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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Blowing hard earned money on trucks

PAPUA NEW GUINEA's second largest super fund Nambawan Super, a hugely different superannuation fund from that of some years back, when board members and management were given to a bit of extravagance, made another milestone this past financial year.

It was overheard at the gathering to announce the profit and crediting of a 10 per cent interest to members, that one past year the superfund board travelled abroad to hold a meeting in time for a major sporting event there.  And they travelled with spouses too!

All that has now gone and with the reforms it adopted, the super fund is now open to non-public servant contributors as well.

A happy board chairman Sir Nagora Bogan in the company of some of his members and management, announced on Wednesday that the fund again posted a profit for the 2009 financial year.  The fund could have increased individual members' interest to something higher than the 10 per cent announced but prudence ruled that some of the windfall be held in reserves for that rainy day.

Over 100,000 Papua New Guineans who are contributing members of the fund will have received the news with jubilation.  Most of these members, we might add, are low to medium level income earners who might not have the ability or the resolve to save.

Nambawan Super therefore is their brightest hope for any saving for retirement or future enterprise when their formal employment ceases.

But a sad fact is that lately some members upon retirement have taken their money saved up for them during their years of toil only to blow it up in failed investments or on lifestyles unknown to them in their working years.

For instance, in one particular part of the country a number of loyal teachers who ended their careers claimed their superannuation funds and for some strange reason all decided to purchase PMV trucks.

Names like Las Potnait and Chalk Dust, emblazoned on the front of these trucks make no secret about who the owners are and how they were acquired.

But all have a common sorry ending.  In two to three years maximum, the trucks show signs of wear and tear and are grounded sooner than the owners would have expected.  The reason:  these former teachers, who have dedicated all their time and skills to mentor youngsters have acquired no business management skills along the way.

To them the pride and prestige of owning and operating a brand new truck for close to K100,000 in hard cash is an achievement in itself.  With no know-how or drive to attain profitability and sustainability, the ex-teacher-cum entrepreneur ends up with the same old sad situation like those before him.  Trucks break down and there is little money left for maintenance or to acquire replacements. Large amounts are owed to workshops and other service providers and the PMV operator is stuck in a tight corner, lamenting why he had chosen the line of business in the first place.

Nambawan Super provides another service called retirement savings which is a portion of members' savings which can be withdrawn as a periodic pension payment.

While the super fund counsels its members to use this product, it could also explore avenues to provide business and investment advice as well for those who might need it.

In makes no sense if one who had been a loyal worker turns out to be the proverbial prodigal son. If he cares to listen, spare him the ignorance and misery!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Take heed of Polye's outburst

DON POMB Polye, is a young energetic workaholic who wants to get things done with typical engineering precision and efficiency.
The Prime Minister chose well to offload the vital ministry of Works and Transport back on Polye when he retook his Kandep seat in a by-election.

Prior to his being disqualified by the court of disputed returns, the minister was in a hurry to get the ailing transport infrastructure maintained and operational to optimum standard.

The hassles of a court ordered by-election and electioneering have slowed him down in his plans to secure funding for road maintenance and upgrading - his top most priority and biggest assisgnment was to secure foreign aid for the costly exercise of lifting the standard of the Highlands Highway to some respectability and usability. 

Currently he his faced with the unenviable task of stretching the K30 million allocated his ministry for the long winding road from Lae through the Highlands interior and other roads as well.  This is an impossibility.  And while he is scrambling for more money to fix this much talked about national asset, other important road networks elsewhere in the country are falling apart too.  He needs to find a lot of money and pretty quick.
No wonder he is irritated by the obese bureaucracy at National Planning Department. 

He said everyone thinks his departments are at fault when in fact, the department responsible for making budget allocations and releasing funds is sitting on the requested and budgeted funds.

Mr Polye also said that the department of National Planning should know the importance of road maintenance and appropriate enough funding for it.

The Kandep MP said if he was responsible for budgeting, he would appropriate K400 million for transport maintenance, K250m for roads and K150m for jetties and wharves.

Bureaucratic processes and procedures are an accepted norm but unfortunately, the elements contributing to PNG's disastrous road conditions have no regard for bureaucracy.  And that is a reality Waigani seems not to understand and appreciate.

Minister Polye's suggestion to have the Planning functions taken over by the Prime Minister's Department sounds a logical thing to do.  National Planning and Monitoring, though relatively new, may have become another large government department which has assumed immense self-importance but lacks the cutting edge mentality to speedily facilitate vital national development initiative.

If a State Minister has difficulty with the Department there what hope has anyone else?
A day after Minister Polye expressed disappointment with the National Planning Department, his colleague Paul Tiensten has reportedly returned the score.

While it would be nice to know who or what is responsible for the slow implementation of vital road maintenance work, what the country needs least is a media debate and attempts to apportion blame.
The roads are going fast, gentlemen.  Stop arguing and get on with the job of fixing them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Side tracked by the Condom

The condom is stretched to snapping point

THERE is a reality known as a personal encounter with God. 

Millions around the world have had such instances in their lives and there are countless volumes of literature on the subject.  Forget what the atheists might say - to them this is nonsensical, pure imagination or an escape mechanism from the troubles of this world.

The thread that runs through all these experiences is that from such a defining point, one's whole view of life takes a complete new turn for the better.

This is the truth Paul talks about in his epistle: "Behold, the old is gone; the new is come." The shackles of the old self are shaken off and man experiences new found peace. 

In this Christian country, one who has found God personally has found potent ammunition and trustworthy defence in the battle against HIV/AIDS.  Again forget about those who may brand this as religious gibberish.

One might ask, what happens if one contracts the virus before they find God?  Well, they would have found strength to help them live normally with the virus and would not dare pass it on. Simplistic maybe, but true if that person remains faithful to his conviction.

The debate on the use of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS rages on.  The poor object has been figuratively stretched from both ends by those for and against.   It has reached its breaking point and will snap any moment, so to speak.

Our war on the virus and the related debate have largely been 'condomised' and about the use of millions of kina in donor funding.  The latex has been promoted as not the safest but the best available protection against the spread of the virus if one discounts abstinence and faithfulness.  Churches and some common people are vehemently against its use because it promotes promiscuity, they contend.
Stop for a moment to consider a world without the condom. 

Remove the condom from the face of the earth and the Catholic and all those churches preaching a nominal, half-hearted message from the comfort and supposed sanctity of their pulpits will be faced with a world in which they have to work twice as hard to save lives.

Doubtless the church, both Catholic and non-Catholic, has been successful with all the social services it has provided around the world.  It seems, however, that same church has shied away from the more difficult task (which is its original, if it can be said that way).  And that is leading the human soul to an intimate life-time relationship with God - the God of purity and holiness.

The church's care-giving and counseling efforts for AIDS sufferers are commendable but are akin to an injured animal licking its wounds.  We would rather see a head to head confrontation between the church and the devil.  Let the war begin from the church and spill out onto the streets!

The cultured, 'refined' and well-educated may rely on his or her upbringing and social circles to make well-informed decisions and arguably avoid the risks of HIV infection.

The less sophisticated, run-of-the-mill citizen needs God.  In the absence of the stringent cultural taboos of old and a strong attachment to God, the average human being is left at the mercy of the devil and the lure of the world.

Talk to an addict, a drug user or any other 'moral weakling' and they will tell you they have the backbone of a jellyfish to stand up to the lusts of this world. 

They therefore need God.  Rather, they need someone to introduce to them to God.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Kapris story nears the climax

THE STORY gets better by the day!
Our source states that William Kapris had actually named two State Ministers who helped with K25,000 to arrange his escape from Bomana prison.

You can't get any harder story than that to show the world there is an underworld of PNG politics and its links to big time crime.

But for heaven's sake, this has got to be the figment of Kapris' imagination. He ought to have even been hallucinating after being given a rude awakening by policemen barging in and disrupting his blissful slumber in the lodge he was nabbed in.

Politicians, big businesses and even the common citizens go to great lengths to project a positive image to the rest of the world. And as responsible citizens, just as much concerned about the country's name and reputation, this newspaper too is mindful of the pitfalls of sensationalism in its reporting. But this is a story that was waiting to be told; in fact it was being played out as in a stage play with one scene closing for the entry of another.

And this has got to be the climax. It may in fact be the anticlimax as what follows from here is either a confirmation or denial of these allegations and prosecutions or referral to a leadership tribunal if there is some truth found.

Once it gets to that stage, it would be one man's word against another's.

The revelation in today's story further confirms rumours that have been circulating ever since the bank robberies a few years back.

We have paused to ponder whether to publish and be damned or not to publish (and be damned all the same).

We chose to publish because indications have been there all along - from a purported correspondence from behind bars to a justice of the National and Supreme Courts to the man's threat to spill the beans in a police interview.

Police Commissioner Gari Baki revealed on Friday that there was a near clash between policemen who arrested Kapris and a unit from Mc Gregor Barracks late night on the Saturday Kapris was arrested.

The policemen who arrested Kapris seemed to have forgotten all process and protocol by not taking Kapris to Boroko police station and locking him up.

He was told of the arrest couple of hours later and by three different sources.

He said when he learnt that Kapris was not at Boroko police cells, he directed Mr Huafolo and the Director for the Mobile units, David Manning to look for the unit which was driving Kapris around and have Kapris taken to Bomana.

When Mr Manning's unit approached the vehicle with Kapris, guns were pointed at Mr Manning, resulting in a near shootout.

That is yet another scene of this play starring Kapris touted as the country's most wanted man - a celebrity of sorts.

An epilogue to the Kapris story would detail why the two ministers would want the prisoner out, for whom he was carrying that side arm plus where the loot from the robberies was deposited.

Only then would PNG know whether Kapris was the true mastermind or simply a pawn to someone higher up.

But his revelation already of names of those higher up must have got somebody twitchy and will cause him or them to lose a good night's sleep - if there is any truth in them.

It is tempting to pity those involved with or through Kapris to rob and terrorise or help in his escape from lawful custody - all for the love of money!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Education woes persist and worsen with time

IT MUST have been a chaotic week one of term one of school year 2010.  The normal activity and mad rush and long lines at the start of the school year are nothing new.

But judging by reports so far this school year is commencing with another lot of problems apart from the usual hassles expected.

Problems encountered at the start of the 2010 academic year are varied but these are among the worrying ones that need special remedial action: There have been two different student selection lists for tertiary education institutions; elementary education is still to be paid for despite the government's free basic education initiative announced toward the end of last year; and schools have simply run out of space to cater for transferring students. 

The anxious moments may run into a second, possibly third week while school administration scramble to find solutions before students are settled into classrooms and dormitories.

More drama is expected when university classes commence in a couple of week's time and especially at the University of PNG which has raised its tuition fees. The move has irked students as well as parents and guardians.

The line of communication between the Measurement Services Unit of the Department of Education, the Commission of Higher Education and a number of secondary level institutions who graduated students from grade 12 in 2009, has not been kept clear of distortion. 

Two different lists of schools examination marks and information emanating from secondary schools to the MSU has resulted in a number of eligible students being denied places in tertiary institutions and government scholarships through the tertiary education assistance scheme (TESAS).  When final marks on higher school certificates were compared against the listings of universities and colleges, much did not make sense to the many students who were expecting to be on the lists.

The Director of the Office of Higher Education (OHE) Dr William Tagis explained at a press conference this week that OHE was not involved in selecting and admitting students into academic and training programs but facilitates the national selections.

He said however, that those deserving students will be catered provided for under some arrangement with higher learning institutions concerned.

In the NCD, a directive from the district education office has stopped secondary school administrations especially from enrolling any students transferring from other schools either within the district or from elsewhere in the country.

This drastic measure is a direct result of a lack of classroom space at schools that has been left to worsen over the years.

District education officials partly blame the schools for failing to maintain existing classroom facilities or build new ones for the increasing student population in the city.

The shortage of space in schools is not something peculiar to the NCD but school administrations and planners in this expanding city have been slow in realizing that they have to regularly adapt to and cater for the growing population.

With the hype about the mega resource developments and the expected influx of other Papua New Guineans into the city in the next few years and decades, time is surely against our education planners and institutions.
The instruction from the NCDC education office to halt enrolments of transferring students is one based on the reality of the situation at hand but it may also be indicative of a lack of creativity and innovation.

Yes, we have a space problem but can we not work around it?  This may be the time to implement that shift teaching concept proposed at the 2009 national education conference in Alotau. Rather than stopping schools from getting in students, let each school administration use some creativity and deal with the demand in the best way available to it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Democracy in God's business

THE office of the head of a church of 1.3 million Papua New Guineans carries no small clout. 

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, a truly nationalized and autonomous body in the Lutheran World Federation prides itself in being a major provider of health and education services in the country, second perhaps only to the Catholic Church.

The person presiding over the church which also runs a successful line of business, owns a teacher training institution, a seminary and soon a university, is someone with power.

The recently ended 27th Synod of the ELC voted in academic/minister Giegere Wenge as the church's chief shepherd.  He takes over from where former acting head bishop and new deputy head bishop Rev. Zau Rapa has left.  Zau Rapa had also been deputy to another great Lutheran leader in the late former head bishop Rev. Dr. Wesley Kigasung.

Rev. Wenge was voted in through the democratic means which dictates that the choice of the majority wins.  An undesirable bi-product of that process was a confrontation between two delegations from Simbu. 
When earnest prayer seeking the guidance of the man above is left out, you are left with Waigani-style lobbying and money changing hands, which is possible even in a church election. This is not to say that that was what transpired at ELC synod.

A delegate from the Simbu congregation charged that the other Simbu group had not supported their cause to vote in a "Highlander" to the top job after the church was run by "Coastals" ever since its birth.  It was a sad day PNG politics and regionalism crept right into the church of God.   Or did those un-Christian traits germinate in the church and flourish in the secular world?

The Simbu man expressed his displeasure after the election results were announced.
Whatever his feelings - and those of other delegates who wanted someone else as head bishop,  Rev Wenge is the man to hold the church on course for the next four years. 

His is a position of power; one that is to be envied even by politicians and aspiring politicians.  In Morobe at least, if you have the backing of the Lutheran Church membership in any election, you are counted among the serious contenders.

But the democratic process is unfortunately not always God's method in making leaders for his people.  It is the best we mortals are left with though. 

Therefore those who hold positions of power over man in God's behalf have an awesome responsibility - responsibility that should be exercised almost with fear. History is littered with reminders of blunders or controversies arising from decisions by church men in the name of God.

Pope Paul IV's 1968 encyclical letter Humane Vitae that prohibits any artificial contraception, for instance, had met dissenension in the church then and still does. Rev Wenge wields power and influence that the Lutheran membership and the nation expect him to use with the greatest care, setting the human soul as his primary business. Any deviation from that, fed by political ambition and a hunger for power and prestige, would only lead to misery in his church and the country generally.

PNG looks to Rev Wenge for leadership - Christ-like leadership that would be a relief from what we have been getting from those who deem themselves masters instead of servants.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The actions of the few must haunt them now

WHOEVER unlocked the cage will get mauled.  If that is not going to be at the hands of the very beast let out, it will certainly be by another, perhaps a more ferocious one. 

But naturally, that would take time.  Unfortunately, before that comes to pass, a lot more innocent bystanders will be attacked or made to suffer some loss because the dangerous beast is now on the loose, maybe with vengeance in mind.   That goes without saying that the escaped beast itself will also meet its fate.

If this will be of some small impact, we do echo the voice of police to the public to be vigilant.  Give no room to the evil that lurks and would pounce on any given opportunity.   Beware, the hunted is also on the hunt; it is looking out for complacency, negligence and plain foolhardiness.

We are referring to the many dangerous criminals that have escaped the grasp of law enforcement agencies in the space of just a few months, if not weeks.  The most significant of such escapes has been that of famed bank robber William Kapris and his band of high risk prisoners from Bomana's maximum security unit.
The media has been fed with after-the-event rumour and conspiracy theories; some plausible, others detrimental to efforts to recapture to escapees.

Metropolitan Superintendent Fred Yakasa has come out publicly to state that three warders have been charged for abetting the escape.

CIS Commissioner Richard Sikani has reportedly stated that one of his charges had collected a large sum of money from somewhere to help the prisoners escape.

All that is coming in the heat of the moment.  When the muddied waters settle, the truth will surface.  And one truth that the PNG public would want to know is:  Whether Kapris is the real culprit or is he simply a pawn set up by some person or entity much more sinister than the lone jail breaker and his accomplices.
The public is simply baffled over the seemingly effortless escape of the prisoners at Bomana.

That a female human rights lawyer fronts up one day and requests to see a resident of the maximum security unit without any approval from the Commissioner is simply beyond belief.  How did she even go through the initial checkpoint without any body search to detect her side arm? How and why did it happen with such ease, Mr Commissioner?  Such questions can only be answered in the official investigation now underway.
After the Madang and Kerema bank robberies the rumour mill was filled with stories of some higher-up people being involved and that the proceeds of these crimes might eventually end up in those people's bank accounts.

Whether there is any element of truth in those rumours is yet to be established; when and how that truth becomes known may be a long way away yet.

The one thought that gives us some comfort though is that same fate awaits both the predator and the prey.  Today's ferocious, merciless monster will become tomorrow's helpless prey to another of its own kind or at the hands of the law.

We pray for their personal safety of the overworked Police and CIS personnel in the efforts to recapture these dangerous persons.  While the rest of us sleep peacefully, theirs is the reality of keeping one eye open in their sleep.  The hunted runs but when cornered, fights back ruthlessly.  May good and justice prevail always.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What a week that was!

THE WEEK that has been was one in which the news media did not have to look for or 'make up' news.  But most of what was big news was all grim though.

Locally as well as internationally, it has all been shocking, tragic and horrific week.  In fact no expletives would do justice to what has befallen us here and one other nation on earth.

Haiti, known as a poor nation by world standards, was struck by a massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake.  Port-au-prince, the capital of this Caribbean nation was worst hit.

According to the Associated Press, dazed survivors wandered past dead bodies in rubble-strewn streets on Wednesday, crying for loved ones, and rescuers searched collapsed buildings as officials feared the death toll from Haiti's devastating earthquake could reach into the tens of thousands.

The first cargo planes with food, water, medical supplies, shelter and sniffer dogs headed to the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation a day after the magnitude-7 quake flattened much of the capital of 2 million people.

Tuesday's earthquake brought down buildings great and small - from shacks in shantytowns to President Rene Preval's gleaming white National Palace, where a dome tilted ominously above the manicured grounds.

Hospitals, schools and the main prison collapsed. The capital's Roman Catholic archbishop was killed when his office and the main cathedral fell. The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission was missing in the ruins of the organization's multistory headquarters.

Bodies were everywhere in Port-au-Prince: those of tiny children adjacent to schools, women in the rubble-strewn streets with stunned expressions frozen on their faces, men hidden beneath plastic tarps and cotton sheets.

Haiti's leaders struggled to comprehend the extent of the catastrophe - the worst earthquake to hit the country in 200 years - even as aftershocks still reverberated.

Haiti seems especially prone to catastrophe - from natural disasters like hurricanes, storms, floods and mudslides to crushing poverty, unstable governments, poor building standards and low literacy rates.
US President Barrack Obama described the disaster, its aftermath and frantic attempts to find survivors as heart-wrenching.

The planned visit by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Port Moresby on Thursday was postponed.  A short press release from the US Embassy in Port Moresby read:  "Due to the serious tragedy in Haiti, the remainder of Secretary Clinton's Asia-Pacific visit is officially postponed.  Secretary Clinton informed Prime Minister Somare directly about the postponement.  They agreed to reschedule the visit to Papua New Guinea at a mutually agreeable time in the future."

Our daily newspapers reported that PNG's best known bank robber William Nanua Kapris escaped maximum security at Bomana. In the company of Kapris were some of the most wanted men who pose a serious threat to national security when on the run. While the Correctional Service management and police, along with National Security Advisory Committee are working around the clock on that security threat, families of the 40 plus passengers who perished in that horrific accident in the Markham Valley are trying to come to terms with the reality of the loss.

From reports in the dailies, we learn that families in the Western Highlands, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands and Morobe are in mourning. By relation, people in other parts of the country may also be mourning when news of the disaster reached them.

It has been a week of calamity for PNG and a faraway nation that has much in common with us.
While the Haiti earthquake was something beyond human control, the loss of men, women and the little ones - their bodies strewn about like lifeless objects in the Markham Valley or dangling from twisted wrecks - could have been avoided.

But that is as much as we can say about the accident at the moment.  Our hearts go to the families who lost loved ones in the PMV buses involved in the accident. We can only imagine the emotions and share in the sense of loss.