Opinion: Fixing Papua New Guinea’s law and order problem


Law and order is back on the agenda, with this week’s National Haus Krai on violence against women, Australia reactivating its assistance to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and the PNG Government committing itself to heavier punishments for some key offences. But solving PNG’s law and order problems will require much more, says Alan McLay.


The Lae Chamber of Commerce’s Alan McLay

The arrival of 19 Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers to boost training, investigations, and prosecutions, will be generally acceptable to police of all ranks.

There are a lot of areas where the police could really benefit from extra training: for example, in carrying out prosecutions properly, obtaining fingerprinting and maintaining records. These are specific functions where the AFP officers could train up local police and establish proper systems.

But with the placement of the police comes the need for funds for resources and equipment. For years now, we at the Lae Chamber of Commerce Incorporated, have been providing the local police force with fuel, equipment and supplies. The reason we do it is that so the police don’t make their requests direct to companies, which they do in most centres. If police make direct requests, those companies may feel more obliged and sometimes intimidated.

Petrol and paper

In the late 1990s, we spent about AUD$20,000 (K 44,000) buying hand-held and car radios for police leading up to elections, in recognition they were short of vital communications equipment.  We also maintained the radios for several years after that. A couple of years ago we asked members to donate reams of paper so police could photocopy their court documents.

We need about 750 officers (men and women) here [in Lae], but currently we have about half that number.

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The police team here in Lae is under strength. We need about 750 officers (men and women) here, but currently we have about half that number. The Police Commissioner recognises the problem and, while he’s willing to place more men here, there’s insufficient accommodation. I understand the Member for Lae and the Morobe Governor have put funds together for some more accommodation, and as soon as there’s accommodation, the Commissioner has promised to send more men.

Tough crime laws

While the Chamber doesn’t have a position on the death penalty, which the Government is proposing, my personal belief is that if you revert to using the death penalty you’re going back in time. We really should be moving on from that.

But I do support abolishing the Sorcery Act. While sorcery has no place in modern society, it is being used as a weapon more or less to intimidate people. The Sorcery Act keeps it alive because it recognises sorcery in society, whereas you should have some way to get sorcery out of a society.

There is also the need for longer terms of sentences, particularly for rapists. Murderers seem to get lengthy terms, but some rape cases appear to be treated a bit lightly.

Treatment of women

The Chamber supports more attention to improving the treatment of women, who are clearly not on an equal footing with men and many are treated as their husband’s chattel.

We have  an awareness project, which is designed to ensure companies recognise their responsibility to gender issues. We’ve run peer education courses with middle-level staff to try and get the message across. So, we’re certainly very firm on trying to get the gender balance in the workforce.

Settlements a root cause

The law and order situation in Lae seems to be a function of a combination of quite a mixed population of different groups, but also significant economic stress in the population with under employment and settlements that are bursting at the seams.

The population of Lae in the 2000 Census was 120,000.  The current Census indicates that there are 350,000 people living in Lae. And while the established settlements are bursting at the seams, they’re also encroaching on other settlements, which only increases friction.  There are local land issues, social problems in relation to race, stealing women, stealing goods and burning houses etc.

Once these clashes occur, quite often they spill out into Lae and affect workers and business. Recently, for example, all the buses were withdrawn, so people couldn’t get into town, workers couldn’t get to work and business was severely affected.

It is important to recognise there are legitimate settlers and illegitimate settlers.  The legitimate ones are those who get good jobs and contribute to the community. The illegal settlers are the ones that come in and can’t get jobs, but hang around, living in cardboard houses and get into crimes, drugs, prostitution and so on.

The solution is twofold: the illegitimate settlers should be encouraged to go back home, and the settlements need to be formalised so that those who have got jobs can build a proper house, get a long-term lease and borrow money for their house, so they are encouraged to establish a long-term community.

Alan McLay is President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce Inc

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