My Time in Papua New Guinea with the Balus Project by Doug Roser FIE (Aust) FRAeS
While I had visited Papua New Guinea for short periods over the years I was particularly fortunate to spend a number of years working fulltime there during the late 1990s and early 2000. I was the Project Manager of the Balus Project which was a Papua New Guinea programme funded by AusAID to restructure the provision of Government provided civil aviation services in PNG. This was needed as safety levels were declining, infrastructure was deteriorating and Government was unable to fund the costs of the operation of its organizations.
The Balus Programme Objectives were:
• Safety: To urgently improve aviation system safety and to put into place systems that maintain safety at acceptable levels.
• Planning: To develop coherent national policies, objectives and plans for implementation within the civil aviation sector and the Balus Programme.
• Institutional Reform: To establish institutions and systems that make effective and efficient use of the human and financial resources available to the civil aviation sector.
• Infrastructure: To establish systems and capacity to maintain existing infrastructure and to implement judicious investment in needed new facilities and satellite-based technology.
• Programme Management: To achieve programme objectives (quality/scope/performance, time, cost stakeholder satisfaction) by securing and integrating all required resources throughout the life of the programme.
A total of 29 individual projects were implemented under these five sub-programmes.
A major objective of the Programme was to abolish the old Office of Civil Aviation which operated as a Government Department (funded from the Government budget) and to establish a new Civil Aviation Authority to operate as a Government owned statutory authority recouping its costs from user charges to the industry.
This required the development of all of the plans for the operations of the new CAA and the development of the legislation to establish it and under which it would operate. This legislation also had to be agreed with all stakeholders – politicians, public servants, industry, management, staff, unions, and the public.
A Safety Improvement Plan was also developed and implemented as well as improvements to arrest the decline in the air traffic control and airport services. New aviation safety regulations also had to be developed and introduced with the agreement of industry.
The new CAA legislation was developed under Balus in 1999 and passed through Parliament in 2000 and the new CAA was established to begin operation in January 2001 and at that time half of its costs were to be recouped from user charges with the balance being funded by the PNG Government.
While overseas consultants and specialists were employed under the various projects I was determined to employ locals where possible and particularly in the Program team. The Program team of 8 team comprised myself and one other Australian (an engineer) while the rest were locals including the Financial Manager. The local members of the Team went on to local employment in Port Moresby after their employment when the Balus project was completed.
The Balus Program Office was at the Office of Civil Aviation not far from Jacksons Airport but involved a lot of travel as the projects involved infrastructure, structure, organisations and systems throughout the country. I was appointed the Balus Programme Manager in November 1998 and directed the total programme. Under the Project legislation was developed for the establishment of a Civil Aviation Authority which the Project Team presented to the PNG Government including the National Executive Council.
The Business Plan for the new CAA provided the basis for user charges which were agreed by industry after full consultation. When the Civil Aviation Authority was established with effect 1st January 2001 it began operation under the direction of an independent Board which showed good leadership.
Due to delays to some of its projects, the Balus Programme was extended for 12 months under the management of a reduced Programme Management Team with new separate individual contracts, effective from 22nd November 2001. But, in December 2002, due to delays caused by Telikom’s involvement in one of the projects (Project 4.1 – Aeronautical Communications), it became necessary to extend the Balus Programme further, with a very reduced programme management presence, to late April early May 2003.
Then, at the request of the PNG Government, the decision was taken in February 2003 for the Balus Programme Management Team to assume a management role in the CAA until the end of September 2003 – the Balus Programme Management arrangements were also extended until then.
In May 2003, following a request by the CAA Board, AusAID agreed to fund a number of special projects in support of the CAA under the Balus Programme, which had the effect of extending the Programme beyond the end of September 2003.These last Projects were completed on schedule by mid-2004 and a Completion Report of the Extended Balus Programme covering the period of 22nd November 2001 to 31st July 2004 was prepared and submitted. This Report also provided recommendations and advice for future projects for the development of the civil aviation sector.
The Balus Project made a good start on much needed and long overdue improvements to the aviation sector in PNG – since it finished further changes have occurred in the structure of civil aviation in PNG but as I have not been involved in these changes after we completed the Balus Project I do not have any knowledge of them.
My involvement with the Balus Project was an important element of my long career as it enabled me to contribute further to the development of international civil aviation in our part of the world ie the Pacific region, where effective and safe aviation services are fundamental to our existence. I am grateful that I was able to work in Papua New Guinea where aviation is so important as it enabled me to understand the diversity of its people and culture. I also worked closely with its politicians and government officials which gave me a good understanding of the issues the country was facing and still faces.
I am delighted to see the progress the country is making in a number of areas and how its international profile in growing. Above all, the time in PNG enabled me to work with many dedicated and talented PNG people whose company I enjoyed immensely- thanks to them all.