COMMENTARY: By Bryan Kramer
September 16 – yesterday – marked the 45th year of Independence for Papua New Guinea. It also marked just over a year and three months since I was appointed Minister for Police, following the collapse of the O’Neill government.
I note many people are asking why I am so quiet in my role as Minister for Police, after years of being vocal in the fight against corruption.
The short answer is: I’ve been busy. Busy working around the clock to reform and improve the Police Force.
As a Member of Opposition, you don’t really have the mandate to reform the systems of government. You are literally on the outside, looking in.
Your mandate is to expose and oppose the government of the day in an effort to keep it accountable by keeping the public informed.
When you become a member of the government, you don’t have the luxury of time to write in-depth articles that expose corruption. Instead, you are busy trying to actually fix the problems you have been complaining about while in opposition.
After one year in office, what has become disturbingly evident is the extent of the problems.
Corruption deep rooted
Now, 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.
Under eight years of the O’Neill government 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.
What is the way forward?
There are many who believe the solution is simply to arrest corrupt politicians and high ranking government officials.
But who is going to do all the investigations and make the arrests?
I would be happy to. Unfortunately our laws don’t give the Minister of Police power to make sweeping arrests. And I don’t expect Parliament to be in a rush to change the law to give me those powers any time soon.
So for now, the power to arrest and lay charges remains with our Police Force.
But many of our best and most experienced police officers have either retired, been dismissed for trying to do the right thing, or have left to pursue a career in the private sector.
Servant to corrupt politicians
Sadly, after eight years of the O’Neill government’s reign, the Police Force, once described as the pride of the country, was reduced to a private security business, servant to corrupt politicians and dodgy foreign businessmen.
Following my appointment as Minister of Police, I found our Police Force in complete disarray and riddled with corruption. 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.
How bad was it?
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.
After one year, what have we achieved?
Under the Marape-Steven government, we have taken the first steps to implement sweeping reform.
Reforming from top down
Today, the Police Force and law and order has become the centrepoint of national discussion. And that’s exactly where it needs to be.
The Police Force is now getting the attention it so desperately needs.
We are reforming from the top down, following changes in Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner for Police. We are now at Assistant Commissioner and Director level, and expect to get down to Provincial Police Commander and Constable level by this time next year.
The best means to fight corruption and bring meaningful change is to restore our Police Force to the pride of the country. The Marape-Steven government has started that process. The past year was spent laying the foundations. In 2021 we will build on those foundations.
So back to the question: why am I so quiet?
Perhaps the reform of the Police Force is simply the calm before the storm.
Bryan Kramer is Papua New Guinea’s Police Minister. He is also one of the most transparent ministers on social media. In his rare spare time, he writes columns on issues for his Kramer Report web and Facebook pages. The Pacific Media Centre republishes his columns with permission.