The National – Wednesday, February 9, 2011
OVER the course of the last two weeks, the country has been rocked by one violent episode after another.
Two episodes involved groups flagrantly breaking the law and one tragic incident involved a perpetrator who, by all accounts, should have known better.
In these three instances, lives were lost, business activities halted and families left to cope with unnecessary loss and suffering.
Violence, in whatever forms it takes, whether it be physical or the threat of it, is increasingly becoming a means to deal with – and react to – situations that we cannot understand, rationalise or address with a civil attitude.
It seems violence is the new order. Violence dictates what we do. Violence is the new law.
Papua New Guineans are turning to this literal course of action, in varying degrees, as a first, second and third option to gain what they want, to solve problems and react in times of adversity.
Anyone (idealists especially) who thinks otherwise is fooling himself or herself and is seeing the PNG society today exclusively through rose-tinted lenses and is in danger of losing touch with reality.
The law, as we know it today, is less for the common man and more for the bourgeois and the ruling body politic (those that have the means to mangle, twist and manipulate it for their ends).
Corruption is a precursor to the upsurge in violent behaviour. The so-called enforcers of the law, the police, are nothing but an undermanned, under-funded and largely ineffective body whose sole purpose is to keep the peace and order over six million-odd citizens. They are there to stop or apprehend those who attempt to operate outside the confines of civil society but, in fact, they are incapable of doing this and their impotence will always be laid bare every time the “mob” chooses to take the law into its own hands. That mob can be either the ones on the street or the ones in Waigani offices, especially the grand house on the hill.
With a weak police system, and no certain means of punishing those guilty of breaking laws, is it any wonder that PNG finds itself in the midst of a lawless culture which has entrenched itself in the minds and feelings of the people. Perhaps, in the nation’s urban growth, one can see a semblance of order which is almost always needed to foster that growth. But the collective mentality of people would always be tuned towards violence as an accepted and, in many regards, expected avenue for closure.
In the first case, an engineering joint venture currently operating as the major contractor in the LNG project in the Hela region last month came under attack from the locals in Tari after the death of an innocent child, whom they blamed, rightly or wrongly, on the company. This was a case largely of ignorance and, perhaps, misinformation causing the people to react violently to a situation and to hold at ransom a party whom they had no clear evidence was culpable.
The second incident took place a week later in the hub of urbanity, Port Moresby. Two ethnic groups from the highlands behaved in such a manner that one would think this were the medieval times where the rule of law extended only as far as the nearest royal fortification.
None of this was at play here, just two groups of semi-literate, violently inclined and maybe bored youths forgetting what century and city they were in and behaving like a pack of marauding, blood-thirsty heathens.
The police station was in shouting distance from the battle ground so that, in itself, tells you what law held sway.
The third incident had many scratching their heads in disbelief and disgust tinged with a healthy dose of cynicism. One of the country’s best loved sporting heroes was gunned down over an apparent road rage encounter, again, in Port Moresby. The suspected gunman is himself a well-known government employee, a doctor of philosophy, no less.
The police issued a public appeal for the man to turn himself in, all the while knowing where he lived and worked. If it was not so tragic, it would be laughable how the police hierarchy handled this. Imagine appealing to a murderer to turn himself in when going to his residence and pulling out all stops to bring the suspect in would be seen to be justice in action.
If western law is about providing evidence to prove a party’s guilt, or lack of it, to a jury or judge, then western law does not exist in many areas of this country.
Violence rules. Most tragically those charged by society to see violence end, seem by their ineptness, allow it to run riot.