Questions persist over security firm role in PNG

2:41 pm on 19 May 2017

Questions persist over the move by Papua New Guinea's police commissioner to engage a US security firm for training.

PNG's police commissioner is under criticism for engaging a US security firm to train police and security forces in PNG as preparation for hosting APEC next year.

The Commissioner Gary Baki said he invited Laurence Aviation & Security Group to PNG because it could provide high-level training in areas that the Australian Federal Police could not.

The AFP says training of an armed response unit is not part of its policing partnership with Papua New Guinea.

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


The presence of the firm's personnel, armed and embedded with PNG police as special constables with full arresting powers, has stirred outrage in PNG.

Many critics have asked why the AFP was not engaged for the training purposes.

The AFP confirmed that Canberra has committed US$35 million to extend its policing partnership with PNG, under which 73 AFP personnel operate there.

It says over 50 personnel are in advisory roles related specifically related to preparing for hosting APEC.

The personnel are deployed in an advisory capacity only; they do not have an operational role and do not have executive (arrest) powers or authority.

That the AFP's current capacity in PNG is restricted to advisory appears to be a legacy of the ill-fated Enhance Co-operation Programme in 2005.

The ECP saw hundreds of AFP officers deployed to PNG before a successful Supreme Court challenge to its immunity provisions meant the programme was halted.

However, whe Kavieng MP Ben Micah says Mr Baki appears to have gone outside National Executive Council authority to engage the foreign nationals in a what he calls a bizarre arrangement that usurps security protocol.

"The prime minister must come out and explain whether he approved for Baki to bring them in," said Mr Micah

"If he's silent, then he's compliant with this decision and he has not allowed a situation that first of all is not acceptable and is not justifiable, and maybe bordering on illegality."

However the prime minister's office responded that this was a police issue best covered by the police commissioner.

Papua New Guinea towns of Lae and Port Moresby (pictured) have growing traffic pressures.

Papua New Guinea towns of Lae and Port Moresby (pictured) have growing traffic pressures. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Mr Baki said he was compelled to seek the firm's help because PNG's partnership with the AFP didn'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."

NSAC was aware

PNG media reports from earlier this week indicated the personnel were to be deported for not obtaining proper clearance from the National Security Advisory Committee.

However the committee's chair Isaac Lupari said they were well aware of the firm's presence.

The National Security Advisory Committee chair Isaac Lupari said in a statement that the committee was well aware of the security firm's presence in PNG and that the arrangement was for it to carry out assessments and deliver demonstrations.

Mr Lupari said the group had completed its task and would now be leaving of its own accord.

He said the committee was satisfied with the report and would be forwarding its recommendations to the National Executive Council.

Razor wire, Boroko, Port Moresby.

Razor wire, Boroko, Port Moresby. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Mr Lupari also condemned those spreading rumours that the men were mercenaries operating alongside police in PNG.

However Mr Micah said it remained unclear why Mr Baki engaged a firm with little apparent experience in this field when PNG had a security forces training partnerships with other countries.

He said the training which Mr Baki explained was needed could be explored with AFP partnership's framework.

"We also have within the country very highly trained professional soldiers and policemen that have been trained in Australia, New Zealand, in the US, in China, in Israel, Malaysia, Singapore, over many, many years. Failing that, we have an arrangement with Australia."