DOREEN POLOH WAIM
LUTHER Wenge, the man who single-handedly threw out the Australian police contingent in 2005, warned yesterday that their proposed return to help fight growing crime and corruption in Papua New Guinea must not violate the Constitution.
But Mr Wenge indicated that he would not step in the way again as PNG looks for long-term solutions to combat crime.
The Morobe governor’s softer stand was a far cry from his stiff opposition four years ago when he challenged the Australian police presence in PNG, under the Enhanced Cooperation Programme (ECP), in the Supreme Court which ruled in his favour, declaring the ECP unconstitutional. A somewhat mellowed Mr Wenge said in Lae at the weekend that the renewed policing partnership between the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) should not violate the Constitution.
He said he had learnt that “it was the desire of the National Government, in consultation with the Australian government, to bring back the AFP”.
Details of the new deployment of Australian police personnel are still being worked out by Canberra but it is understood that funding would have to be approved through the next Federal Budget in May next year.
This means that a revised ECP would come into effect in the latter part of next year.
Mr Wenge said it was a good Australian initiative to assist in curbing law and order problems in PNG’s major urban centres and the two countries had an obligation to support each other.
“If the Government feels that the Papua New Guinea police are not in a strong position to fight crime, then it is entitled to seek Australian police help through a bilateral treaty.
“In so doing, both countries must ensure that PNG laws are upheld and provisions of our Constitutions are not breached.”
He said that conditions and provisions under the new agreement must adhere to the Constitution, not replicate those applied in the previous ECP which was declared illegal by the Supreme Court in 2005.
Mr Wenge, who took out the legal challenge that revoked the ECP, said under the treaty of the ECP then, some of the sections and articles were challenged because they were against the UN human rights convention, besides giving Australian police personnel immunity from prosecution under PNG laws.
He also said as part of the international community, the UN human rights convention had been adopted into the PNG Constitution.
Mr Wenge said one of the sections of the convention states that: “If any person is injured by the actions of another, he or she has a right to claim compensation.”
One of the reasons why the ECP was challenged was because “it unfortunately prevented that right”.
Mr Wenge said another condition under the 2005 ECP were that personnel engaged could enter and leave PNG without checks.
Those under the ECP were also exempted from paying tax (GST), Mr Wenge said, adding that these conditions “were totally unacceptable”.