from THE GUARDIAN - www.theguardian.com
PNG's Foreign Affairs minister Hon. Rimbink Pato claims unpaid dues were caused by an administrative error and have now been paid, but UN says no money has been received.
Papua New Guinea’s government has sought to downplay the announcement by the United Nations that the country’s voting rights in the general assembly would be suspended for failing to pay $180,000 in dues – claiming it was an administrative error.
Papua New Guinea’s foreign affairs minister said the outstanding fees which led to the suspension had now been paid but the United Nations stood by its decision and said no funds had been received.
The UN’s action followed a run of financial embarrassments, including the national electricity provider shutting off power to a number of government agencies for failure to pay the bills. It also comes as the government prepares for a national election and the 2018 Apec summit.
The foreign affairs minister, Rimbink Pato, denied the country had been suspended from voting and claimed the unpaid dues were an administration error which saw the contribution funds erroneously used for operational costs in PNG’s overseas missions.
“This had been realized, and by Friday the transfer of additional funds was under way with the allocation due to arrive in PNG UN mission account over the weekend,” he told the Post Courier.
“The misunderstanding was likely also compounded due to reform and change being undertaken in foreign missions that can take time for systems to adjust.”
However a spokesman for the UN secretary general told Guardian Australia the organisation had received no funds from PNG recently.
“The committee on contributions will meet in June 2017, and no request for exemption due to conditions beyond the country’s control has been made by PNG to date,” he said.
Pato declined an interview request from the Guardian.
Research fellow in the Myer Foundation Melanesia program at the Lowy Institute, Jonathan Pryke, said the PNG government appeared to be “selling a line of denial” about the challenges they are facing, but the real reason behind the problems were not known.
It comes as the government prepares to host next year’s Apec summit, with a reported budget of about $330m. Australia will have contributed around $100m by the time the summit begins, including $48m on the continuing presence of 73 Australian federal police officers, according to the ABC. Australia’s justice minister, Michael Keenan, acknowledged the high level of support was in part to prevent China stepping in.
Last month the PNG minister for sport, national events and Apec, Justin Tkatchenko, described the contribution of Australia, New Zealand and the US as “beyond that which would ordinarily be afforded to an Apec host”.
PNG’s fiscal outlook was very different when it agreed to host the summit, Pryke said. Off the back of lower commodity prices and government revenues, as well as the El Niño drought, the country’s real GDP growth has fallen from 11.8% in 2015 to a forecast 2.8% in 2017.
“Back when they committed to host Apec their commodity process were at an all-time high, and they were about to start producing from their largest ever project in the natural resources sector which was going to increase their GDP by a third,” he said.
“They expected to have overflowing government revenues, then they got hit at the worst possible time by global commodity prices. What they expected to be their heyday turned into quite the opposite.
“They are committed to hosting Apec and rightly or wrongly it is going to go ahead, and unfortunately it’s going to come at a significant cost to the taxpayers in that country.”
In June the country also goes to a national election. Pryke said the government’s spending on Apec while it fails to keep the lights on in parliament is causing consternation among the Port Moresby middle class, but it’s hard to know what affect it will have in the provinces. An estimated 85% of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas.
“PNG politics ultimately is very local,” said Pryke.
“It matters less for the rank and file voter – these national scandals and challenges … Because we don’t have a great network out to these rural communities it’s really hard to make a prediction from outside PNG as to what going to happen.”