The National, Tuesday May 19th, 2015
GEOFFREY Vaki’s handing over of the reins to incoming Police Commander Gari Baki last week was ordered, civil and one could say amicable despite the fact that the Government had effectively sacked him.
Vaki had led the Royal Papua New Guinea Police Constabulary for 11 months and his tenure was unfortunately highlighted by a series of events that put the force and no doubt its commander in a difficult and ultimately untenable position.
Certainly publicised instances of police brutality around the country did nothing to improve the image of the men in blue nor did the fact that Vaki was appointed after an equally volatile period that was overseen by his predecessor Tom Kulunga. That being said Vaki, who has served in the force for well over 40 years, showed a magnanimous side by officiating at the hand-over ceremony last Friday at Police Headquarters in Port Moresby.
Both men spoke about the problems facing the force and Vaki, on his part, admitted the police faced challenges that were there when he took office on June 16 last year and continued up to the point of his removal .
“When you are executing your duties, you attract criticisms but I have stood my ground,” Vaki said.
“An organisation is only as good at its leader.”
Baki, while being gracious in his remarks about the man he was replacing, did not shy away from saying the force was indeed in a state of disrepair and that discipline, which was supposed to be synonymous with the force, had eroded.
He perhaps crucially stressed that whatever the problems that were faced by the incumbent in discipline, morale, the effectiveness of the police in controlling crime and carrying out their daily duties as well as the general cohesion among the different units had manifested long before Vaki ever sat in the commissioner’s seat.
That is something you will not see very often in this country. The seamless transition from one department head to another but Vaki needs to be paid his due. A stickler for discipline, the Central man, has played his part and left the office in a reasonably good state considering the problems he has had to deal with over his term.
Perhaps the area that Vaki did not do enough of was in the force’s public relations.
This was a point Baki alluded to when he said he would strive to have a cordial and positive relation with the media.
It is one thing to keep a low profile when the going is good and let the praise be shared by the force but in turbulent times and when the public was compelled to ask on numerous occasions whether the hierarchy had any real control over the force, a voice and face of authority was perhaps needed more than ever.
Vaki’s successor has set himself the task of righting the ship and bringing public confidence back to the constabulary and to instil a level of professionalism that has, at times, been sorely lacking in the force. It is an unenviable job for any public service to undertake let alone one that has been plagued by negative press almost on a daily basis.
But thankfully Baki is no stranger to the pressures of the commissioner’s office having held that position for a period previously and his time out of the limelight as the head of the country’s National Intelligence Organisation would have given him ample opportunity to work out his strategy and plan to fix the areas that need to be addressed.
Baki must now pick up where Vaki left off and take the force to a new level given that they will be required to operate at world standard not only at July’s Pacific Games but at the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Port Moresby.
The world’s eyes will be firmly on the country at this two events, with greater emphasis on the second one being the region’s largest assemblage of heads of state.
While preparations for the Games have been done and the deployment and management of personnel is all that is left to do, Baki must look to getting his force up to speed with world trends for 2018.
In between then he must address the force’s domestic day to day responsibilities – it is an enormous challenge but he has accepted it unflinchingly.