DEVELOPMENT as an end goal can only come about if it is well funded. Regardless of the commitment, honesty and good governance ideals that are prerequisite to it, it cannot come about if there is no money.
In Papua New Guinea, electorates are heavily reliant upon development grants from the national government. These grants varies in scope, size and purpose
The most notable one, which has drawn a lot of attention lately, is the District Services Improvement Program Funds (DSIP), which is integral if not the backbone of development in electorates.
It is no secret in most electorates in PNG that under development is an issue. It seems that the further you move away from the urban areas the more desolate become the infrastructure and services.
Most essential infrastructure tends to be in need of urgent repair, whilst services such as health and education proceed on with what they can come up with. In a country that is in the midst of a mineral resource boom this seems to be quite ironic. Where does all the development funding go to?
Whilst issues of corruption and poor skills may contribute to this decline, they do not explain the development funding dilemma.
Most officials in districts throughout the country will note two facts about development funding grants;
(a) They are not reliable, in other words they do not arrive on time if at all
(b) They are usually in the hands of the District's high ranking officials, such as the District Administrator and Members of Parliament.
This scenario of unreliable funding can be attributed to many factors. However the most significant is the politicisation of development grants as tool for political support.
It is interesting to note how the recent governments of Somare and O’Neill are using development grants as an enticement for or threat against politicians to consolidate political power.
Failure to align with the ruling regime can come at a great cost. A good example can be seen in the case of Sam Basil, deputy opposition leader, who took the matter to court.
It is no wonder that the opposition has been weak in numbers, as no politician would want to be on the receiving end of these tactics.
The case for the sidelined Minister Don Polye, leader of the Triumphant Heritage Party, offers another case. In this case the option was presented to his political party to relieve him from the leadership role. His party members opted to do so, stating that he had done enough damage to the party.
Secondly, they indicated that it was not in their best interests to be in opposition as it would place them in a very difficult situation to address their development needs in their electorates.
Once again the tactic proves powerful in maintaining political support, regardless of a strong relationship between Don Polye and his members. The essential guiding factor behind this decision was access to funding.
If they were in the opposition, accessing development grants would be difficult. This predicament is strongly associated with the release of grants to coalition members whilst using delay tactics for opposition.
It is therefore in members’ best interest to remain where they are in coalition regardless of the consequences to their party, electorate or the nation as a whole.
Such a scenario calls for urgent redress of how development grants are designated and sourced by each respective MP from the finance department.
Failure to do this will have two negative impacts upon electoral development and effective democracy in the country.
Firstly, when linked to political alignment, grants become tools of political manoeuvring. This is in turn creates less vocal MPs who will often be less willing to oppose the dominant party due to the threat that essential funding may be withheld or blocked.
Such a scenario may result in unfavourable decisions and practices being undertaken by the dominant party which may affect the nation as a whole.
This also creates a spillover effect where it is a hindrance for MPs to undertake effective debate and decision making on the floor of parliament.
The values of representative democracy become gagged as MPs cannot freely debate and discuss essential issues and raise notice on controversial issues.
If free debate and consultation over issues so essential to the well-being of the country cannot be discussed openly without fear or favour, the very foundation of democracy - rule by the people, of the people and for the people - becomes weak.
Political representatives now serve the interest of dominant factions and not the interest of the people whom they represent.
Furthermore, by reducing the numbers of the opposition, this strategy has further limited the last line of protest which citizens have to protect them. As a result a weak democratic political system emerges allowing unhealthy practices to flourish and go unchecked.
Secondly, from the development perspective, this tactic tends to affect much needed service delivery in the electorates.
If an MP should fall into such a predicament, the chances of securing reliable funding are bleak. When development funding grants are abused in such a manner, services grind to a halt in rural areas.
In PNG some 85% of the population, and voters, is located in rural areas. As a result they are on the receiving end as infrastructure deteriorates, essential equipment breaks down and extension activities cannot be undertaken due to unreliable funding.
This situation requires effective rectification to ensure both reliable funding and the upholding of democratic values in parliament. The consequences affect electoral development initiatives and the overall progress of the country.
A free vibrant political system must flourish to enable effective discussion on national and domestic issues and ensure timely and reliable sources of funding for development initiatives.
The struggle to separate politics from administration is always problematic. Politicians are policy makers, they should not be technocrats and implementers.
This must be clearly defined in PNG with lines drawn as to the limits of politicians. In the case of development funding there is a need to create and enforce legislation that effectively prevents politicians from interfering in development funding allocation.
It should be the sole prerogative of the ministry responsible under rigid guidelines and enforcement. Failure to do so will allow the trend to continue as politics continues to interfere into the administration.
It can be seen that failure to effectively legislate and implement policies regarding development funding allocations to MPs has come at a great cost.
Whilst the resource boom is strewing forth great benefits, these may not be seen by the ordinary populace if no effective measures are taken to ensure effective and timely allocation of development funding.
It can also be seen that representation in parliament will not be truly exercised if such threats exist. The bottom line is politics must be removed from administration.
Whilst development grants form the core of funds for electoral development, they will continue to be a political tool if drastic measures are not undertaken.
If PNG is a truly democratic country then freedom of choice and speech should be exercised by MPs without fear or favour of such repercussions.
It is only through such means that some change may occur and attention drawn to other areas that hinder development.