7 May 2013

Under-resourced PNG police force concern in volatile areas

8:18 pm on 7 May 2013

Mounting frustration by those opposed to Papua New Guinea's first liquified natural gas project, has prompted warnings that the government can no longer neglect the police force in volatile parts of the country.

Many believe that the Hela province has seen little of the promised infrastructure and development benefits promised by the project operator, Esso Highlands.

And there are serious doubts whether police could handle a situation where tensions boil over.

Bridget Tunnicliffe spoke to Gari Baki, a former police commissioner who now works with a private security company at the LNG site.

As commissioner, Mr Baki says he signed a memorandum of understanding with ExxonMobil because the government failed to provide funding to support police in the area to deal with security issues.

"The whole intention of that MOU was to get the police onsite deployed outside of the LNG project area and perform police functions which under the constitution meaning that they don't look after the project alone but they provide police service to every individual and the community that revolves around the project, unfortunately that has not been the case."

Gari Baki warns that growing resentment among people in the area who feel they haven't benefited from the project, could lead to aggression.

Mr Baki says outside the project site there are only three police to nearly 30,000 people in the Komo region.

The general secretary of the Police Association in PNG, Martin Karue admits police to population ratios in certain parts of the country are woeful.

No, not good enough. My main issue is their welfare and to ensure that when the police men and women are trained they will also have to match the infrastructure to accommodate the police men and women.

Martin Karue says some of their members have raised concerns about their working conditions and safety in areas where there are growing tensions.

He believes the government will make improvements and says the Association is beginning to negotiate a package for personnel serving in remote locations, which would include being paid extra allowances.

The Governor of Oro Province, Gary Juffa, says police simply don't have enough resources nor manpower, and morale is low.

He says even though the population now stands at about 7 million, the force hasn't undergone any real modernisation or growth since independence in 1975.

The population of Papua New Guinea at independence was about 2.8 million there abouts, the police staff ceiling was 5,000 officers, that staff ceiling has not improved, it's still 5,000 officers. You've got an aging force, you've got a huge population, you've got an increase in complex violent crimes and so forth and the police are just unable to cope.

The police minister Nixon Duban says he is aware of the issues in the LNG area and concedes the government has probably put more emphasis on security of the site without considering the local population.

He says the deployment of police and defence force personnel was for one purpose.

That arrangement is specifically to protect the investment that's an issue that needs to be addressed and if there is a need for outside interaction then it is important for us to also devise a plan for extra additional deployment outside of the project area and that can be done.

Nixon Duban says there is strong government commitment to address policing issues and they aim to have at least 2000 extra officers by 2015.

As the ministry revises staff targets, Mr Duban says that with a population of about 7-million the current ratio is about one police officer to 1,600 people - the UN has asked PNG to reach a target of 1 to 450.

That can be achieved if we have recruitments in thousands, we need to open up a couple more training academies for the police and that is a priority at the moment. We are targetting to have at least two thousand more on top of the current 5,000 so by 2015 hopefully we'll go up to 7,000.

Nixon Duban says the government is working on problems that have accumulated over the last few governments who paid little attention to boosting police numbers.