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Papua New Guinea’s two police forces; old & new, good & bad

The badge and uniform were changed in 1964
The badge and uniform that were changed in 1964


TUMBY BAY - In 1958 a number of dissident Tolai groups in New Britain banded together to refuse to pay their personal tax or line up for census checks.

The District Commissioner decided to force the issue and sent a large force of officers and armed police into the area.

The subsequent confrontation resulted in a melee during which two Tolai men were killed. Assistant District Officer Jack Emanuel fired the first two shots into the air but it was thought that the men had been hit by police .303 rifle bullets.

The upshot of this event was that the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, ordered a review of the structure and functions of the Department of Native Affairs. This was the department run by the kiaps and which largely governed Papua New Guinea.

The separation and limitation of executive, police and magisterial powers held by officers of the department then became a ministerial objective.

To that end Hasluck appointed David Derham, professor of jurisprudence at the University of Melbourne, to prepare a report.

As a result of Derham’s report a process to destroy decentralised district administration under the kiaps was begun.

The Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary became a separate department in 1961 and the Department of Native Affairs, with lessened functions, became the Department of District Administration in 1964.

Expatriate police, recruited overseas, had resented working under the authority of district commissioners and district officers.

By education and training the kiaps were an elite administrative force whereas the police had much lower entry standards.

Successive police commissioners nevertheless pushed to reduce the power of the kiaps and to extend police activities into areas for which they had not been trained.

It was this competitive push that ultimately created a kind of dual police force in Papua New Guinea.

Uniforms old and new
The old and the new - In 1964 a new blue police uniform replaced the blue serge uniform with red cummerbund, laplap, cartridge belt, handcuff chain, bayonet, scabbard and beret

On the one hand, there were police on the outstations working as they had always done with the kiaps, and on the other hand there was an expanding force working in the towns in a more conventional police role.

With independence and the eventual abandonment of the kiap system this conventional police role came to dominate law and order in Papua New Guinea.

It is this force that now receives so much criticism from the public for its high-handed attitudes and reputation for corruption and violence.

We often hear old kiaps bemoaning what has happened to the RPNGC. They point out that in their day the police were loyal and trusted partners in the work of administration.

It is as if those old time police were an entirely different breed of men.

There is good cause to think this might have been true. This is what Sir John Guise, ex-policeman and the first governor-general of Papua New Guinea, had to say in 1985 about the police force prior to independence:

“They had discipline, very, very strong discipline that ran right through the ranks and the way they carried out their duties towards the protection of life and property and the way they carried out their patrols every day and every night was something that I look back on now and say ‘I wish it was done again’ because it contained the criminal element; it contained it very well.

“I don’t want to see the police force only concentrating on modernising the force; it should also maintain some of the hard traditions established by the old policemen.”

Sir John also explained how the old time police had an esprit de corps that was above the influence of wantokism and corruption. He said it was a force that was trained to protect the weak and help defend them if they were in trouble.

He said police were told it was their duty to be the friends of the people and how they were not allowed to discriminate; even if their own families broke the law and had to be arrested.

The old time police led by the kiaps were indeed different to Papua New Guinea’s modern day force. Somewhere in time and politics a profound change occurred and it can be argued that it was not a good change.

Some of the values of old are in desperate need of revival.


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Paul Oates

Ok. Let's call a spade a spade. The real issue is not one of recruitment and retention of the right sort of people but one of leadership.

If the PNG police of old were led by those who now are leading PNG, the same results would have applied then as they do now.

Responsibility starts at the top and filters down. Senior middle managers must be led by those who practice what they preach and are seen to be held accountable for what they do.

Paul Oates

For the sake of discussion, let's suppose that the RPNGC mobile squads have by default, taken on the role of a Gendarmerie. Are they then subject to the international rules of war?

Did PNG sign off the UN policy on this aspect?

If so, are there any independent observers who are stationed in the Highlands and report on the conduct of protagonists during tribal warfare? If not, why not?

Has Transparency International made submissions to the UN on this matter?

Husat isave?

Simon Davidson

Very insightful article.

Will Self

I do not understand. The AFP have applied hundreds of men and millions of dollars. The thing should be humming along by now.

I understand that the new deployment has entirely new guidelines and "outcomes" and "outputs."

So off we go - into the sunny uplands.....

Paul Oates

To take a second 'bite at the cherry', look for example at the PNG government's limited use of the PNGDF to augment the RPNGC in the Highlands.

The answer is already there for all who really understand the situation.

Police should not be expected to handle wartime situations involving large scale conflict.

The rule of law has to be augmented by the Rules of War.

I wonder what might happen if the PNG government, not Australia, called for practical suggestions and recruitment contracts.

Clearly the AFP would lose their local sinecures and perhaps professional consultancies would be largely dispensed with by Australian Foreign Affairs.

Nothing has changed since Roman times however, the question still being: 'Who will watch the watchers'?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Professor Derham was an early version of the long line of consultants that Canberra engaged to advise it on what to do in PNG. The practise, as we know, is still operating at an increased rate.

Derham spent 37 days in PNG.

This is what JK McCarthy, the Director of the Department of Native Affairs said in 1963:

"The Derham Report, written by a man who had no practical experience of the country, and who undoubtedly was inspired by an equally ignorant person [Hasluck], was accepted without question ... As a result of it, the multiple powers once necessarily held by a D.O. are now, or will be, split between several officers - and this 'compartmenting' is fatal to good government ... The administration of justice is degraded as a technical skill and guilty men escape punishment. This the native people cannot understand."

Thirty one kiaps resigned or transferred in disgust.

Derham didn't think the kiap system was transferable when self-government arrived.

His report was kept secret for a long time by the Australian government and as far as I can tell there was very little kiap input into his research.

It all sounds horribly familiar.

Paul Oates

Spot on Chips. A number of other countries as well. Italy and Turkey come to mind. Italy's Carabineri would probably be the closest since they are part military and part police.

The issue was unfortunately about disconnection. No one in Canberra really understood what was required and therefore couldn't get their collectives heads around the situation.

Nothing changed of course after 40-50 years.

That's what today's PNG now urgently needs. What's the bet no one takes up that challenge for exactly the same reason as were around 50 years ago?

Chips Mackellar

Former Commissioner of RPNGC Raymond Wells Whitrod AC CVO QPM in his book "Before I Sleep" (UQ Press 2001) stated that kiaps were better police officers than the regular Constabulary officers because the kiaps spoke the language of the people (Pidgin and Motu) whereas some regular officers had to use interpreters even to speak to their own subordinates.

Whitrod said kiaps were better trained to understand the culture in which they were working and were better suited to policing 90% of the country's land mass.

He said the Federal Government made a mistake in trying to divorce the kiaps from the other ranks. He said what the Federal Government should have done was to create a separate police force to operate under the kiaps in the rural and remote parts of PNG.

Nothing strange about this he said. Similar divisions occur in France between the police and the Gendarmerie, and in the USA between police and sheriffs. What a pity it did not happen that way in PNG.

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