DEATHS FROM SORCERY, tribal battles and cannibalism continue in PNG but tend to be neglected by the chronically incompetent Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary on the basis that the people are acting according to their traditions.
The role and writ of law in PNG is often open to personal interpretation similar to investigating the euphemistically-called “honour killings” in other countries.
The examples set by politicians have been abysmal, with none other than founding and frequently resurrected prime minister Sir Michael Somare an all too imperfect specimen.
Like others, he had been forced out of office on serious suspicions of criminality and corruption, narrowly avoided prosecution and imprisonment, and was subjected to commissions of enquiry finding him culpable but avoiding other than wrist-slapping admonitions, always denying any guilt and blaming others including a tolerantly benevolent Australian government.
In April 2011 after being found guilty of 13 counts of filing incomplete financial returns to the Ombudsman’s Office, and with one Tribunal member and the prosecution calling for his dismissal, he was merely suspended from office for 14 days before carrying on his lucrative career until derailed by chronic medical conditions.
PNG legislation of a self-protection variety allows politicians and administrators to retire with grandiose handouts even after having been deemed guilty of Leadership Code infringements but before they are prosecuted, thereby avoiding any court appearance or conviction and thus eligible for subsequent re-appointment.
Policing is among the many departments to have suffered since independence, with the few capable commissioners being limited in their attempts to enhance efficiency when ministers thwart their aims and drunken magistrates dismiss apparently watertight cases due to incompetence, political influence or tribal allegiances.
The service span of a police commissioner is commonly aligned to that of the government of the day. Also not only do the military see the police as almost an opposing tribe but there even exist splits in the Constabulary between the general duties police and the undisciplined “Rambo” cowboys of the para-military units.
Tribal wantokism, being a pervasive clan kinship, is far more rife in PNG than elsewhere in the Pacific and is not only tolerated but even encouraged leading to prisoners finding their cell doors unlocked, prosecution briefs misplaced and police failing to attend court.
This misplaced loyalty as well as self-preservation has also led to police refusing to stake out premises where they have been forewarned that a holdup will occur, particularly if hearing that the offenders will be armed.
Politicians will address crowds of their constituents preparing for a notionally illegal tribal war but will whip off their shirts and ties to join in any outbreak of hostilities, with sanctions against these “debt-settling” processes being seen as little more than paper restrictions enacted by a parliamentary enclave in Port Moresby following the incomprehensible laws of former colonial masters.
That PNG has advanced as little as it has – and it hasn’t progressed anywhere near as far as 35 years of independence should have allowed – is still due by and large to expatriate expertise and the proverbial “few good men” of indigenous stock, hindered, hampered and hamstrung by too many of their fellow countrymen putting profit before patrimony and often manipulated by foreign sponsors.
In the mid 1990s the British police officer heading the fraud and anti-corruption squad claimed that 70% of his tasks entailed deception within government instrumentalities and that he needed four times more than the 20 staff allocated if even the most major crimes were to be investigated.
And major crimes there were. Hundreds of millions of dollars were being lost to public coffers from chicanery in the lucrative timber industry where, even now, authorities lack the expertise and will to ascertain if the foreign-owned logging companies remove two, three or even 10 times the amount of timber they have been licensed to fell.
Receipts for billions of dollars earned from mineral and petroleum exploration have been unaccountably “lost”; and in 2001, K250 million allocated to the Port Moresby General Hospital was misappropriated.
As of March last year there were 71 cases under investigation relating to the diversion of millions of dollars from Australian aid funding, and they were just cases of which they were aware.
When former police commissioner Ila Geno, in his comparatively outstanding role as Ombudsman, relentlessly drew attention to scandals that would have brought down governments in most democratically elected countries, instead of gaining parliamentary support he was constantly criticised for interference in policy matters and subject of numerous attempts to dismiss him.
Extracts from a presentation to University of Sydney’s Master of Laws students on 5 October 2012
John’s book on policing in the South Pacific, ‘The Minnows of Triton’, won an ACT Writing and Publishing Award and it is revised annually, the latest edition coming out in September. In Sydney it is available at the Co-op Book Shop at Sydney University or you can order it directly from John for $22 including postage. Email him here