PNG’s opposition blasts O’Neill over ‘fake budget, fake revenues’

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A tale of two newspapers ... contrasting front page views of the Papua New Guinea Budget. Image: Screenshot/The Pacific Newsroom

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Papua New Guinea’s opposition has declared it will fight a good fight to expose and oppose what it describes the 2018 state money plan as a “fake budget”, reports the PNG Post-Courier.

However, the rival daily newspaper, The National, quotes Prime Minister Peter O’Neill as decribing the K14.7 billion (NZ$6.6 billion) Budget as Papua New Guinea’s “best in 16 years”.

The opposition’s Shadow Minister for Treasury and Finance Ian Ling-Stuckey presented the “alternative government” 2018 Budget response titled “Fake Revenues, Fake Loans and a Fake Budget”, the Post-Courier reported.

He said the 2018 Budget was filled with misguided spending priorities, failed plans for financing and yet another huge deficit that would burden “our children” with too much expensive debt.

“Put simply, when I look at the budget, I think of PNG as being similar to a very large and diverse company-PNG Government Limited,” Ling-Stuckey said.

“Is PNG Government Ltd broke? Our people are feeling the pain through a lack of jobs, a lack of incomes, a lack of foreign exchange and a lack of important government services.”

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Ling Stuckey said that since 2011 debt had grown from K8 billion (NZ$3.6 billion) to more than K24 billion (NZ$10.8 billion) in just five years.

‘Fake revenue’
“The 2018 Budget has, at this early stage, some K2 billion in ‘fake revenue’. This is not the ‘building block’ that the Minister for Treasury promised. So where is this K2 billion in fake revenue?”

He said to assume that revenues were going to increase as much as 20 percent from K10.6 billion to K12.7 billion in 2017 was wrong.

He said the opposition supported the increase in health expenditure of K285 million but relative to the 2015 Budget, health had been cut by 16 percent in real terms.

“It’s no wonder our health services are declining. It is good that more funds are being provided for medical supplies. However, the underlying issue is a lack of transparent competitive tendering in the medical supply contract,” he said.

Ling Stuckey said the biggest winners in this budget were interest costs, administration, health and APEC.

“Are some of these really the right priorities at this time of severe economic pain and failing government services?

‘Bad signal’
However, The National’s Clifford Faiparik reported that Prime Minister O’Neill criticised the opposition budget response, calling on Ling-Stuckey to withdraw his “fake budget” remark.

“This is very disappointing as it will give a bad signal to our international investors. I’m calling on the Shadow Treasury Ian Ling- Stuckey to withdraw his statement,” he said.

“This is by far one of the best budgets that I have ever seen since I have been in this Parliament for 16 years now. That includes the budget that I have presented as well.”

O’Neill had served as a treasurer in the Sir Michael Somare-led government.

“I say this because this budget is now putting us on a course to make sure that this country’s economic base and growth will be such that it can be self-sustainable,” he said.

“So it is quite disappointing that some of the terminologies that he [Ling-Stuckey] used are unbecoming of leaders of this honourable House. We have to be careful of how we portray the image of our country, our parliament and ourselves.

“Sometimes for short political convenience and point-scoring we say things and do things that are not really in the best interest of our country. We have to be constructive.”

The Post-Courier and The National are Papua New Guinea’s only two daily newspapers.

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