By DERRICK KII REUBEN
The national icon of Papua New Guinea, which stands out so proud and tall came smashing and crumbling down to its knees on the morning of Nov 20, just two days after one of the world’s most powerful gatherings –the Apec 2018 summit which was held successfully here in Port Moresby.
Recalling back a similar world leaders’ gathering in 2012, the Parliament building of Papua New Guinea was described by the members of the Asian Pacific, Caribbean and African nations as one of most unique structures that stands out well among other parliaments of the Commonwealth representing the breath and length of this nation, laid out well with modern architecture.
At the time the Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare at the realm of this nation, he carefully planned and executed with a skillful hand from most of our local designers and craftsmen.
A locally owned company, Fletcher Morobe was engaged in design, layout and construction of the whole project at that time.
The actual architectural design was out by a New Zealander and when fully completed, it was officially opened by Prince Charles on Aug 8, 1984.
There have always been protests and rallies held around the world in front and outside of parliament buildings but never at one time the world had witnessed the civil society, especially by the State disciplinary forces going mad and ransacking a parliament building and its properties in the manner our parliament experienced by those engaged in the Apec meeting – the very people who took an oath to protect State properties and citizens.
The actions of these police and correctional service officers were really uncalled for and no one will come to terms with and digest the kind of actions and attitudes these disgruntled officers displayed as the whole nation was watching and listening helplessly through electronic media as the event was slowly unfolding.
Again this surprise attack by our very own disciplinary forces will go down in the history of our chamber. These officers went on rampage as if they were within an enemy territory.
This is how it all started and should be told.
It was a quiet Tuesday morning as the Port Moresby sun was heating up to its peak of 34 degrees and the precincts of Parliament were very calm with not many visitors.
As usual members from both sides of the house – the Opposition and the Government – were slowly making their way into the chamber for the Opposition’s reply to the 2019 National Budget presented by the Government a week earlier.
Parliament was to resume at 2pm that day but just before that at around 10am there was a small group of both civilians and CS personnel slowly gathering and started building up in numbers and began yelling and making noise at the stairs towards the front main entrance.
And at that time no one took notice of what was happening because these men in uniform were part of the successful Apec security operation that ended two days earlier.
After an hour later their colleagues from the police force joined them at the Parliament’s ‘C’ block car park and the crowd quickly grew in numbers in front of the main entrance t and towards the poolside.
It was later established that these CS and police officers were a faction of the main group that was being addressed by the Police Commissioner and Joint Apec Security Task Force commander, Gari Baki and the Police Minister, Jelta Wong who expressed words of appreciation to all three disciplinary forces for their effective security operations for the Apec meeting at the Rita Flynn Netball Courts at that same hour.
However, back at Parliament at about 12.10pm these aggrieved personnel ran rampant all around the surroundings of Parliament.
They went crazy smashing the glasses and walls of the Parliament building and at the same time assaulting and manhandling ordinary staff and guards. These angry officers forcefully entered the Parliament through the emergency exit entrance only allowed for staff while some made their way in through the main front door.
While inside the building they took everyone by surprise, especially the staff and Members of Parliament, as both men in green and blue went onto smashing, removing and assaulting guards and workers who got in their way. One guard was manhandled and nearly thrown down the stairs.
Glasses were broken, the X-ray machine was pushed over, water dispensers, speakers, machines, and flower pots were thrown and smashed. Historic paintings on the walls were dislodged and strewn on the floor.
Guards and staff at the Parliament were never asked questions, instead some of them were forced to hand over whatever they had in their pockets; phones and money were removed.
Also damaged were Members’ electronic doors to their respective offices as well as the Parliament post office whichis located at the lower ground floor and items misplaced everywhere.
The vehicles belonging to MPs and staff were damaged as terrified staff ran for their lives in all directions.
Speaker Job Pomat had expressed deep regret over the destruction and ransacking of Parliament properties and assault to innocent and loyal staff.
“This is a total disgrace to the State of Papua New Guinea as the very person who gave the 400 year old first Kind James Version, and the former Governor of the State of Indiana and current Vice President of the United States of America, Mike Pence was present here a day before this happened. What a disgrace,” the Speaker said with disappointment.
Clerk of Parliament Vela Konivaro had this to days when addressing his traumatised staff the next day following the attack:
“How can our very own personnel of the Police and CS disrupt the work of Parliament and manhandle my staff in such a manner with Parliament properties smashed to pieces?
“They have proper channels to raise their grievancesas members of the disciplinary forceand the manner in which they came and terrorised us and bringing disgrace to the highest institution of the land, the National Parliament in such a manner is a direct attack on my hardworking staff and Members of Parliament with little or no respect at all.”
The founding father and former Prime Minister, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare described the actions of these disgruntled security officers as that of sick animals portraying PNG to the rest of the world as if we are still living in the stone age days behaving, eating and living with wild animals,” Somare sounded great danger and warning.
The total damage to Parliament now stands at an estimate of over K8 million inclusive of medical costsfor injuries sustained by staff of Parliament.
Up until now after the attack on Parliament, there are three major issues that still remain unsolved or unanswered.
- There have been no reactions from other close friends of PNG and neighboring countries especially, those of the Apececonomies in terms of publicity and security alert notices to their citizens.
- Not even our ownelected Members of Parliament including the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition came out publicly to make statements and express their dissatisfactions over this surprise attack since day one; yet this has been a challenge to the national security of the State of Papua New Guinea. Only the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Job Pomatfought back by raising concerns from the very beginning.
- What really motivated the angry security personnel to behave in such a manner is yet to be established as their claim for nonpayment of security allowances for the Apec meeting wasn’t seen to be a major contributing factor because the State through the Department of Finance immediately released a first lot of K10.8 million out of the K20.8 million and processed into individual bank accounts in the afternoon of the following day of rampage to Parliament. And that is just 2 days after the ending of the Apec Meeting.
From this incident the Government can learn few things and make adjustments when it comes to dealing with our National Security Forces in wider scale security operations:
- Security allowancesmust be processed and paid in full prior to the ending of any major event in which our security personnel are allowed to perform and made engaged.
- Proper and strict recruitment process must be introduced with a period ofone to twoyears instead of the six months basic training conducted at Bomana training colleges. More knowledge and in-depth and skills training must be implemented for the new recruits and cadets.
- National Parliament and its surroundings must be given special immunity from outside security force, other law enforcing agencies and their presence. This would also mean non entry of State security forces into Parliament precincts. The security division at National Parliament must be upgraded to special unit to carter for and perform counterattack on terrorists and other incidents of such nature.
From this experience and encounter the Government must step-up in addressing internal security matters first instead of focusing so much on international boarder and security threats.
- Freelancer Derrick Kii Reuben is the Parliamentary Committee secretary.