The National, Friday 11th November 2011
I WOULD like to congratulate my former colleagues – Major Nick Henry, Major Bruno Malau and Major Sebastian Ipauki – for becoming the first Papua New Guineans to serve in the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Africa.
I have had the privilege to serve with these three gentlemen and have nothing but praise for them.
However, the whispers among the servicemen and women along the corridors of the PNGDF headquarters are:
l There is no financial support from the government for the three officers on overseas peacekeeping mission unlike other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to complement what is given by the UN. With all the amount of planning and policy framework done by PNGDF and Department of Foreign Affairs, somebody forgot about the welfare of our soldiers who will actually be in the frontline flying the flag of his/her country;
l The PNGDF HQ has bluntly told the three UN peacekeepers to pay for their own meals and boarding at the UN camp from the allowance provided by UN. Whether the UN will take over that financial responsibility is another question. Meals and boarding is part and parcel of their condition of employment and is the sole responsibility of PNGDF; and
l Are these three officers insured for international missions? They are being deployed to one of the most volatile places in the world. Does our worker’s compensation cover overseas missions? I know for sure they have not been given the answer to this question.
I speak on their behalf from my own experience.
In 2007, I led an air contingent to the Solomon Islands as part of our government’s assistance to the Gizo tsunami victims.
We were given a 48-hour notice to pack up and move out, and despite all the assurance from PNGDF HQ, we were left stranded for three weeks in a foreign country to fend for ourselves.
Luckily for us, the PNG High Commission and the PNG community at Honiara came to our aid.
Mind you, there is no PNG High Commission or Embassy in the African continent.
So the above issues are worrisome.
My concern is not our government’s lack of support, but more to do with the red tape and complacency in the PNGDF HQ.
It is like talking to a brick wall.
On returning from Honiara, I wrote a strong report to PNGDF HQ with recommendations which basically covered the above points.
But like all other reports, it went into the “junior officers with attitude” basket.
I urge the government to step in before we create an international embarrassment like the one my contingent experienced in the Solomon Islands.
Have a safe trip, boys.
Major (rtd) Albert Tagua