PNG Police chief defends presence of US security firm

4:19 pm on 17 May 2017

Personnel from an American security firm being considered for training purposes by Papua New Guinea's police force are reportedly to be deported from PNG.

The police commissioner confirmed the constabulary is looking at the services of US-based Laurence Aviation & Security Group to train local forces to provide security at next year's APEC summit in PNG.

But Gary Baki said the engagement of the firm for training certain elements of the police force had not been given final approval yet.

However, while the police chief stressed that they were simply on a "fact-finding mission", PNG's national broadcaster is reporting that the firm's 15 staff who are in the country are to be deported for lack of proper clearance.

PNG Police Commissioner, Gary Baki.

PNG Police Commissioner, Gary Baki. Photo: EMTV

The presence on Port Moresby's streets of several of the firm's armed personnel, who are former US military and police officers, has alarmed some citizens.

"I've invited them to come inside," Mr Baki explained.

"I've asked them to demonstrate their skills. I asked them to provide to me what they can offer to the RPNGC (Royal PNG Constabulary) in terms of their support, their resource, their manpower, and what they can do to assist the RPNGC if and when we agree to fully engage them."

He said that in the case of the police force agreeing to fully engage the firm, it would be subject to government approval.

However, a number of local politicians have raised concern that a private security firm might be embedded with police or taking on powers.

The former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta, a candidate in the upcoming elections, has called for Mr Baki to resign immediately or be dismissed.

He said it is impossible for a police commissioner to remain in office after organising and conducting an illegal operation involving what he called foreign mercenaries.

Sir Mekere wants an investigation by the Ombudsman Commission, which he said should cover all the financial and legal aspects of Mr Baki's operation and establish who else was involved.

According to Mr Baki, while PNG has a partnership with the Australian Federal Police, it doesn't provide assistance in several areas, including information technology, cybercrime, intelligence and response to serious armed incidents.

"If Australia cannot give it to me, I must look outside of the box to make sure that the RPNGC prepares itself on that matter," said the commissioner.

"Nothing has been signed off, but in so far as just having them exposed to within the organisations from February, I am satisfied with some of the things I believe they could help us with."

Personnel from US security firm Laurence Aviation & Security Group flank a Papua New Guinea policeman.

Personnel from US security firm Laurence Aviation & Security Group flank a Papua New Guinea policeman. Photo: Supplied

Meanwhile, PNG's national broadcaster NBC reported that members of the American firm are to be deported from the country.

Government sources reportedly confirmed this to NBC News, saying the team did not obtain proper clearance from the National Security Advisory Committee, and was in PNG without the knowledge of the US Embassy.

According to the broadcaster, Lawrence Aviation and Security Group was engaged at a cost of 7 million Kina.

The cost would be met by APEC support funding for the police force, however Mr Baki has underlined that final approval had yet to be given.

Mr Baki said he was formalising a National Security Advisory Committee submission on the engagement.

The security firm's president is Peter Halliman, an American Baptist missionary who was born and grew up in PNG.

According to his Linkedin profile, Mr Halliman manages Sovereign Grace Baptist Mission chapters in Malawi and PNG.

Papua New Guinea police officers marching in a parade

Papua New Guinea police officers marching in a parade Photo: Supplied

His firm has been eyed to train up 120 staff from various wings of PNG's police force including the Air Tactical Unit and Mobile Squads, and including ten personnel from each of the Defence Force and Correctional Service.

The commissioner said Laurence Aviation & Security Group's personnel were in PNG to observe local police and demonstrate what they can offer the force.

"They are appointed as special constables under the RPNGC, they have every power but haven't exercised those powers simply because they observe some of the activities and some of the behaviours of my men on the ground."

Mr Baki emphasised that in terms of preparing for APEC, there was a pressing need for the type of training that the firm could provide.

He said he wouldn't have gone to the extent of engaging with the firm if traditional partners like Australia or New Zealand could have provided the service.

"I'm also looking at other countries," said Mr Baki. "If this exercise does not come through, I will go to Indonesia and I will ask Indonesian police to help me. Or I can even go to the Korean police and ask them to help me."