APEC security law seen as violation of PNG constitution

10:57 am on 23 October 2018
Major General Jerry Singirok

Major General Jerry Singirok Photo: AFP

A former Papua New Guinea defence force commander has warned that special security legislation for APEC violates the country's constitution.

PNG's parliament passed legislation which gives unprecedented powers to foreign forces and security personnel to protect visiting leaders during next month's APEC summit in Port Moresby.

Major General Jerry Singirok said he had serious concerns with the latest version of the APEC Safety and Security Act 2017.

He said it overrode the sovereignty of PNG as well as constitutional provisions protecting the basic rights of citizens.

"It basically means that any forces coming in are getting unprecedented powers. That means that the powers they use in this particular security scenario will not guarantee security for our Papua New Guinean citizens and it violates our constitution," he said.

The legislation, amending last year's APEC security act, was passed in April as a "sunset clause" to be in effect only between November 9th and 19th.

However the APEC Minister Tkatchenko has only recently divulged publicly on the legislation, which he confirmed would allow foreign security forces to use "lethal force" if required.

"If you want to do something ridiculous or stupid, security personal will retaliate if necessary," Mr Tkatchenko told local media.

"If a leader is threatened by someone trying to attack, they (the attacker) can be shot," he explained.

Major General Singirok was concerned that there was minimal debate over the legislation.

"There should have been further debate to get public opinion, debate it properly on the floor of parliament, and then bring it to APEC countries so that we can work out specific provision that enables APEC countries to go into some kind of joint deployment arrangement.

"At the moment, there's no inter-operability in relation to operating together on a common enemy," said Major General Singirok.

He said the government has had four years to sort out the security provisions for APEC, but had still not learnt lessons from the Sandline crisis in 1997.

Commander of the PNGDF at the time, Major General Singirok had to intervene when the government brought in foreign mercenaries in a bid to end the Bougainville civil war.

"I expelled them out of the country, based on specific provisions that you cannot bring in an outside force and make them special policemen or soldiers overnight - it is unconstitutional and illegal," he said.

The former PNGDF commander said APEC should not be used as an excuse to compromise national security and sovereignty.

APEC Port Moresby, PNG

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

Massive security operation

Major General Singirok said the state of PNG's security preparedness has long been lacking. Knowing this, PNG's partners have been planning for years to help ensure the APEC summit would be secure.

Australia is financing and manning much of the security operation around the summit, and is deploying about 1,500 military personnel to Port Moresby.

Mr Tkatchenko recently told parliament "we are working with our partners so that we can deploy fighter jets in our skies, enhance maritime security and deliver joint special forces operations."

Australian jet fighters and surveillance aircraft will patrol the skies over Port Moresby, with Canberra also sending warships to protect cruise liners, while the US Coast Guard is to provide "inshore security" in the capital.

But the special legislation allowing foreign security personnel to shot to protect their leaders while in PNG has been seen as a reflection of the PNG government's under-resourcing of the country's own security forces.

PNG's opposition leader Patrick Pruaitch described the special APEC security legislation as "an indictment on our local police", saying it created more of a risk to PNG's people and sovereignty.

"What country opens itself up to allow private security personnel and foreign forces to take pot shots at its citizens?" he said in a statement.

"It would have been better for the O'Neill government to have given the same attention over the past seven years to reforming our police force so that today we do not have to compromise on our sovereignty by passing such a law.

"We have known for some time that PNG would be hosting APEC and we could have saved ourselves the trouble of passing legislation that if challenged could prove to be unconstitutional," Mr Pruaitch said.

"Sadly, the O'Neill government has over the past seven years divided and politicised the police force. He has used the Police Commissioner and the police force to run his own agenda."

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