Money can’t change mindset

Editorial

FORMER Hela police commander Mark Yangen once remarked that the province needed “divine intervention” to change the mindset of its people and stop rampant violence and lawlessness.
“Only God will change Hela,” was his chilling but prophetic words, having come to the conclusion that nothing else can change the people’s behaviour insofar as the rule of law is concerned.
It seemed Yangen had fought a losing battle in the land of the Gigira Laitepo where even the lives of God’s workers were in grave danger.
“If I, as the provincial police commander, can do all my best to change the mindset of the people and if they cannot change, only God will change Hela. When will people listen to their leaders and respect the law and change their behaviour?”
Yangen was replaced in a major reshuffle of police commanders late last year. Early this year, Hela administrator William Bando warned that the province could plunge into total anarchy given the breakdown in law and order.
Bando sounded the warning following a series of murders, including those of two PNG Defence Force soldiers at Komo and a policeman, and suspension of flights in and out of Tari after part of the airport perimeter fencing was ripped down.
Air Niugini, PNG Air and other third-level airline operators were forced to pull the plug on all flights in and out of the provincial capital for several weeks.
Bando said at the time: “This is a compounding problem and people are killing each other. Not a week goes by without a tribal fight, without someone being chopped down on the road.”
This year is about to end with no effective measures or solutions by the national and provincial governments to halt the violence and lawlessness that has cost so many lives and caused so much damage.
And it seems like a never-ending nightmare.
Just last weekend four more people were killed in a tribal fight at Komo, which is the other half of acting Governor Francis Potape’s electorate.
Acting provincial police commander Kenzley Silas told The National the tribal fight was continuing but police could only look after government properties at Komo station.
Silas expressed the all-too-familiar concern: “There are tribal fights going on everywhere in Hela and we (police) need manpower and support. Our continuous call for (government) support has fallen on deaf ears.”
A state of emergency may be required to bring the current situation under control. State security forces must be dispatched immediately to the trouble spots to quell raging tribal fights and hunt down culprits who are killing people and pillaging villages.
This highlands province is host to Papua New Guinea’s first liquefied natural gas (LNG) development and the country cannot afford to scare away further foreign investment because of the breakdown in law and order.
Moreover, the leaders of Hela must realise the gravity of this situation and make a concerted effort to restore peace and order. Political differences must be put aside for the welfare and benefit of the people.
Much is at stake for this relatively new province.
Lawlessness and crime can be controlled in the short term but changing the mindsets of the Hela people, most of whom still live, think and behave like their fore-bearers, is something that cannot be achieved overnight.
It is a gradual process that involves changes to the thought processes of individuals, families and their communities. These changes are also influenced by socio-economic factors and the political environment.
When Hela was split from Southern Highlands several years ago, its future development and prosperity looked secured by the multi-billion kina LNG project.
The Gigira Laitepo prophecy had been fulfilled and the people of Hela would no longer be in total darkness.
Despite the millions of kina pouring into the once impoverished Hela district, money cannot change mindsets.
The current breakdown in law and order in Hela shows that the country’s largest economic project has had little or no impact on the way the majority of Hela people live, think and behave.
And they will continue to conduct their lives like their ancestors did until they are exposed to appropriate social and educational development, intertwined with Christian teachings and values, which will change their thought processes.

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