward to the Surgical ward and he was not getting any better. I needed that injection straight away. She just ignored me and walked away. I had no choice but to leave the cancer ward.
I didn’t know what to say to him so I spent almost two hours walking around at Angau Hospital mentally preparing a good story to deliver to him. When I arrived at this bed, my sister was already feeding him his food and that delayed me telling him that I did not bring back any cancer medicine for him. Dad asked me for the Methotrexate medication and why I took longer outside. I told dad that the cancer doctor will visit him anytime soon, either tonight or tomorrow and will recommend a new dose. (I lied to him because I didn’t want to see him upset that there was no Methotrexate.
The doctor finally came to see dad and told my younger sister who was sitting dad while I was away getting some rest that Dad’s cancer has reached Stage 4 within the space of 19 months.
When I returned that evening, she took me to the cafeteria and told me the news. I broke down. I didn’t care what other people would thought of me. I cried that my father died. I had hopes of him recovering, we planned our business together. I spent that quality time I hadn’t done for years at this bedside. I cried thinking about our plans, his stories, how he gets angry. I thought about how he would would write on a book because speaking was difficult. I cried. I hated that doctor and wished I was there when he delivered that news so I could punch him. I blamed the Government for denying my fathers’ right to recovery because there was no medicine.
Dr Kundi told us to take dad home because his body was not respond to the medicines he was taking. He said that dad would undergo a minor surgery in his stomach and they will insert a tube for direct feed and that I had to take him home until his time came.
I sent word home and his room was prepared. The day before he would go into surgery was the day he took his last breath. I watched in agony as he passed on Saturday 24 November at 7:11pm. My pillar of strength was finally gone. He left behind 3 sons, 6 daughters, a wife and 32 grandchildren.
Last week, Vanuatu Journalist, Dan McGarry, was in Brisbane for the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum (MMFF) – a gathering of senior journalists committed to ensuring the continued existence of media freedom in Melanesian and Pacific.
It has been a rough time for Dan. As Director of the Vanuatu Daily Post and Buzz FM, Dan has been the subject of a government harassment that has seen him removed from his job and barred from returning to Vanuatu.
After attending the Brisbane meeting, he was not allowed on the outbound flight to Port Vila. The instructions, he was told, came from Vanuatu immigration. Dan’s home IS Vanuatu. His family is from Vanuatu. His wife was allowed on the flight
Dan has traced the reason for his removal and subsequent barring to a series of reports critical of the Vanuatu Government.
As a member of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum, I am joining my colleagues in calling on the Vanuatu government to allow Dan McGarry the dignity and respect he deserves.
It is important that media freedom in Melanesian is protected by our ELECTED governments. Any attack on members of the media is an attack on the freedom of expression of the people.
We have seen attacks on media freedom in Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The increasing attacks and veiled intimidation is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by inaction and passive silence.
Melanesian governments cannot pay lip service to international conventions and commitments to democratic freedoms and in the same breath issue orders to clamp down on journalists right to expression.
A year ago, I remarked to my small news team how good it would be if the universe gave me one opportunity to sit down and have a chat with the great Sean Dorney, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s longest serving PNG correspondent.
I grew up watching Sean on ABC television. My parents talked about him when he was deported. I never thought that I would, during my first year as a journalist, get to rub shoulders with this great man.
In one day in 1997, I stood outside the Port Moresby court house during the Sandline inquiry while he did a piece-to-camera. He entertained the crowd with his witty sense of humor laced with a few unprintables aimed at himself for the mistakes he kept making during recording.
Sean is, and has always been, a fighter. In the last 20 years, I never had an opportunity to sit down with him outside of work. He is now retired and battling motor neuron disease which is restricting his movements. Motor neuron disease has not affected his sense of humor in any way and his positive spirit amidst his personal challenge is infectious.
On Tuesday (12th November), after the end of a two day workshop of Melanesian journalists at Griffith University. Pauline and Sean pulled up their chairs and we talked about work and PNG.
While Sean is the most visible of the pair, Mama Pauline, is a powerhouse. You can’t separate one from the other. Sometimes, you end up in situations where you learn important life lessons.
Tuesday night was, coincidently, the eve of the 20th anniversary of me and my partner in crime and I had the pleasure of listening to Sean and Pauline – besties for over 40 years – give me precious gems of advice laced with humor.
“I tell him: ‘Yu konim planti yangpla wantem toktok blo yu,” Pauline said shaking her head in hilarious disgust. This was in in reference to his super interesting anecdotes from PNG and the Pacific which still captures the imaginations of people like me.
Then she turned to me: “Every time he talks, I say to him, wanem kain kon yu mekim nau?”
Sean burst in laughter.
Sean is a ‘bit’ of a troublemaker. His reports have seen him deported from Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Nauru. There’s still a travel ban for Sean in Fiji after many years.
In August 2018, when Sean and Pauline visited Pauline’s home village on Manus, Sean wrote about how much time he had left.
“We have come to Tulu, Pauline’s village on Manus Island, in what could be my final visit. This is a place I have come to love where people live in harmony with nature.”
Later, that evening, I remarked to another powerful Pacific journalist, Jo Chandler, about how precious the meeting with Sean and Pauline was to me personally. I wished it, a year ago, it was granted and I am truly thankful.