The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Feb. 4) - At last the committee tasked with the review of the Papua New Guinea police force has been established, and the membership announced.

That is one small move in the direction of finding out exactly what is wrong with the force, and why so many public accusations against its members continue to appear in the PNG media.

On that score, it is nonsense to suggest that the media, and in particular this newspaper, has any axes to grind against the police.

Why would we do so, and what gains would we anticipate as a result?

On the contrary, we would do far better if we were to emulate some other media outlets, and simply remain mute, regardless of the amount of evidence provided to us by the public.

But we are less than happy that the original provisions for appointment to this committee have already been broken.

The public was told - and we reported the fact - that the investigation would be headed by a Supreme Court Judge.

Now we find it is to work under the chairmanship of Mr Robert Ali, the President of the Police Association and a career policeman.

No matter how scrupulous Mr Ali may be throughout the life of the committee, the suspicion that any committee looking into the RPNG Constabulary cannot be unbiased if it is headed by a senior policeman is an inescapable drawback.

Why has this change been made?

We trust that alleged unavailability of judges is not the reason, for where there is determination, a way can be found.

And there are other unfortunate changes.

Prime among these is the life of the Committee.

Originally it was announced that the committee would report to Cabinet in six months, which meant the end of June this year.

Now we are told that the members have a full year in which to complete their report and make their recommendations - and K500,000 to accomplish that result.

In other words, Cabinet will not have to face the issue until the beginning of March, 2005.

As long as this extended period is to embrace the broadest possible range of input from police and public alike, it can be guardedly welcomed.

But if it is an extension made in the hope that matters will be very different in a year's time, and public interest will have waned, then those responsible have made a major error in their calculations.

Poor police performance, and the often-repeated assertions of police brutality and of members of the force regularly exceeding their powers are not to be lightly brushed aside, nor to be whitewashed by some bland and approving document.

Mr Bire Kimisopa, the responsible Minister, has referred to the RPNG Constabulary as "currently suffering from a morale crisis as a result of various factors."

The Minister added that frequent changes in the senior hierarchy had resulted in the disruption of programs and operations.

We can put forward a similarly convincing case on the part of ordinary citizens.

For they too are suffering from a morale crisis.

But in their case it is the direct result of the atrocious behavior of far too many police personnel. 

And as we have so often said in these columns, if we the public cannot turn to the police in moments of crisis, then to whom are we supposed to speak?

One consoling appointment to the committee is that of John ToGauta, whose years in the force prior to his current Ombudsman Commission position and his subsequent experiences with the nation's leading watchdog would seem to equip him well to encourage both witnesses and committee members to tell the truth.

The first investigation of the Constabulary to be conducted in 27 years, this review should be wholeheartedly welcomed by all concerned - all, that is, except those who will be incriminated by it.

We can only hope that this committee will produce a realistic plan to deal with a multitude of issues that are preventing police members from performing their duties within the law, and to the level of public expectation. 

In spite of the reservations noted above, we welcome this committee, and trust it will mark the beginning of a new and more laudable chapter in the history of the once-illustrious Constabulary.

February 5, 2004

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