The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Jan. 8) – The Papua New Guinea Narcotics Bureau has been riddled with doubtful appointments for many years, and has arguably done little to monitor and reduce the surge of drug-growing, processing and consumption that at times appears set to engulf Papua New Guinea.

Extraordinary wrangles have surrounded the most senior appointments, and scenes such as that reported in The National yesterday have become commonplace.

Why should there be so much argument and dissension over a body whose duties would appear to be self-evident and, at least on paper, straightforward?

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that there are elements within our society that would very much like to have a finger in the National Narcotics pie, if only to protect their own interests.

Drug growing and distribution have become a big industry in PNG.

The one-off sellers of a local illegal crop have gradually given way to far better organised groups engaged in nothing but drugs, and it is a matter of record that drugs are bartered for guns, ammunition and a host of other undesirable products.

This is no longer a backyard business conducted by a handful of young men intent on finding an easier way of making money from their land than producing coffee or any of the other major agricultural crops.

The drugs industry in PNG is believed to be running in the millions of kina a year, and the results of incessant and uncontrolled drug taking may be seen on the streets of the capital every day.

And, not only in Port Moresby.

One of the more depressing aspects of this sub-culture has been the rapid proliferation of both drug growers and distributors, and drug takers in parts of the country previously free of this scourge.

It can be argued that PNG was never likely to escape drugs and their effects, particularly since marijuana grows in such luxuriant excess in most provinces.

That is no excuse for washing our hands of the very real social problems the use of this drug and others create in our communities.

This is a youthful country and the large majority of our people is also youthful.

These are the very people for whom drugs hold a tremendous appeal.

Add to this high unemployment and youthful disdain for the PNG establishment, and you have fertile ground indeed for a booming drug culture.

What then is the National Narcotics Bureau doing about this situation?

We may perhaps be pardoned for thinking that they are doing precious little.

Where are their initiatives, and where is the real grassroots effort to address the many problems associated with drugs?

If they exist at all, which we doubt, they have been kept top secret, and we wonder why.

All of this seems a very long way from the days of Fr Liebert, a dedicated anti-drug crusader, whose initial efforts to set up the bureau showed signs of achieving some success.

Fr Liebert's efforts met with some outspoken opposition from certain well-placed quarters, and ultimately saw him no longer officially involved in the activities of the Narcotics Bureau.

Since those days, the record of this body has been lamentable, with far more time spent on power-juggling and in-fighting than on the burgeoning problem outside the bureau's doors.

We urge the Government to step in with a large broom and sweep this bureau clean from top to bottom, and either attach it to the Prime Minister's department or to Lady Carol Kidu's ministry.

There, at least some attempt will be made to ensure it carries out its mandated functions.

Attaching the bureau to the Police department seems a futile exercise, and leaving the bureau on its own as a self-administering statutory body would appear to be little better.

Whatever decisions are taken, they must be implemented soon, before this country's reputation for drug production becomes an international liability to this and future governments.

PNG certainly does not want to end up like our southern neighbour Australia, where tens of millions of dollars are spent each year trying to crack down on huge drug shipments while, at the same time, the government is faced with rehabilitating drug users throughout that nation.

Urgent action is required.

January 8, 2004

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/


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