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Papua New Guinea’s police force is the most corrupt public agency in the country, engaged in drug-smuggling, gun-running, and land theft, and beset by “a rampant culture of police ill-discipline and brutality”, its own police minister has said, in an extraordinary condemnation of his own force.
Police minister Bryan Kramer used the occasion of PNG’s independence anniversary to launch a swingeing attack on the police force, saying its endemic corruption would take years, even a generation, to eradicate. His statement follows a concession from the police commissioner, David Manning, that his force includes “criminals in uniform”.
“I found our police force in complete disarray and riddled with corruption,” Kramer wrote online about his first 15 months as police minister. “The very organisation that was tasked with fighting corruption had become the leading agency in acts of corruption. Add to that a rampant culture of police ill-discipline and brutality.
“Senior officers based in police headquarters in Port Moresby were stealing from their own retired officers’ pension funds. They were implicated in organised crime, drug syndicates, smuggling firearms, stealing fuel, insurance scams, and even misusing police allowances.
“They misused tens of millions of kina allocated for police housing, resources and welfare. We also uncovered many cases of senior officers facilitating the theft of police land.”
Kramer said many of the country’s best police officers had retired or were dismissed “for trying to do the right thing”.
Kramer, the MP for Madang Open and sole member of the Allegiance party he founded, came to parliament in 2017 on a declared platform of transparency and good governance.
He was instrumental in exposing a loans scandal involving Swiss bank UBS that ultimately ended the government of former prime minister Peter O’Neill. O’Neill’s successor James Marape elevated Kramer to the police ministry in June last year.
Kramer said a little over a year in government had revealed the extent of PNG’s systemic corruption.
“Having spent time on the inside, I can see the extent of corruption in PNG. It is so deep-rooted and so entrenched in every aspect of politics and business that it is almost beyond comprehension, and appears never-ending.
“The country was, and is, on the verge of collapse. Given the extent of the damage, it will take five years just to stop it from sinking further. It will take a generation to turn it around.”
Kramer said the current government was working on sweeping reforms to the police force, “from the top down”.
He told the Guardian last year he expected to be killed for his efforts to reform corrupt institutions of state.
“I have no question of doubt I will eventually get killed for what I do,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “It goes without saying when you get in the way of those stealing billions in public funds, they will do whatever it takes to get rid of you.”
A recent report funded by the Australian government through its PNG-Australia policing partnership argued the PNG police force was chronically underfunded.
It suggested that a one-off injection of 3.9bn kina (US$1.1bn) would address a lack of resources, training, and infrastructure.
The report also found PNG faces a severe shortage of police: a ratio of one officer to every 1,145 people, far from the UN’s recommended ratio of one officer for every 450 people.
Manning – installed by Kramer in 2019 as part of his reform of the service – said this month he would implement a “one strike and you’re out” policy for police corruption, violence, or disciplinary infractions.
“I will be the first commissioner of police to admit that there are criminal in uniform in the police force and I am committed to exposing and disposing of them. They have continuously displayed a total loss of basic moral values. They do not respect the law. They do not have any sense of duty, commitment or loyalty and act as if they are a law unto themselves. Their free rein ends now.”
This week Manning also ordered all police reservists to stand down, and hand in their uniforms, badges, and weapons because of widespread abuse of their powers. Manning said regular police members were also abusing the system by not turning up to work because reservists could do their job for them.
In an address at Independence Hill in Port Moresby on Wednesday, the prime minister, James Marape, urged unity across PNG, asking its people to become “better citizens of this country” and to take back the country from the “hands of greed, corruption, complacency, laziness and recklessness”.
PNG’s government is under extreme budgetary pressure at present, having been devastated by Covid-19 lockdowns. In a supplementary budget passed by the parliament, the government has cut spending by 2.3bn kina (US$640m), as well as extended its temporary borrowing facility with the Bank of PNG fivefold, from 300m kina (US$84m), to 1.5bn kina (US$418m).
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/PACNEWS
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