WABAG - While the ‘Look North’ policy introduced by the Wingti government was good for the economic prosperity of Papua New Guinea, a sinister development has hijacked those good intentions.
The policy has evolved into a Pandora’s Box of counterfeit goods, gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking.
This threatens to negate the bold declaration made by the Marape-Stevens government to ‘Take Back PNG’ and make it “the richest black Christian nation on earth”.
Drug trafficking is already entrenched in PNG, which is reported to have become a transit point for international drug cartels helped by poorly policed, open borders, isolated islands and outdated drug laws.
Seven foreigners experienced how weak our laws were when they were deported last month after spending just 18 months in jail for drug trafficking and illegally entering the country.
One of the men, Lam Tse Lik, was wanted by Hong Kong police after his name appeared in Interpol’s international criminals’ wanted list. Of the others, five were from mainland China and one from Montenegro.
They were caught on Budubudi Island in Milne Bay province in May last year with 55 kilograms of cocaine worth about A$1.5 million (K3.4 million).
On Saturday 15 June they left Jackson’s International Airport with broad smiles on their faces and high-five victory signs.
Imagine if they had been caught in Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Philippines or Singapore where the ultimate penalty for narcotics offenders was death.
People caught in these countries with more than an ounce of drugs are considered drug traffickers.
But in PNG, police enforce the Drug Act of 1954 which allows a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.
The Australia and New Zealand governments have been worried for a long time that Asian organised crime syndicates would menace PNG and other Pacific island states, undermining regional stability, security and development efforts.
The power and influence of the Chinese mafia was evident in PNG in January 2010 when two Chinese men were accused of attempting to kill businessman Jason Tan. They were never prosecuted.
Chanjiang Gao and Xue Zhu Fu were arrested at a police road block a few minutes after the shooting in the car seen at the crime scene. They were in possession of guns, black face masks, gloves and their car had false number plates.
The National newspaper reported that the two accused were “beaming with happiness and making thumbs up signs” when coming out of court after magistrate Fred Tomo granted them bail despite the overwhelming evidence against them.
According to The Age newspaper, the Chinese mafia has infiltrated and corrupted the highest levels of PNG’s police force, crippling the nation’s attempts to tackle law and order problems.
The report said an investigation had uncovered alleged links between 16 of PNG’s most senior police and Asian criminals implicated in people smuggling, money laundering, prostitution, illegal gambling, fraud and theft.
The police minister at the time, Bire Kimisopa, refused to discuss the report but acknowledged that PNG faced an organised crime crisis that implicated senior police.
"It goes right to the top," the minister said.
"Chinese mafia have bought off officials throughout the system…. they are operating illegal businesses, they are siphoning money out, corrupting government officials, colluding with police and making attempts to kill officials as well."
Some years ago Monash University's Professor James Chin wrote extensively about rising tensions related to PNG's 'new Chinese' - the recent arrivals from mainland China.
He said there was no doubt about rising criminal elements in PNG from mainland China but they were not the big triad groups found in Hong Kong.
"However once the ExxonMobil gas pipeline project comes on line and big money flows into PNG, the big triad groups will come," he said.
Fiji and PNG were described as primary attractions for newly arriving ethnic Chinese “who flourish PNG and Fiji passports on entry or were quickly able to obtain them without the inconvenience of completing five-year residential requirements”.
A long time businessman and naturalised PNG citizen of Asian descent warned in 2015 that the government needed to seriously deal with these issues because the Chinese mafia was involved in many illegal activities.
“The Chinese mafia is already in the country and many people with the government departments including law enforcement agencies are involved with it,” he said.
This is serious stuff that the PNG government and law enforcement agencies need to urgently act upon.
Asian organised crime syndicates include groups from Vietnam and Japan (generally referred to as yakuza or boryokudan), Taiwan and China (sometimes referred to as triads). They are nothing like the opportunistic raskol gangs in Port Moresby.
Triads trace their history to secret political societies formed in China during the 17th century to restore the Ming Dynasty to power and who used secret forms of identification and communication.
Today’s triads remain obsessively secretive and closed criminal fraternities with ritualised initiation ceremonies designed to instill a strong sense of loyalty to other members.
Hong Kong police estimate there are currently about 50 triad societies with a membership of up to 80,000 in Hong Kong alone.
Not many people in PNG know anything about Asian organised crime and there has been no urgency in the government to address the threat, whose evil presence is beginning to be felt in many parts of the country.
The organised crime syndicates are a serious and complex issue which our law enforcement agencies cannot fight effectively. They lack resources, manpower and the necessary experience needed to fight crime with such deep roots.
The PNG government needs assistance from New Zealand and Australia to keep our borders safe and secure and our police, customs and immigration officials properly resourced to flush out aliens involved in illegal activities.
And PNG’s Drug Act of 1954 must be changed to carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or even the death penalty to deter these criminals.
In addition, the ‘Look North’ policy must be revisited to ensure a more suitable program is adopted to deal with importation of defective products, prostitution, drug trafficking and other illegal activities.
If not, Asian organised crime syndicates can very easily cripple this country in its efforts to ‘Take Back PNG’ and make is “the richest black Christian nation on earth”.