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The Madang predicament

Constable John Solala  head still bandaged and a knife tear in his uniform after being attacked earlier this month
Constable John Solala,  head still bandaged and a tear in his uniform after a knife attack earlier this month

SCOTT WAIDE
| My Land, My Country

MADANG - For the past 12 months, the media’s attention has focused on Madang, not as a tourist destination but as a hotspot for crime.

At Jomba station, where the provincial headquarters is located, provincial police commander Manuc Rubian reveals that the crime statistics are worrying.

Much of the crime stems from widespread alcohol abuse and a general breakdown in law and order.

“In a month, we get between 50 and 60 alcohol related crimes,” Rubian said.

“It’s not just the adults who are drinking ‘homebrew.’ It’s kids as well. And when they drink, they don’t stay at home. They go out on the road and start harassing people.”

But it is not just the citizens of Madang who are bearing the brunt of this surge in crime.

Being on the frontline, police officers are also being targeted by criminals and opportunists. Up to 10 policemen in Madang have been attacked in the last 24 months.

Their situation is compounded by a critical housing shortage that remained largely unaddressed for a decade.

“For 10 years, I lived with my in-laws at the Nagada settlement,” said senior constable Solomon William, taskforce commander in Madang.

“People broke into my house and later when we tried to address the problem, I was attacked. It was difficult for my family. We had to move around a lot.”

William was later moved from the settlement where he resided to a condemned house at the Kusbau Police Barracks.

Outside, Constable John Solala, a taskforce member, showed the injuries he got when he was attacked earlier this month.

His head is still bandaged and he shows the tear in the uniform where his attackers tried to stab him with a sharp bamboo.

“The Madang Taskforce became target after a suspect was shot,” Solala said.

“The relatives of the suspect kept issuing threats for a week. I just stopped by at the hauskrai to talk to them and explain that we did not do it, and that’s when I got attacked.”

But it didn’t stop there. His daughter and wife were also threatened days after he was attacked.

At Nagada settlement, Constable Tika Aso, showed the scars from an attack earlier this year when he was stabbed and slashed by a mob after he and two other officers tried to arrest troublemakers drunk on ‘steam’ at a school graduation.

“I was lucky that I was wearing a vest and the knife did not go through as far as it could have. I was cut on the hand and the face and I received several stitches. We were outnumbered.”

He and his family face an impending eviction by the Madang provincial government.

“I worry about my family. We don’t live in a barracks and sometimes I have to sleep in the office so I can attend the jobs that we do early in the morning. Most times, my wife isn’t happy. I can’t focus,” Aso said.

About two weeks after the attack on constable Solala, another constable, Franko Horake, was stabbed at the Mildas Market about 100 meters behind the provincial police headquarters and the Madang governor’s office.

Horake later died in hospital and his death triggered a police raid on the Wagol settlement whose residents were accused of harbouring the suspects.

Despite the negatively against Madang police, there is also a lot of sympathy for them. The critical shortage of manpower, resources and accommodation has been burdensome on police work.

“We can’t stop work,” said senior constable William. “We are supposed to work for eight hours a day. But we know, that’s not going to happen. We work up to 16 hours a day. If we don’t do it, who will?

“We have people willing to work. All we need are good vehicles, fuel, a boat, housing and additional manpower.”

Comments

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Philip Fitzpatrick

It's not politically correct to say it but everyone knows that the once beautiful coastal town of Madang has been despoiled by an influx of highlanders.

Once the road was built connecting it to the highlands it was doomed to suffer the fate of other towns like Lae and Port Moresby.

It's not the highlanders fault. They are an energetic and industrious people quick to see opportunities as they present themselves.

Unfortunately such enterprise drags along many undesirable traits in its wake.

If the governments of the past had recognised and done something about the burgeoning highland populations and their needs Madang wouldn't be a mess now.

John Gordon-Kirkby

My much loved Papua New Guinea where I served in seven provinces as a kiap (1964-1978 ) and made so many friends, is now depicted as a lawless and corrupt country by both the international media and even by local correspondents to this page.

There were tribal conflicts and petty crimes in my time, yet a deep respect of authority and of the members of the RPNGC.

Where did we fail? Can we help now?

The solution is in the hands of Papuans and New Guineans themselves.

Eric Schering

Very good reporting on Madang. Thanks.

Alcohol and home brew are huge issues. Equally problematic is the assaulting of police officers.

Just checked on some notes I had taken on Madang from late 2013 and early 2014 when the Provincial Administrator or Deputy PA attacked a police officer for some reason.

When a high level government official attacks a law enforcement officer, the average Joe notices and feels justified doing the same when they have a gripe.

Philip Kai Morre

Police Minister and Police Commissioner, please do something for Madang police with mobility support, increased manpower, proper housing, logistics and funding.

Police Minister, give priority to your own electorate who voted you. If you spend so much time with national issues, you may not come back in 2022.

Politics in PNG is unpredictable so think of the safety of your voters first.

Paul Oates

What a classic statement of dedication, set against an apparent total lack of official support, summed up in the last sentence.

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