PUTTING AN END TO PNG’S CULTURE OF VIOLENCE

Commentary

By Brian Gomez

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Nov. 22) - A landmark report on the Papua New Guinea police force issued yesterday makes some bold political statements about the reasons for the agency’s poor public standing and inability to cope with a worsening law and order situation.

For most countries in the world the release of such a report would have been shocking to most people because most nations would not have allowed the situation to get this bad.

In PNG no one will be shocked by the contents of this report because what has been happening is common knowledge.

The report by Robert Ali, president of the Police Association, speaks of the lawless behavior of some cops with some committing "lawless acts while in police uniform."

The bottom line in the report, as suggested in a news story in this paper, is that the police force is largely ineffective and powerless to deal with rising incidents of violent crime with policemen who carry out unprofessional and unethical acts.

That is a pretty sad state of affairs indeed.

Even though there has been a high level of public and political awareness of these problems nothing has been done to resolve them.

Remember the university students that were shot dead in their campus a few years ago during protests against the government's privatization program, particularly the privatization of PNG Banking Corporation.

Since then there have been many reports of police brutality, one of the recent publicized cases involved a son of one of the most well known and respected citizens of this country.

Have you heard a public outcry about any of these incidents? Why have policemen, generally acting in groups, been able to act as judge and executioner in a country that is proud of its democratic heritage? Is that not a contradiction?

These are difficult issues to address and the excellent findings of the Ali Report could help provide some answers but these will be useless unless there is a political will to set things right again.

This is one of the messages contained in the report.

An end has to be put to a culture of violence, whether this is in the police force or an intrinsic aspect of tribal conflict, because the end result will be a more stable and prosperous Papua New Guinea.

The report goes to the crux of the issue by pointing out that substantial improvements can be carried out in the police force, for the betterment of society in general and of the entire nation, "without additional resources or cost."

Isn't that a wonderful idea? We could all have a better and more effective police force tomorrow without spending an extra toea - that is a principal finding.

There may be some that would think this is nonsense but it is an issue that goes to the heart of many of PNG's problems.

If members of the police force were carrying out violent acts against innocent and some not so innocent members of the public, it would be ludicrous to be expecting these same people to be safeguarding our law and order situation. Isn't that self-evident?One parliamentary committee recently told the nation that some of the wealthy operators of horse racing machines that have been banned were receiving police protection.

It was also explained in Parliament that two of these people had been deported from this country because of their ability to influence people in high places and to possibly subvert the course of justice.

What a terrible state of affairs? That is also an admission that the real big guns in this scandal that supposedly protect the operators and others lower down the pecking order, will go scot-free. Amazing but true.

As the Ali Report suggests there are lots of things that can be carried out without the need for extra funds.

How difficult is it to protect people who go to public markets like those at Gordons and Koki in Port Moresby, or other similar ones in Lae and elsewhere, to buy local produce from producers and middlemen in the public sector.

It will take a couple of cops and a few assistants from the market itself to guarantee the safety of people there. All in a normal day's job.

And consider the spin off benefits this will bring if lot more people feel confident of doing their marketing in these places and making Port Moresby feel like a much safer city.

What about the terribly run down conditions of police stations all over the country? Does it really cost a lot of money to ensure these are kept in good condition, like our homes usually are?

I suppose not much can be done if there are betel nut stains all over the place and the working environment looks despicable.

The culture of violence within the police force, which the report talks about, should not be tolerated.

It is a problem linked to ill discipline and possibly to problems of alcoholism, a perfect scenario for an "ineffective" police force.

Since taxpayers fund the police force and the public service, the public has a right to expect better outcomes and, hopefully, this is one report that is not swept under the carpet.

November 23, 2004

Brian Gomez is a regular columnist for Papua New Guinea newspaper The National.

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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