BY JOHN FOWKE
Emmanuel Narokobi, one of Papua New Guinea’s most
perceptive journalists (and PNG is a nation of journalism as much as it is a
land of the unexpected) wrote recently that Australian Federal Police advisers mooted
for PNG may end up as mere operatives - bit players - due to resentment by the Royal
Papua New Guinea Constabulary of ‘neo-colonial intrusion’.
The police mindset may well manifest itself in this way,
although the AFP’s Assistant Commissioner Frank Prendergast has been quoted
recently as saying, ”Developing the relationship between the AFP and the RPNGC
has been critical in the scoping phase to ensure that the RPNGC … is
comfortable with future programs of support.”
Any new program is dependent upon recognition in next
year’s Australian Federal budget.
But there’s another possible and insidious trap to be
aware of. Clever obfuscatory moves have frequently greeted newly-arrived
overseas reformers as they confront revanchist elements within the PNG public
service. Keen, and even astute, questioning of executive probity is
met by a thick curtain of elaborate opacity.
I have observed first hand how the naïve newcomer can be
undermined by entrenched cunning. In the late 1980s, the totally ineffective yet very
expensive Assistance to PNG Police (APNGP) program was launched, funded by Australia’s aid
agency AIDAB, as AusAID was then badged.
To my knowledge, only one APNGP consultant among the
dozens engaged had any experience of PNG. He’d served with the RPNGC as a
commissioned officer, worked in Australia, then later been appointed by the international
management consultancy contracted to
roll out the first five-year tranche of the program.
The remedies and improvements this consultant advocated,
on the basis he had ‘in country’ experience, were simple and commonsense.
For instance he recommended the provision of better boots,
as well as raincoats and torches, before the introduction of two-man town foot-patrols
each night; the latter a proposal, once implemented, which would impose a sense
of purpose and prompt a positive response from the public.
Such simple measures, and remember we’re talking 15 years
ago, are the sort of things which build better morale, more application to the
job and increased recruitment.
But the consultant’s recommendations were not dramatic
enough for the project managers, and he was ultimately ‘let go’ because his
advice, put forward forcefully, was seen as simplistic and not appropriate to
the objectives of the Canberra-based planners’ grand scheme.
Nevertheless, such moves - plus attention to the appalling
state of most of the government housing occupied by members of the force - were
objectives any experienced military commander or indeed, any experienced Australian
administrator from the pre-independence era, would have embraced immediately
upon taking up his posting.
In the Province where I worked, the handful of Australian
policemen deployed by the project, all experienced and mature, were greeted
with open arms. It’s fair to say an immediate sense of comradeship was
established at Provincial police headquarters.
A spacious office had been vacated, repainted, refurnished
and provided with its own fridge. An attractive and competent secretary had
been identified by the Provincial Commander and instructed to make the new
arrivals' learning curve as flat as possible.
On the first Saturday morning, in the interests of further
edification and bonding, an overweight and hung-over HQ force of other-ranks
was compelled by the Commander to parade in dress uniform with rifles, so they
could be ceremonially inspected by the White Men and express, in turn, their
own happiness at the arrival of their Australian benefactors.
The new men, now completely at ease, were quickly and
earnestly adopted into the small pool of educated local and expatriate business
and managerial people. They were showered with hospitality and offered membership
of the limited but lively club and social networks.
Desperate for better service from the police and laden
with expectations, the local men of influence opened their hearts, doors and
social milieu to the newcomers. The result was a level of after-hours carousing, intimate
friendship and sporting encounter which fairly spun the heads of these decent Sans
Souci sergeants and Cunnamulla constables.
Back at Police HQ the new men were encouraged to
participate in areas in which each had a particular interest. In one case, where a marijuana-packing and shipping
enterprise was suspected to exist, the new Aussie drug specialist accompanied by
local drug squad detectives and a sworn witness who’d provided the initial
tip-off, travelled together by road to a port a day's drive away.
Here they planned to encounter an overseas agent in the
smuggling chain, a yachtsman, who they’d spring as he took delivery from an
The deal went sour when it was found that the star witness
had adapted the venture for his own purposes, having secreted a package of
compressed marijuana under the police vehicle in which the team had travelled.
The witness attempted to contact the yachtsman to make his
own sale and to warn him of the planned arrest. However, he mistook an
Australian consultant-policeman for the yachtsman.
The case against the drug-packager was dropped at the
recommendation of the Provincial Commander because of what was said to be lack
of substantial evidence. The yachtsman, I presume, sailed away laughing.
Our Australian advisers were manipulated by the local
force in ways which allowed the White Men, all-unknowing, to preserve some
self-respect whilst realising, perhaps, that the job was more complicated than
they had expected.
The truth is that very little changed as the result of the
APNGP program. The advisers eventually went home with large savings from
tax-free salaries and with duty-free cars, stereos and memories of holidays in Singapore and Thailand.
As for the 15-year PNG police program, it was put into the
At one juncture, I was invited to meet two visiting consultants
who were planning and monitoring the project: one an Australian State
ex-chief magistrate; the other a senior serving police officer on secondment
from her State police service.
They were a nice, well-spoken and in their mid-fifties. I
was amazed at the gauche assumptions they made about PNG and the problems of
Their report of the outcome of this project, like reports of
a great many other similar projects, has never been made available outside the
closed circle of AusAID. A pity.
PNG is deserving in so many ways of its unofficial title
as The Land of the Unexpected. It is no place for the newly arrived foreign consultant
imbued with missionary zeal.
The culture is complex, and has moved beyond colonial
simplicity. PNG takes Australia’s
aid, but it does not necessarily share its values. The place may look
straightforward, but it is sinuous.
Emmanuel Narokobi writes of neo-colonialism, and he may
have point. But I wonder who’s colonising who?