Kiap law was fair, just & adaptive
20 August 2021
ADELAIDE - Jim Moore’s excellent piece, ‘A Baiyer court case. A good kiap reflects’, accurately describes the situation confronting any kiap when trying to administer the law in a fair and just way in those pre-independence years in Papua New Guinea.
When I went to PNG in 1969 I was 18 years old and knew virtually nothing about life generally.
I received about six weeks of sporadic training in Law, mainly focussed on the Police Offences Act and Regulations. I was admonished not to shoot anyone unless under mortal threat.
Thus armed, I was sent forth to ensure good order and good governance in remote locations in PNG.
Like most kiaps I never thought that my police functions were even remotely close to my main task.
It was soon apparent to me that if I arrested someone for every technical breach of the law I saw, I would soon fill the local kalabus to capacity.
Consequently, I only arrested people for crimes such as murder or assault causing grievous bodily harm.
Common assaults (especially domestic violence) were often left to be sorted out by the local people themselves according to custom and practice and perhaps with a police adjudicator.
Most kiaps did not like enforcing laws we thought were inappropriate or unfair.
One such law related to the collection of a poll tax which those on high in distant Port Moresby had decreed must be paid to support the local government system then being introduced in PNG.
I have written previously about how an insistence on collecting this burdensome tax from some of the poorest people in the world was an odious and unwanted task.
None of us had signed up to be tax collectors.
As a consequence, this task received a very low priority. It was always easy to think of something else to do that was much more important.
In general, kiaps worked on the basis that the law should be enforced in ways that made sense to the local people.
Hence Jim Moore's pragmatic and entirely reasonable decision to jail the local village councillor for his failure to even attempt to prevent a tribal fight.
The local people would have understood perfectly well that the man had an implied duty to do this because he represented the gavman by dint of his status as a councillor.
It seems this understanding was not shared by the Supreme Court, which preferred a more rigid adherence to the legal process as practiced under the British legal system.
Perversely, this thinking tended to subvert justice in the eyes of the local people.
Overall, I think that kiaps can be proud of their efforts in enforcing the rule of law in PNG.
The processes involved may not have conformed to the practices and expectations of those steeped in the intricacies of the law, but they mostly resulted in a fair and just outcome for both plaintiffs and defendants.
There are some lessons to be learnt from Jim Moore's post.
There is a place for something called natural and unbiased justice that appears to have been overlooked in many of today's societies.
The law in Western circles is almost irretrievably fractured by the relative wealth of those who can pay for the best lawyer or who can endlessly delay proceedings.
The basic lesson those in power have forgotten, not understood or dismissed is that most human societies tend to be self governing until they become too large due to overpopulation.
The exceptions are usually due to external influences like imposed paramilitary power, religion, misinformation and malign superstition.
Kiaps were also moved around so as not to build a power base or to become too immersed in local politics.
For a relatively brief period, PNG showed the world that there could be a better way of running a country that suited the majority of the people.
It's no wonder nobody in power today want to know anything about the kiaps' story or their fast diminishing number.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 20 August 2021 at 09:33 AM
An interesting article from Ralph Nader on Counterpunch:
"Next time you hear any prominent person announce that 'nobody is above the law' you can ask, “Really, with all the corporate and government lawbreaking we read about, tell us just how many of these big-time crooks are in orange suits serving time?'”
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 20 August 2021 at 08:12 AM