Fools trading fool’s gold


CRIME has no borders – that’s the cold hard fact of life that government officials like Donald Yamasombi face in policing the Papua New Guinea-Indonesia border region.
In his role as Assistant Police Commissioner Border Command, Yamasombi is responsible for four policing commands in three provinces – West, East Sepik and the South Fly and North Fly commands of Western.
Yamasombi describes the land and sea border with Indonesia as “very porous” and is highly prone to gun-smuggling, poaching of flora and fauna, illegal fishing, illegal crossings, smuggling of illicit items and evading tax on Indonesian products brought into PNG.
As Yamasombi told a workshop on transnational crimes in Port Moresby this week, it is a mammoth task to effectively police the border region with limited government funding and resources.
Hence, transnational crimes will continue to be a challenge for PNG police and other security agencies.
It should be made clear to any intending cross-border criminal, especially drug smugglers, that while PNG and Indonesia are the closest of neighbours they are poles apart when it comes to drug offences and penalties.
In PNG, while the public might be crying out for badly needed change of law to increase penalties, one can get away with a slap-on-the-wrist jail term.
Across the border a drug offender of the worst sort faces death.  That is the grim contrast.
Somehow, not content with trading their marijuana locally, a number of crafty and enterprising Papua New Guineans have been testing Indonesian law enforcement by smuggling their produce cross the border to willing buyers in the Papua province. Many have succeeded and brought in millions of rupiahs
so the illegal trade is indeed enticing.
Others have not been so lucky. A group of 17 PNG men were detained last year in an Indonesian jail for drug smuggling while another 15 men were arrested for transporting drugs to West Papua.
It was even more daring of this group to have tried to cross the border using a stolen government vehicle.
Trading between Papua New Guineans and Indonesians at the Batas border trade post has increased over the years and along with it illicit trade also.
People travelling in from mainly the Momase and Highlands region have used the trade post and on occasions driven all the way to Jayapura in search of reasonably priced electronic, household and clothing items.
Amid this healthy business was also an underground drug trade flourishing which has now surfaced and proven beyond speculation.
Apparently, there is a big market for PNG marijuana which is known across the border as “PNG gold”.
A kilogram of local marijuana can fetch around K300.  What PNG agricultural commodity currently earns that kind of money at the moment?
No wonder the strong urge to cultivate and trade the illegal drug. But the drug business is akin to fools trading fool’s gold.
Border police said people were taking advantage of the good price by smuggling drugs across the border without realising the penalties awaiting those caught by Indonesian authorities.
“It is not like PNG where you can get away with drug smuggling,” a senior police officer said recently.
As if to confirm this comment, a district court in Mt Hagen recently sentenced a man from Bogia in Madang to five months in jail.
The convicted pleaded for leniency on the grounds that he was caught in the drug trade out of necessity to provide for his wife.
However, the magistrate told him that selling marijuana to earn a living for his family was not a good reason because he could do many other things to earn an income.
The drug smugglers who were held in Indonesia have taken a huge risk in the hope of slipping into and out of that country without detection. Just because some have succeeded and made handsome returns does not mean that anybody else can do likewise.
Indonesia has carried out many executions, among them one Dutchman, one Brazilian, one Vietnamese, one Malawian and one Nigerian for drug-related crimes.
That is the gravity with which that country treats drug offences which is a very unlike the several months of imprisonment in PNG for crimes of similar nature.

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