Thursday, February 26, 2009

The State is just a spectator

Guns proliferate in Papua New Guinea and are a major contributing factor to the country’s ongoing massive law and order problem. The National, Papua New Guinea’s leading daily newspaper, was on the dot again with this frank editorial today.


THE State’s authority as the enforcer of the rule of law and adjudicator of justice has come under serious threat because of its failure to adequately address the issue of the proliferation of illegal guns and their use in PNG.

There are arms races happening in communities throughout the country as men jostle each other to acquire the latest guns in order to protect their families and communities.

It is not merely an issue of crime. Guns have become a deeply ingrained social issue involving entire communities and the leaders of PNG.

The Guns Committee was established in 2005 with retired Brig Gen Jerry Singirok as chairman. It immediately undertook a nationwide assessment of guns proliferation and related issues.

The team spoke to a large cross-section of the population in all 20 provinces. Papua New Guineans and expatriates spoke passionately about guns and the cost to the nation of their illegal use. Out of the concerns came a huge report with 244 recommendations which was presented to the Prime Minister.

This report is yet to be presented to Parliament. This inaction by the Government is worrying and even suspicious. It is almost as if the Government wanted the status quo to persist.

Guns have become more than just a criminal problem.

In the Highlands, the presence and use of illegal guns is felt greatest. Where once tribal fight was pitting men against each other on the open battlefield, today it has been reduced to a merciless killing spree.

In the old days, tribal fight was itself a conflict resolution method, albeit the last resort. When all else failed, the conflicting parties decided to test their strength on the battle field to see who would be the ultimate winner.

Today, it is a merciless war of attrition in which opponents gun each other down from hiding, in ambushes and raids. Opponents mean to completely wipe out the existence of the other.

Entire villages have been wiped out as a result and whole communities have been displaced permanently, most of whom are to be found in urban settings such as Lae and Port Moresby – adding to the squatter problem. Often the animosities follow these migrants into the cities so that the nation had witnessed gruesome payback killings right in the centre of towns in broad daylight.

The gun has transformed most Highlands societies so that today its influence is on par with pigs, money and four-wheel drives as a tool of status, power, wealth and intimidation.

Guns have also tilted the balance of power. Now real power rests in the hands of the person or group with the most powerful gun.

The gun’s role in society is not lost on politicians. Many politicians, both in power and those aspiring, have easy access to guns if they do not themselves own them now.

Many have financed purchases of guns and ammunition, particularly in preparation for general elections. Perhaps there is resounding silence in Parliament and lack of action on the recommendations of the Singirok Committee because many of the politicians cannot be seen to go against the very source of power which might have got them into Parliament in the first place.

Only two politicians – Enga Governor Peter Ipatas and Attorney-General Dr Allan Marat – have spoken out often about this important issue.

Speaking for the Highlands, Mr Ipatas told fellow governors last March in Manus: “A frightening aspect of the guns issue is that in most rural parts of the Highlands provinces, the rule of law is being replaced by anarchy, chaos and the rule of the gun. Mercenaries and gunmen are thriving and ruling using fear and intimidation, and State institutions, which are not equipped to deal with such cases, are reduced to playing the role of insignificant spectators.”

Mr Ipatas said the current state of affairs was a catalyst to promote arms races in communities around the country to procure guns at all costs to protect their families, homes, lands, way of life and the right to life.

This desire to own guns has provided fertile ground for an alternate illicit industry – trading in guns, drugs and other high paying illicit goods – which threaten the lawful industries.

The Government’s failure to act on the Guns Summit recommendations has dissipated all hopes and confidence in the State to effectively address the problem. If anything, if would appear the arms race is racing ahead unimpeded, undermining the State’s authority to enforce the rule of law and adjudicate justice in the country.



1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:00 PM


    Given the anarchic world order in International Politics since the concept of state-system, States have become spectators. Most of the international issues are now manipulated by non-state actors like terrorists bodies such as al-Qaida or individuals like Osama bin Laden or business giants like Coca Cola. States can make laws and regulate these bodies but at the end, these bodies do not have boundaries and can easily manupulate state apparatus.

    Likewise, in domestic politics, tribalism, ethnicity or the gun culture as expressed in your article makes states vulnerable too. For instance, the Bougainville Crises is an example where land owners stood against the state and company. The Gun Culture in PNG if not eradicated, thus one day can take over the state because state departments and bodies are not effective.

    We are living in the 21st century where our leaders must be very mindful with these changes taking place. If the government do not take into consideration the changing mindset of people with globalisation trend then PNG is heading for a disaster, and one day PNG can become a failed state.

    Mathew Yakai