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Manus 'Alcatraz' part of PNG assault on crime

ROWAN CALLICK | The Australian

PAPUA New Guinea has embarked on a war against crime that will involve the creation of an Alcatraz-type prison island in Manus, the introduction of the death penalty for murder, aggravated rape or theft of more than $5 million and the secondment of up to 150 Queensland officers to PNG police stations.

The hauskrai movement has dramatised the impact of violence, especially against women and children, in PNG.

Every major centre in the country has established a hauskrai - traditionally, a place for mourners - which have been attended by thousands of supporters, including prime minister Peter O'Neill.

The level of crime in PNG - where law and order has become one of the four priorities of Mr O'Neill's government, along with health, education and infrastructure - has been dramatically illustrated by three recent series of events.

One is a wave of murders of people accused of sorcery. Most recently, news emerged this week from Konoma village in Chimbu province in the Highlands that an elderly woman had been killed and her body thrown into a former pit latrine.

Relatives of a boy in the village who had died had accused her of using sorcery to kill him. Police have arrested four people.

The government is proposing to amend the criminal code to impose capital punishment for killing a person accused of sorcery.

The foreshadowed legislation to implement the death penalty provides for judges to choose between hanging, lethal injection, suffocation following anaesthetic or firing squad.

The second dramatic event is the escape from Bomana maximum security prison outside Port Moresby of William Kapris, PNG's most notorious criminal, who was jailed for 34 years for one of a suspected series of bank robberies and for stealing gold bars, and was awaiting trial for further robbery cases and for murder.

This was his third such escape. He and two other escapees were armed with three pistols, and had mobile phones. They walked out of the prison after holding up unarmed prison officers.

A senior prison officer said: "Kapris is causing a lot of pain for the country. Our law enforcement is falling apart."

Kapris remains on the run.

Mr O'Neill told parliament that the government intended to build a maximum security jail for "hardcore criminals" on a small island in Manus province, where Australia is operating an asylum-seeker processing centre on the main island.

He said the new jail, on which construction would start next year, would be privately run, since government correctional service offices had been compromised by corruption, with claims made of widespread sexual misconduct.

"We are sick and tired of all the escapees. Many times the prisons are like holiday camps," he said.

Corruption is the third crime issue to come into focus. Mr O'Neill has ordered a probe into the government's payment of $34 million in legal fees over scam claims.

And businessman Eremas Wartoto, who was given a 457 visa to run a hire car firm in Cairns during the past two years after fleeing bail in PNG, has been charged, after returning to Port Moresby, with defrauding the government of $4.6m.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has agreed with Mr O'Neill, during a recent visit to Port Moresby, that under an exchange program up to 150 experienced Queensland police would engage in frontline policing in PNG and that PNG police would come to Queensland.


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