State must tackle drug smuggling

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday October 18th, 2013

 THE reported increase in drug trafficking and other illegal activities along our international borders is indeed cause for grave concern.

Western provincial police commander Insp Silva Sika this week raised alarm bells, saying that police do not have the manpower and resources to combat drug trafficking in the province.

Sika says the police need boats, logistical support and resources to effectively deal with the problem.

Little is known about the extent of drug trafficking in Western, a vast and remote province that shares our in­ternational borders with Aus­tralia and Indonesia.

According to Sika, the bulk of the illicit drug, marijuana, is transported from the Highlands region by drug traffickers and dealers who use young people in Western as middlemen. 

More often than not, the middlemen are caught while the real perpetrators get away – that is the real tragedy. Although the courts in Western are cooperating with police to impose tougher penalties on drug dealers and users, the problem seems to be getting worse because of the limited police capacity and capabilities.

We hope that Sika’s superiors at the Southern region police command and police headquarters are taking note of his concerns.

We hope there is a national plan or strategy to deal with drug trafficking in Papua New Guinea.

It would indeed be a national tragedy if the police force did not have such a plan. There is little doubt that drug trafficking or smuggling is widespread throughout the Southern region and other parts of the country.

Western and Gulf are major Southern transit points because of their close proximity to the Highlands provinces but the illicit drug often ends up in the National Capital District via Central province. 

The NCD is possibly the largest local market for marijuana from the Highlands.

Many smugglers have been caught transporting their illicit cargo by air from centres like Goroka, in Eastern Highlands, and Kundiawa, in Chimbu.

The industrial city of Lae is a major transit point for drug shipments to Port Moresby and even some overseas markets. Just the previous weekend, the National Drug and Vice Squad intercepted more than 80 kilograms of marijuana, which was possibly destined for an overseas market. 

It was the largest haul of marijuana by police so far and was being smuggled from the Highlands via Morobe and Gulf provinces. 

Several of the perpetrators were apprehended at Kerema, Gulf, and taken to Port Moresby where they are now in police custody waiting for their court trial.

Drug dealers and smugglers in PNG, like their counterparts in other countries, will stop at nothing to push their illicit trade and expand their network. It is a lucrative trade that only benefits the drug dealers, while the users are the victims. In the absence of proper data and statistics, it may be safely assumed that the illicit drug trade is still in its infancy stage in Papua New Guinea.

It may be widespread but the current drug dealers and smugglers in this country are generally considered small time. 

There are no drug cartels and drug lords that control this illicit trade in the country, at least not for the time being. Therefore, the onus is on the National Government to implement a grand plan of action to stop these drug dealers in their tracks before they create highways for illicit drug operations.

More manpower and resources are needed to boost police and drug enforcement operations in strategic locations in the border provinces of Western, West Sepik and Gulf. This will require significant funding from the National Government to ensure that police special arms like the National Drug and Vice Squad are adequately resourced to tackle this problem. Other government agencies like the National Intelligence Organisation (NIO) and Customs, have vital roles to play in this war against drug trafficking.

These agencies will need to collaborate with their counterparts in Australia and Indonesia to effectively carry their drug enforcement operations. 

After all, it is in the interests of PNG and its two big neighbours to move quickly to stop this illicit trade from expanding beyond their international borders.