Papua New Guinea (PNG) has long struggled to maintain law and order within its borders. However, the past few years have been particularly difficult for the overwhelmed police force in the country.
This year alone, the Royal PNG Constabulary (RPNGC) has faced serious ethnic clashes in Port Moresby; violent local conflicts in the Highlands which left many dead; and, most sensational, the extraordinary events in Milne Bay, including the burning of a police barracks in Alotau and bloody shootouts between the Tommy Baker gang and the police special operation trying to track them down.
For the past two years, police have also been critical frontline workers in an ongoing public health emergency, enforcing special regulations put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioner Manning, who has juggled the roles of police commissioner and pandemic response comptroller, recently said there were only about 6,700 police officers for a population of nearly nine million. residents. In addition, around 548 of them are expected to retire by the end of this year, leaving just over 6,000 police officers for next year’s general election. To ensure the safety of PNG’s often volatile electoral contests, Commissioner Manning will need to revive the reserve police (recently disbanded following suspected abuse) and enlist the services of the defense forces and corrections.
These responsibilities are in addition to the routine work of the RPNGC in response to day-to-day crime. Police officers across the country perform a wide variety of daily and time-consuming tasks, including investigating crimes, dealing with suspects, gathering evidence and prosecuting summary offenses.
In light of the multiple challenges facing the RPNGC, in a recently released report, we argue that now is the time to examine the actual and potential contribution of PNG’s substantial private security sector to help address security concerns. from the country.
The report examines how private security companies fit into PNG’s larger security landscape, which includes the relationships between different security actors operating within a large network or web. While it is still common to view the different areas of security provision – public, private and community – as separate and discrete, the reality is one of increasing interaction and entanglement between them.
Our report aims to start a conversation about the role of the private security industry in PNG and its potential for improving public security. While research is ongoing, the report highlights three key findings that could guide reform efforts.
First of all, we stress the importance of weighing the negative and positive aspects when looking to engage with the private security industry. In the report, we try to point out that elements of the industry can undermine public safety; private security operators can indeed be a law in themselves. Thus, we call for some caution in this regard.
However, our analysis also suggests that industry can play an important role in improving public safety. While the private security industry is subject to its own limitations and challenges, some operators actively promote public security. For example, although parts of the industry have been accused of shocking crimes against women, some are helping to tackle gender-based violence. The industry is far from homogeneous, with significant differences between companies, especially in terms of capabilities and professionalism.
We would assume that without private security, PNG’s problems would likely be much worse than they are now.
It is therefore essential that the many negative aspects associated with the industry are balanced against the positive ones, real and potential. In turn, we suggest that there needs to be a more nuanced picture of the private security industry in debates over the country’s security landscape.
Second, our research suggests the importance of strengthening security networks involving the private security sector as well as the police, political elites and local communities. While we recognize that the primary responsibility for public safety rests with the state, the unique challenges of PNG require donors and policymakers to look beyond traditional approaches that focus narrowly, or exclusively, on the security services of the country. the state.
A good place to start to establish a productive interaction between security providers is to facilitate dialogue between the Security Industry Authority (SIA) as industry regulator, police, leaders of the civil society and key members of industry, so that potential areas of collaboration can be identified.
This would not be easy, given the complexity and competition that characterize PNG’s security networks. However, our results suggest that it might be possible to build on existing cooperation networks, provided that policymakers understand the critical and evolving link between private security operators and political elites.
Finally, much remains to be done to improve the regulation of private security companies. As we pointed out earlier, the AIS needs better support. It does not have sufficient staff or resources to cover the large number of companies operating across the country. A good place to start would be to adopt the existing proposed amendments to the Security Industries (Protection) Act.
While noting the limits of international regulatory efforts, we also suggest that more needs to be done to encourage companies to adhere to existing international codes of conduct that can provide an additional layer of regulation above the state.
Our report provides initial insights into the industry; However, we recognize that more research is needed to fill the gaps in our knowledge about an industry that rarely, if ever, appears in the endless discussions of PNG’s security challenges. This could include further research with PNG police, to better understand their interactions with the industry, which are often extensive.
The research must also go beyond the urban PNG, where we have focused to date. It is important to examine how security companies operate in rural areas, especially in remote areas of high value-added resource extraction, where security governance often involves hybrid arrangements involving developers, police officers. , landowners and security companies.
We hope our report will start a broader conversation about the industry. There is much more to be said and done about the role private security firms could play in addressing PNG’s current security concerns.
Read the report Private Security in Papua New Guinea – A Networked Approach.
This research was undertaken with funding from the Australian Civil-Military Center and with support from the Pacific Research Program, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Opinions are those of the authors only.