Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Papua New Guinea Defence Force Commander has a big task ahead



The PNG Defence Force has a new Commander and General.  He is infantry Colonel Francis Agwi and former Chief of Defence Intelligence who replaces Commodore Peter Ilau after two tours of duty (2001 – 2009).

While Prime Minister Somare and his big entourage were attending the Copenhagen climate change conference, the National Executive Council (NEC) promoted and appointed a new Defence commander.  The new command changes comes just four days before Christmas and twelve weeks after the tour of duty of Commodore Peter Ilau expired on October 12, 2009.  Since then, the Commodore has been on an acting capacity until Monday 21st December 2009. 

In addition, cabinet also appointed another senior infantry officer as the Chief of Staff to the Force commander.  He is Colonel Tokam Kanene who is presently the Defence Advisor within the PNG High Commission in Djakarta, Indonesia.  Colonel Kanene comes from the Simbu (formerly pronounced ‘Chimbu’) province in the highlands.   This is the first time since Independence the PNGDF has had a Commander and Chief of Staff from the Sepik and Highlands region respectively. 

The recent changes saw the former Commander and Chief of Staff (both from the Maritime Element) being replaced by two infantry officers from the Land Element (Army).   Already there are rumours circulating within the Defence community on the criteria used by the NEC to make these new changes when other options were available to the Government.  

Former Commander Ilau was appointed as Defence Commander in October 2001 by a new Government in office under Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta.  The Commander was directed to cull the force manpower strength to 2,000, and de-mob the rest by December 2001 under a very controversial one-time reduction program. 

What followed was a total national debacle and disgrace to loyal servicemen who dedicated their whole life to their country’s military before and after Independence.  The whole political exercise was virtually an administrative nightmare for many long-serving servicemen and their families for over eight years.  To date, many servicemen have not received their full payout service entitlements to this day. 

Many complaints by ex-servicemen still stranded in the barracks and bases, and in the community are falling on deaf ears.  Many servicemen have passed on while still waiting to be paid leaving their immediate families destitute in the cities and towns.  These families need money to be properly repatriated to their provincial villages. 

The government seems oblivious to their plight.  Maybe the next government in 2012 will do something to resolve this situation.  Many more ex-servicemen will die while waiting.  The list of destitute ex-military families grows with many children dropping out of the education system to joining the unemployment ranks as military widows can not afford today’s high school fees.   These military families have been failed by the system.  Governments have done them a great disservice.    

As a result of the forced reduction of service personnel in 2001, all three PNGDF elements now comprise of hollow operational units.  This must now be fixed by the new PNGDF Commander.   

General Agwi will have an almost impossible job as he takes over a grossly-underfunded, undermanned and a demoralised force. 

These are most trying times for this once-proud national icon, as defence and national security seems to be not a top priority for the PNG government.  The present political regime has unfortunately shown its ignorance and apathy about improving PNG’s national security situation for a long time. 

Commander Agwi in his new role must see that some good basic changes be made to a force that needs a better deal.  The new commander will no doubt have his hands full to whip the present military into top shape and form.  This can be done if the new general resists the temptations of all predecessors not to take too many unnecessary ‘out-of-town’ overseas trips, and have a completely new no-nonsense command team to help him.

A new good command team is an absolutely must.  It will ensure the Commander’s intent and mission is not unduly compromised and carried out without fear or favor by fully committed, dedicated officers and subordinates.  This is the only way to make the PNGDF really work to the expectations of the people. 

Commander Agwi needs to put his job on the line by ensuring the PNGDF is not maintained as a mere ‘paper tiger”, but a true national force.  The PNGDF must now be made into a strong force.  To achieve his new defence mission, General Agwi must tell his government and the bureaucracy to ‘put up, or shut up’.  The Government has two choices: give the Defence Force what it needs now or scrap it. 



  1. Mary Noel9:57 AM

    Great comments by Reg. Congratulations to Francis Agwi on his promotion and appointment as our new PNGDF Commander.

    Agree with Reg that the new commander must now appoint a new defence command team to help him with the stalled reforms.

    The PNGDF needs total government support as with every national emergency the PNGDF is there, even with the limited resources it has; it has done a good job for the country.

    Keep the good comments coming Reg. The public wants to know what can the force do now with a new commander as there politicians who have no real clue as what the PNGDF should be doing.

  2. Anonymous10:44 AM

    The Government is terrified of a military coup so dont expect any change soon.

  3. Kompani Komanda8:37 AM

    Fully support Reg's comments.

    The Government has no need to be afraid of a military coup by the PNGDF if it does the following:

    1) Support its military by giving it more realistic roles to perform now;
    2) Give Defence a realistic budget;
    3) Appoint only senior, mature, operationally very experienced and credible Colonels as future Commanders;
    4) Use the PNGDF in many internal security and development tasks to assist the police and other government departments as in the past;
    5) Upgrade its run-down facilities the Australians buit and left at Independence;
    6) Keep it fully occupied during the year so it does not get bored in the barracks.

    The PNGDF will be a strong professional force if the Government is very serious about its roles in developing PNG. At present it is unused because Prime Minister Somare leadership has failed to do anything about our countr's security since Independence.

    Former servicemen now supports this call to improve our defence force as part of PNG's future development in the pacific.

  4. Sarge Walo8:31 AM

    Annoynous or whatever your real name is, is that all you can say? A short statement with no real evidence why you think our government is terrified of a military coup? There is no sence in what you are saying here.

    The government is plain ignorant and has very bad advisors who do not know how to improve our defence force.