How discipline can a soldier be

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday, May 10, 2011

THE military, or armed services, traditionally held as a bastion of discipline and authority in society in PNG, is fast becoming a parody of the once high ideals it is sworn to protect and uphold.
To hold that our nation’s army is here to effectively defend and help keep the order can no longer be said of our First Royal Pacific Island Regiment stationed in Taurama Barracks on the periphery of the nation’s capital.
The unfortunate fact is that the barracks harbours a type of soldier that is not fit to carry the mantle as a disciplined serviceman.
This is not to blight on the majority of servicemen who have served their nation with fervour and loyalty, rather, it is a sad reflection of the moral decay that has taken hold of the branch of government, the public servants, who are tasked with serving and protecting the citizens of this country.
Last Saturday, a group of soldiers from Taurama laid waste to the Manu autoport service station, apparently in an act of retaliation.
The cause was the injuring of two of their comrades in a drunken brawl earlier in the day with a civilian, who is understood to have actually accompanied two 1RPIR soldiers on a drinking binge the previous day.
The Manu autoport fuel station bore the brunt of the violence meted out, reportedly, by two truckloads of soldiers (sources say more than 25 men dressed in various military apparel and armed with semi- and fully-automatic rifles), hell-bent on retribution.
We know how excited the public can be when chaos envelopes a situation and this case is no different. Some passers-by and curious onlookers turned from spectators to opportunists and looters.
The damage bill for the wanton destruction and brazen theft that took place is huge.
Service station proprietor Rueben Kandiu put the total at more than K5 million.
InterOil, which own the property and equipment, will have to replace all damaged fuel bourses which were smashed beyond repair while businessman Kandiu, whose convenience shop was robbed as was his fuel revenues for the day, has incurred losses that he is yet to put an exact value on.
Kandiu also claimed that the theft of his day’s takings was done by soldiers.
The wider effect this will have on the public is something that cannot be discounted.
Manu autoport provides a vital service for the city’s residents by supplying fuel for cars on a 24-hour basis. It is the only service station in NCD which does this.
Furthermore, police vehicles use the depot regularly, especially at night, to carry out their patrols.
The Port Moresby General Hospital, Paradise Hospital and St John Ambulance Service are all in close proximity to Manu and rely on the service station.
All have now lost a convenient refuelling depot.
How serious that loss is in terms of the medical services provided by these healthcare providers is yet to be felt. We hope they can manage for the time being while efforts are made by Kandiu and InterOil to restore the service.
Will the Defence Force be supplying fuel and cars in the interim to cater for the expected shortfall in police services as result of the callous actions of its members? 
What about the damage bill? Who will pay for that? Is the state not liable for damages?
One must question why the military hierarchy in this country continues to tolerate acts of anarchy perpetrated by its members.
According to sources, this is the 15th such clash that soldiers from 1RPIR have had in recent memory. That is a staggering figure.
If, after several such occurrences, let alone 15, the commanders of Taurama Barracks and, indeed the PNG Defence Force, cannot instill a level of discipline that is the minimum in forces the world over, then, what have they come to since the proud days of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and, more importantly, where are they heading?
The lax attitude of the PNG Defence Force can be seen in the way soldiers behave when off duty and their interaction with the civilian population.
How we are able to make such claims is easy we have two of the country’s largest barracks situated in the nation’s capital so there are numerous examples.
It goes without saying that parallel investigations must be conducted forthwith by both the police and the military’s own investigative body and the guilty parties be brought to justice.
Nothing less than the court marshalling of all soldiers who participated in this cowardly act and their immediate demotion or dismissal from the force will suffice.
All those defence personnel identified must be criminally charged and given appropriate prison terms while the damage bill must be promptly cleared by the state. A reduction in the PNGDF’s budget is a good place to start because it is clearly incapable of producing disciplined personnel.