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.
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.