State-owned firms to fund O'Neill govt's hospitals rehabilitation program

22/01/2012 20:21


The Port Moresby General Hospital in the PNG capital which will benefit under the O'Neill

government's hospitals rehabilitation program. Picture courtesy of Michael Schlauch

Some funding for the O’Neill government’s free health care and hospitals rehabilitation programs will come from dividends paid by state-owned enterprises, says Deputy Prime Minister and acting Public Enterprises Minister Belden Namah.

The DPM in the parliament-elected O'Neill government told the heads of state-owned public enterprises in a recent meeting that they would have to put in an effort to declare dividends, which would then be channelled to the two initiatives.

“The O’Neill-Namah government this week (last week) decided to provide some free medical services to the public, and to rehabilitate the nation’s hospitals. Some of the money to do this will come from public enterprise dividends. So I urge you this evening to redouble your efforts to make your businesses more efficient, and to pay dividends to the state,” said Mr Namah.

The O’Neill government has embarked on an aggressive reform program targeting state-owned enterprises (SOE) since its August 2, 2011 election, under the radar of former PM Sir Mekere Morauta who has taken on the public enterprises portfolio.

Organisations to come under scrutiny in recent months included the PNG Ports Authority, Air Niugini, PNG Power Limited and the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC), the umbrella body which holds most of the government’s commercial assets in trust including the state’s 19.4 per cent equity in the Exxon-Mobil-led PNG LNG Project.

According to Mr Namah SOEs failed to satisfactorily manage the state’s equity, provide financial support for economic and business development in rural communities and manage the state’s interest in private firms.

“These are critical roles and responsibilities that have not been fulfilled satisfactorily during the past 10 years. Therefore my government has made clear its intention to reform public enterprises through a program of continuous improvement. As of now, they now have the finances and the plans to get on with the job,” he added.

But the O’Neill government’s reform program has not been without controversy with Mr Namah reportedly suspending PNG Ports Authority CEO Brian Riches, compelling the latter to go to court seeking a stay on his suspension pending a full National Court hearing.

While no reasons were reportedly given at that time for his sidelining, Mr Namah told the SOEs’ top brass that audits had uncovered failed investments by the IPBC and PNG Ports Authority to the tune of K50 million.

Other discrepancies included the alleged disappearance of K100 million in funds belong to the Motor Vehicle Insurance Limited (MVIL) in Australia, K800 million in unauthorised borrowings and expenditure by Telikom PNG Ltd and K900 million shortfall in funding the state’s equity in the PNG LNG Project.