Mixed signals behind PNG security forces' APEC complaints

8:53 am on 14 February 2019

Papua New Guinea disciplinary forces continue to complain about unpaid security work done when the country hosted APEC last year.

The government says they've been paid, but promise of a bonus from the Speaker of Parliament has added to expectations

Security at PNG parliament

Memebrs of the group went on a rampage through PNG's parliament in November. Photo: Facebook / Bryan Kramer

In the latest development on Monday, a group of soldiers blockaded a key government executive building in Port Moresby as a protest.

Dozens of disgruntled soldiers gathered outside the Waigani, demanding outstanding allowances for work at November's APEC Leaders summit.

Defence force officers visited the soldiers and appealed for patience, saying the Department of Finance needed about two weeks to mobilise the funding.

The Defence Force's commander Gilbert Toropo said the situation was ultimately defused and the men returned to their barracks. But he insisted their behaviour would not go unpunished.

Brigadier General Toropo said that individual soldiers going outside the chain of command and demanding the government to quickly pay their allowances was an illegal action.

Last November, a day after the APEC summit ended, dozens of police and corrections officers went on a rampage through parliament, over their frustrations about unpaid work.

Parliament's Speaker, Job Pomat estimated that the cost of repairing the damage from the rampage was between ten and fifteen million kina (US$2.9 and US$4.4).

In the intervening months, some disciplinary officers have remained unhappy that they haven't received enough.

The Police Minister Jelta Wong said Defence Force, police and corrections personnel who worked on the APEC security operation had received their substantive pay already.

"After the APEC when there was a bit of a ruckus, the speaker promised to secure some funding to pay them a bonus. And it's been passed through the cabinet already," he explained.

Mr Wong suggested the regiment who came to the prime minister's office on Monday to press the government about extra money were confused about what they were asking for.

"Like I always tell them, you're not entitled to [the bonuses]. Through the Financial Management Act, they get paid an allowance, a set amount, and that set amount has been paid to them already."

A police investigation is underway into the rampage, but the Speaker last month said it should be called off in the spirit of forgiveness.

However, the government minister in charge of hosting APEC, Justin Tkatchenko, disagreed. He said those who purposely damaged the country's reputation and its house of parliament should not be forgiven.

"What they did was politically motivated, and what they did was totally uncalled for and should have never, ever happened," Mr Tkatchenko said.

"So they only have themselves to blame for the consequences of their own actions. And those that are found guilty must face the full force of the law for what they did."

Papua New Guinea APEC minister Justin Tkatchenko

Papua New Guinea APEC minister Justin Tkatchenko Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

Mr Wong echoed his fellow MP's stand, even though he was earlier quoted in a PNG newspaper as saying none of the officers involved in the November rampage would be prosecuted.

"That was a misquote in a local paper. I did a retraction the next day," he said.

For now, Mr Wong said investigations into those behind the rampage were continuing.

"We've already arrested some. Some were released, for some unknown reason... but we got them back."

RNZ Pacific has spoken to the Speaker Job Pomat who said he cannot comment on the issue while he is acting Governor-General.

Meanwhile, Mr Wong said the bonuses for the security forces have been budgeted for and he expects them to be paid in the next week or so.

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