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24 November 2016

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I sometimes think that the government bean counters are counting the wrong beans and including their own nuts with the lot.

That's probably why they think there's no money in some areas but all of a sudden find numbers in another line.

It's no wonder it took a woman to pick out the flawed budget figures - at least she could tell the beans from the nuts.

Good leader. Bring the fight to the main highway. Whether it's pitching or itching, we'll see how it goes there.

In 1987 I surprised the New Ireland Assembly’s budget session when, as its Finance Minister was about to call for approval to accept it, I raised a point of order.

As I was an often annoying independent opposition member, though generally supporting the majority PPP opposition party, the Speaker frowned at my disruptive move…

“What is it now member for South Lavongai?”

I mischievously grinned at him, “There are mathematical errors in the Budget Mr. Speaker!”

“Where, what vote number?” he replied.

I rattled off what must have been ten or more references for the Assembly.

The bemused Speaker looked beseechingly at his political boss, Premier Anis, who was speaking quietly to his Finance Minister.

The impasse broke as the Speaker adjourned the meeting and asked me to sit down with the government ministers to clarify the problem areas.

We gathered at one of the chamber’s tables and I started listing one by one the errors I had found.

They were duly noted and when the sitting eventually resumed the embarrassed Minister had to apologise to us and present a hastily drawn up correcting amendment.

The following year I was pleased to once again find some errors to annoy the government. And unbelievably the third year I managed to find one too.

Don’t forget this was almost in infancy of the digital age in PNG. No wonder the Provincial Forest Minster once called me a ‘white bastard’ during a debate.

Mind you, that almost provoked a riot by my supporters listening at the back of the hall through the louvred windows.

What I also noted with every budget was that assembly members would sometimes hotly debate allocations for their constituencies on the expenditure side of the balanced accounts but we were never really allowed to debate the revenue items. They were apparently carved in stone.

During the year we would get supplementary budgets to amend what I suspected the government knew all along would be shortfalls in revenue.

These would need to be offset by the disappearance of budgeted project funding from several areas of the province - mainly from opposition controlled electorates.

Thus in the first two years my area was given the minimum amounts possible with no project that one could honestly remotely call ‘major’.

It was only in the final year that I had one such project because PANGU and its coalition were hoping - and did - win the seat from me.

Paul Flanagan claims O’Neill’s latest budget shows a mathematical error but could it be that old provincial methodology transferred to Waigani’s bean counters?

Number crunchers have established a dark art in reportage which you and I are expected to not notice. Multinationals do it too.

That’s why the rich gold mine on Lihir made a loss for ten years and so couldn’t pay dividends to the provincial coffers.

One silly old grassroots listener at the miner’s gobbledegook speakfest in town asked the CEO a succinct question: “If my little trade store made no profit for ten years I would stop running it. How can you continue making a loss?”

To make it worse the company ‘bigman’ then bemoaned the falling gold price. He and I knew that in fact that Lihir had hedged or forward sold at a much better higher price

2+2 sometimes equals 4.

This report swings more to an intending candidate pitching.

Of human beings, errors are to be expected. So which nation makes a pitch of it being unexpected?

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