By OSEAH PHILEMON
THIRTEEN years after the Sandline mercenaries were forced to leave Papua New Guinea, the Government has still not learnt any lessons from the Bougainville crisis, former PNG Defence Force commander Major Gen (retired) Jerry Singirok said yesterday.
Today, March 17, is the 13th anniversary of the Sandline crisis.
Gen Singirok, the man who masterminded the departure of the Government-hired mercenaries to put down the Bougainville rebellion, said the Bougainville crisis presented lessons before the PNG Government about the need to invest in and strengthen national security, yet nothing has been done about it.
The Bougainville crisis also had lessons about the need for the Government to be extremely careful in trying to engage foreign security companies to work in PNG, especially in big resource projects.
“Now with the LNG project in the Southern Highlands, the Government has allowed developers to bring in foreign-owned security companies who have no appreciation of the local customs, cultures and the people.
“These companies are dismantling the police and Defence Force by recruiting their best men to work on the project sites with promises of better pay and conditions,” Gen Singirok said.
“With lousy pay and service conditions, police and Defence Force personnel are living below poverty line.
“That is why they are taking up offers to work as security personnel for foreign-owned security companies at the LNG project,” Gen Singirok said.
“Has anyone done any due diligence checks on these foreign security companies?” he asked.
Gen Singirok said the foreign-owned security companies came here with one purpose, to use maximum force against landowners or anyone who tried to frustrate work on the project.
“The presence of foreign-owned security companies in PNG poses a great threat to the country.
“I want to know what their rules of engagement are, what types of firepower they have and who authorised them to have high-powered firearms.
“The use of foreign private security companies happens in countries where the state has failed to provide the needed security.
“This situation does not exist in PNG and so the Government needs to reassess its own attitudes towards security issues surrounding the big project,” he said.
“If they are not careful with what is happening in the LNG project area, the situation there can be much larger and far worse than Bougainville,” Gen Singirok warned.
“Conditions are ripe for a major crisis if the Government is not careful.
“Firstly, there is a serious breakdown of law and order in Southern Highlands province right now.
“Secondly is the massive build-up of illegal firearms as a result of lack of control by State law enforcement agencies to contain the influx of these firearms.
“Thirdly is the lack of border control on the PNG-Indonesia border as well as the PNG-Australian border.
“The fourth issue is the obvious lack of Government investment in Defence Force, police and Correctional Services.
“These are the concerns that all add up to what I call a very serious threat to our national security by governments in office,” Gen Singirok said.
“My greatest fear right now is that we are now setting the stage for another Bougainville crisis in Southern Highlands because all the right conditions are there.”
He said the social issues afflicting the people of Southern Highlands province had not been adequately addressed by the Government before the start of the multi-billion-kina liquefied natural gas project.