District Services Improvement Program (DSIP): is it an effective means of devolved funding to better reach the people or is it a members’ personal slush fund? Is DSIP funding (or the withholding of it) a way for the executive government to reward or penalise Members of Parliament at whim – and does it become a handy scapegoat for penalised MPs who haven’t delivered nor were ever going to? PNG Echo explores these questions.
An urgent application to the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea has been lodged by Belden Namah (and/or the Opposition) and will be heard on March 14.
The application seeks to halt the mooted release of 2014 DSIP funds by the Minister of Finance James Marape, until the completed payment of 2013 funds owing to all MPs, especially Opposition Members.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Sam Basil announced that while all Government Minsters were paid in full by November 2103 (K10million), Members of the Opposition have received only K6 million paid in two batches – the first K3million in June 2013 and the second tranche of K3million in January 2014. (The second K3 million Basil claims has not reached opposition MPs because it was deposited in the wrong account)
It is not known (by this writer) when the remainder (K4million) is due to be paid or if it will be.
The Opposition is livid; they want what they consider their due.
That’s fair enough.
The money is for the benefit their constituents (or should be). It just beggars belief that the person with whom they should have to do battle is the Prime Minister himself.
Peter O’Neill is as much the Leader of Vanimo and Bulolo as he is of Ialibu. Holding some MPs to ransom by denying their constituents access to funding is discriminatory and shabby politicking.
Reaping what one sows
That O’Neill’s role in this saga is hardly honourable does not make Namah’s stand any more virtuous.
In court, O’Neill will argue that the funds are not covered by the constitution while Namah’s lawyers will argue that an Act of Parliament covers the funds, so the constitution applies.
In this battle, Namah may well find himself on a hiding to nothing…and if so, he’ll have no one to blame but himself.
In 2011, the O’Neill/Namah government set a dangerous precedent when it chose to ignore a Supreme Court ruling. They argued the supremacy of the Parliament over the courts as they plunged the country into a constitutional crisis such as it had never before seen. In this Namah was not only complicit but a leading protagonist.
Yet the number on the floor of parliament then was not as great as the number O’Neill now commands.
Someone who wiped his feet on the constitution and the courts of Papua New Guinea (Namah), is now going to them, cap in hand, to save his bacon. It must be a delicious irony for Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia whose court Namah violated.
Don’t blame it on the good times…just blame it on the boogie Prime Minister
Namah has so seldom been seen lately in Vanimo and so often in Singapore that some of his constituents have started calling him the Member for Singapore.
So what prompted Namah to take himself and “an outstanding team of 30 people” back to his constituency last week? (As reported breathlessly on Vanimo/Green’s Facebook page)
The “outstanding team” (where’s that ironic font?) included Deputy Opposition Leader, Sam Basil and Noel Anjo Kolao (of Barmy Army fame) – a motley crew.
According to the site, the visit was:
…a purging exercise to put to rest doubts created by critics and the like regarding issues and questions as to what the member has done for his electorate.
While this report, in typical self-congratulatory manner, marvels at Namah’s own initiatives (which if put in list form amount to little considering the time frame), Post Courier journalist Nellie Setepano mentions seven projects that have ground to a halt for lack of funding.
It’s O’Neill’s fault that the Don Bosco Secondary School has no access to satellite, Namah told students and teachers. It’s because of the withholding of the DSIP funds.
And that’s why Namah was in Vanimo – to deny his own culpability.
Namah’d found a scapegoat for his own inadequacies and neglect and was busy shifting the blame – in preparation for the court case, maybe?
The problem is that many of the abandoned projects have a history that goes further back than 2013. Some were commissioned when the Hon Member was a high-ranking minister in the government.
The VSAT satellite, for example, has been inoperational for over two years, according to Setepano.
In the hinterlands of West Sepik, Bewani Station lies in thick bushes,
she adds. Has that been only in the past year?
Besides, Mr Namah, what did you do with the K6 million you did get?
Namah has been the Member for Vanimo/Green since 2007.
By the time he entered parliament, he had already become a multi-millionaire by exploiting the resources in his ‘backyard’. He had accumulate his wealth in record time, following his release from prison.
Given the rapidity of his wealth creation, ‘exploiting’ could well be true on any number of levels.
During his parliamentary career, Namah has been variably, Forestry Minister, Opposition Leader, Deputy Prime Minister and now Opposition Leader again. In that time he has used his position to enrich himself further.
However, he has not done so well for his constituents.
There is a decided lack of noticeable wealth in Vanimo/Green yet it has only been very recently that Vanimo/Green has been denied its full share of DSIP funds.
Under the circumsatnces can Namah really pass the buck and blame it on the recent withholding?
Member’s Slush Funds
But even ignoring Namah, in general, DSIP funds rarely trickle down to the people.
For although it is the Joint District Planning and Budget Priorities Committee (JDP&BPC) that decides on how the DSIP money should be allocated, the sitting MP is the Chairman of the committee who generally deem it to be the “Member’s money,” according to Colin Wiltshire the Devpolicy Program Manager for the PNG Promoting Effective Public Expenditure Project.
There have been widespread reports that MPs use this committee as a rubber stamp, [and]… the MP always has the final say.”
Furthermore, Wiltshire quotes Treasurer Don Polye as saying,
…Our monitoring and evaluating systems are non-existent.
Is it then any wonder that misappropriation has been rife – aided and abetted by the flaunting of the Finance Management Act that prohibits the Committees from procuring services?
Sam Koim, Chairman of anti corruption Task Force Sweep (TFS) stated on a public forum:
It has come to our attention that JPP&BPC and JDP&BPC whose chairmans [sic] are Provincial Governors and Open Members respectively are purportedly approving and procuring goods and services. We have received numerous complaints/allegations including meeting minutes where JPP&BPC and JDP&BPC of various provinces and districts are awarding contracts to private contractors as reflected in a number of their meeting minutes that we have received.
He went on to publicly remind everyone of the rules:
The Financial Delegate of the District or the Province can commit up to K500,000 in written quotations but anything above K500,000 goes to the Provincial Supplies and Tenders Board or the Central Supplies and Tenders Board subject to the limit of the financial authority of the Board.
That companies owned by wantoks of the Member of many Provinces, often unfit for the job, are awarded contracts by the Committee is all too frequent
Some contracts are awarded, paid for and never completed – the Wasa Bridge in Kandep springs immediately to mind. Kandep’s MP is none other that the same Treasurer who admitted the non-existence of checks and balances.
Other times these funds are used by the Member to buy loyalty to ensure him of his future election win, making any future voting seriously skewed by the uneven distribution of monies that, ironically, never belonged to the Member to start with.
The people are being bought with their own money.
DSIP funds are nothing but ammunition in the political play of politicians in their contemptible quest for power. They should be stopped in favour of something that effectively delivers services to the people.