The Public Expenditure Review and Rationalisation (PERR) program

The PERR is a joint initiative of the Papua New Guinea government, World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAID, initiated in 2002, aimed broadly at improving fiscal management. It is described in the MTDS 2005–2010 (57–58) as ‘a key vehicle for generating the savings and cost-efficiencies necessary for the successful implementation of the MTDS’. A PERR Implementing Committee is chaired by Treasury.

In 2003 the PERR produced six discussion papers: ‘Road map to fiscal sustainability’, ‘Civil service size and payroll’, ‘Restoring the integrity of budget institutions and systems’, ‘Expenditure adjustment and prioritization’, ‘Improving health spending’, and ‘Improving education spending’.

On the subject of fiscal sustainability, the authors of the PERR paper suggested in 2003 that:

The root causes of PNG’s fiscal malaise lie in poor governance in public finance management. Although most of PNG’s budget systems are sound, and by some accounts even sophisticated, poor governance over the years has led to an erosion of budgetary discipline, weakening of accountability and proliferation of waste, leakage, irregularities and malpractices across the board….tinkering with budget numbers and mandating ad-hoc expenditure cuts, as the Government has tried in the past, can hardly be expected to be effective in such a flawed system.

Several areas were identified for attention in the subsequent papers.

With regard to civil service size and payroll, it was argued that ‘public sector employment in PNG is larger than the country needs or can afford’, and that ‘the payroll system is flush with waste, leakage and irregularities’. A DPM audit suggested that there were some 2000 unproductive public servants on the unattached list (1200 of them in provincial administrations) in 2002, and ‘a large number of ghosts on the payroll’. Departments were said to recruit and make payments with no regard to budget ceilings, and Treasury was accused of ‘unrealistic appropriations’.

On the topic of restoring the integrity of budget institutions and systems, it was argued that ‘poor governance over the years has allowed [budget systems and processes] to be ignored, neglected, misused and abused’ while ‘watchdog bodies have been rendered ineffective because of absence of follow-up action on the irregularities they uncover’, with cases ‘delayed, blocked or even abrogated because of political pressures and vested interests’. There was ‘no sense of collective responsibility for the overall budget strategy’. Decentralization was said to have ‘led to an erosion of budgetary control’.

In relation to expenditure adjustment and prioritization, the PERR authors proposed an agency-by-agency review of functions (apparently going beyond existing Functional Expenditure Reviews), expenditure patterns and staffing levels, outputs and results, and whether certain functions might be privatized. They also supported the development of a Medium-term Expenditure Framework.

Actions on several of these fronts were detailed by the Minister for Finance and Treasury in his 2004 budget speech. As part of improved management of public sector employment and control of personnel expenditure, measures had been taken to remove ghost names from the payroll, implement a Concept Payroll System, reduce the pool of unattached officers by reassigning them or scheduling their redundancy, reduce the number of casual employees, and improve budget estimates and expenditure controls. In 2003 the Public Service (Management) Act was amended to facilitate merit-based appointments at senior levels; this is to be complemented by measures to extend merit-based appointment procedures to statutory authorities, and supported by a system of performance-based contracts (the appointment of senior public servants has, however, remained a point of controversy[6]). A review of government procurement was undertaken in 2001, and subsequently measures have been taken to strengthen the Central Supply and Tenders Board (CSTB), reduce discretionary powers to create lower-level supply and tenders boards, and improve information, reporting and disclosure systems (though not all departments have subscribed to the new measures). A Budget Screening Committee, comprising deputy secretaries of the central agencies, was created in 2003 to evaluate spending programs, assist prioritization of spending, and establish expenditure ceilings in the preparation of the 2004 budget. The government also announced its intention to develop a Medium-term Budget Framework within which to consider adjustments to public expenditure in the light of changes in available funding. And the Financial Management Improvement Program (FMIP), ‘an integrated reform program of financial management at all levels of the government’, was described as ‘the most significant single reform of financial management ever undertaken by the Government’. (Papua New Guinea 2003, 27. Also see FMIP 2003).

Further measures within the context of the PERR have addressed budget stability, budget processes, expenditure controls (including an embargo on out-of-court settlements of claims against the state[7]), payroll processes, salary administration, appointments procedures, expenditure prioritization and adjustment, non-tax revenue, oversight of statutory corporations, and inter-government relations.[8]

[6] See, for example Michael Unage in The National 18 August 2005, and Prime Minister Somare’s earlier statement to parliament, printed in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier 12 July 2005. Also see the comments of Chief Secretary Joshua Kalinoe, who accused politicians of bypassing formal procedures required under the Public Service Management Act to remove departmental heads who had not ‘cooperated’ with them (Papua New Guinea Post-Courier 30 January 2007, National 30 January 2007).

[7] In August 2005 it was reported that successful compensation claims against the state over the past ten years (mostly arising from police actions) had amounted to K500 million (The National 16 August 2005); the following month it was further reported that the National Court had ordered the state to pay K266,000 to a victim of a police shooting in 1995 (The National 21 September 2005).

[8] Chief Secretary, Joshua Kalinoe, presentation to National Research Institute, 24 September 2005.