BY JOHN FOWKE
I HAVE JUST READ Patrick Lindsay’s plea for help for Papua New Guinea’s police following the senseless murder of young Rex John during a robbery at Laloki on Port Moresby’s outskirts .A relaunch of the ill-fated police ECP [enhanced cooperation program] was advocated.
Whilst it has long been obvious that PNG’s police need urgent help, in 2009 I penned a piece demonstrating that sending Australians whose experience and training is entirely Australian, to be mentors to PNG policemen, is not a valuable exercise. Indeed not a valid one at all except where technology and legal procedure are concerned.
The article may bear repeating, now that many in positions of influence in Canberra and Port Moresby are regular readers of PNG Attitude.
In 2009 I wrote as follows: “A new group of Australian Federal Police officers may move to PNG next year to act as advisers to the RPNGC. At the same time a comment was made to the effect that these men and women may end up sidelined due to resentment within RPNGC where there is a perception that this will be an unwanted “neo-colonial intrusion.” (In fact something like this did occur and the operation was drastically scaled down.)
I went on to say ”if more Aussies are seconded to PNG by the AFP and regardless of the fact that PNG’s public at large as well as some sections of RPNGC may welcome this, there’s another, more insidious trap waiting, one which will be difficult to combat.”
PNG supports an inappropriately-large, expensive and inefficient Public Service, of which RP&NGC is a part. In the form it has taken over the years the PS constitutes a huge self-help shop supporting tens of thousands of government employees and their extended families, rather than a service-provider to its owners, the public.
At Tari, for instance, in 2008 there was a large, new, two-storey District Administration building. Because furniture and electrical appliances had not been supplied (what happened to the ones in use in earlier facilities?) no-one turned up to work except the unusually-dedicated District Manager, the equivalent of yesteryear’s ADC.
He brought his own table and chair and I was able to arrange a mobile phone for him. His files all lay in neat piles around the walls of his office.
The rest of the staff, of all operating departments represented at Tari except for Health, remained at home, doing no work but still drawing fortnightly salary payments.
And even at the hospital five new, AusAID-built doctors houses remained empty because no-one wanted a posting to Tari. The hospital was taken over by Medicins sans Frontieres, which runs it still, together with Angau Hospital in Lae.
The ratio of public employees to the general population is around 1 in 80. It is said that the Police service is not recruiting and training at an appropriate rate, and that many members are approaching retirement. This is true but it is not the reason for the RP&NGC’s low level of efficiency.
When overseas reformers show up with a mandate to ask questions within the public sector, individuals are known to formulate clever concealing strategies to defend the conditions which nourish their lifestyle.
In the late 1980s, the totally ineffective yet very expensive Assistance to PNG Police (APNGP) program was launched. It was funded by Australia’s aid agency AIDAB, as AusAID was then badged.
In the province where I was working then the handful of Australian policemen deployed were greeted with friendly expressions. It’s fair to say that an immediate sense of comradeship was established at Provincial police headquarters.
A spacious office had been vacated, repainted, refurnished and provided with its own fridge. A competent secretary had been identified by the Provincial Commander and instructed to make the new arrivals' learning curve as flat as possible.
On the first Saturday morning, in the interests of further edification and bonding, an overweight and hung-over HQ force of other-ranks was compelled by the Commander to parade in dress uniform with rifles, so they could be ceremonially inspected by the White Men and express, in turn, their own happiness at the arrival of their Australian benefactors.
The new men, now completely at ease, were quickly and earnestly adopted into the small pool of local and expatriate business and professional people. They were showered with hospitality and offered membership of the limited but lively club and social networks.
Desperate for better service from the police and full of high expectations, local men of influence opened their hearts, doors and social milieu to the Australians.
Back at Police HQ the new men were encouraged to participate in areas in which each had a particular interest. In one case, where a marijuana-packing and shipping enterprise was believed to exist, one of the Aussies, an experienced drug-squad man, took the case in hand.
He soon located and questioned a witness who confirmed that what was rumoured was in fact occurring, and further, provided a tip-off as to an expected pick-up by sea at a coastal town often visited by foreign yachts.
The Aussie drug specialist accompanied by local detectives and the witness travelled together by road to the relevant port, a day's drive away.
Here they encountered difficulties which amounted to a total fiasco, a situation never fully-explained, but which reflected badly upon the Aussies who had obviously been led into a trap.
It was later alleged that the “witness” not only located the yachtsman and warned him, but had also secreted a large package of processed, vacuum-packed marijuana under the hire-car in which the party travelled- presumably selling this to the suspect yachtsman after the hue-and-cry died down.
Abashed, the Australians confined themselves henceforward to in-house training programs, only accompanying RPNGC members by invitation and never initiating raids and investigations.
Locally, though, there was speculation. The drug affair was much discussed. Many suspected that there was far more to the story than had been revealed and that the White Men had been both compromised and neutralised by the “window-curtain” subsequently drawn by the police over the affair, allowing the White Men to preserve some self-respect whilst remaining mightily relieved that the affair had not led to an embarrassing media report.
The truth will never be known; the project is long-dead, to be followed years later by ECP, and now, perhaps by a further program.
Reports of these Australian aid projects are never readily made public. The clique of Canberra bureaucrats and consultancy staffers who together create, monitor and implement aid-projects holds its cards extremely close to its chest. Summing up and debriefing reports are seen only by the officials and principals who head this clique.
At one juncture I was invited to dinner to meet two of the most senior managers involved in the Australian police project. In their mid-fifties, they were pleasant people, a man and a woman; the man was an ex-Chief Stipendiary Magistrate and the lady a very senior commissioned officer on loan from her State’s police force.
As conversation proceeded I realized that neither seemed to have the depth, in intellectual terms, which one would expect. Both demonstrated a remarkable naivety in remarks made about PNG, its culture and the nature of the RP&NGC and its failings. For their part, the policeman-consultants worshipped the ground the pair walked upon.
A year or two later I was invited again to the same hotel to have dinner with friends. While I waited for them I struck up conversation with a group of RP&NGC commissioned officers, of whom there seemed to be a great many in the bars and the hotel’s casual bistro dining area.
The men told me that they were participating in an AusAID-conducted training seminar, and that they had been brought together from every one of the nation’s 19 provinces. I noted that there were no whites in these groups of policemen.
Later, in the high-cost a la carte restaurant where my friends and I sat down to dine, I noted six white men sitting together, strangers in town, and obviously enjoying themselves. I went over to them and asked them if they were connected with the police seminar.
One replied that they were running it. I asked them if they thought it appropriate to dine alone and exclusively whilst the subjects of their seminar, all senior serving commissioned officers, were left to fend for themselves outside. In answer I received a stoney-eyed glare from them all. They gave me a business-card and turned their backs on me.
How was it, I reflected , that professionals at the peak of responsible institutional careers could remain so unmannerly, so ignorant of social obligation in any setting, to behave like this; especially in a land where the sharing of food between comrades, and even between enemies at certain times, has immense significance.
Was it perhaps a concealed lack of confidence? Insecurity is often at the base of arrogant behaviour by foreigners in PNG, often manifest even after years of residence.
Over many years suggestions recommending a pre-deployment orientation course for Australians appointed to serve their country in Melanesia and the Pacific has fallen upon deaf ears.
An institution which would live within its files most of the time, taking on a physical manifestation as and when needed; perhaps within the ambit of such an establishment as ANU’s Crawford School, where there is a resource of committed and mature PNG/Pacific-friendly people with much in-depth knowledge, including one or two PNG nationals.
Such people, with guest mentors from PNG, would be well able to present papers and pass on valuable ideas and tips at such a seminar which could well embrace Australian military personnel as well.
PNG is nothing if not a country of extreme paradoxes, deserving in so many ways of its unofficial title as “The Land of the Unexpected.” It is no place for the newly-arrived and unprepared consultant, medical or education or police professional, whether imbued or not imbued with missionary-like zeal.
PNG’s culture has always been a highly complex one, and it has moved far beyond any falsely-perceived colonial-era pliability. Among the educated there are numbers who have acquired a dislike for all things promoted by and all people of foreign nations.
With a colonial history still evolving under the impact of the Asian influx it is an increasingly-difficult puzzle for Australians with their generally cut-and-dried, not to say simplistic form of logic.
Australia must re-invent its role vis-à-vis its late colonial dependency, accepting a long-term role as brother/sister to PNG, rather than that of heavily-patronizing rich uncle.
An uncle who would like to see PNG’s problems vanish overnight, and is angered, a-la Bob Carr, that they don’t.
When one understands the nature of the immense changes and the huge social pressure PNG has coped with over the past century, pressures which remain unabated, pressures with which the people continue to cope whilst remaining a largely smiling society, one cannot but feel a little humbled.
This even whilst contemplating the continued malfeasance of the ruling elite and elements of the public service.