CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Law and order (or the lack thereof) is, in my opinion, the single biggest challenge facing Papua New Guinea. It affects every aspect of life and the high crime level makes everything else more difficult. Every business has to take extra security precautions, every investment has to take into account additional costs, every individual working here has the weigh the risks of being a victim of violent crime. The tourism industry is almost non-existent, apart from the Kokoda Track and a couple of tiny resorts – and this in a country with tremendous tourism potential.

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The police forces here are like everything else – a work in progress. They often make the papers for all of the wrong reasons. There are no doubt some excellent police officers and there are obviously some others who are inept, corrupt, and probably belong behind bars themselves.

I personally witnessed more evidence of the lawlessness in PNG last night.

I was enjoying a few quiet drinks at a bar with friends and I decided to call it a night. I caught a cab from the bar and as we rounded the corner next to the bar, the driver pointed out a group of security guards standing around in the street. Lying next to them on the ground was the body of a man. There are differing opinions about what happened, but I heard that he had been murdered there while I was enjoying a casual drink with friends 50 metres away. Apparently, it was as a result of a drunken dispute between two men. One had killed the other and then been taken away by the police. By the time I passed by, the police had gone and only the victim was left there – his body being watched by the security guards from the nearby buildings until an ambulance could come and take it away.

It was unsettling of course, but also quite saddening. That man woke up yesterday and went to work, just like I did. He had no idea that it would be his last day on earth and that he would die at the hands of a violent criminal that same day. Unfortunately, this story is a common one in PNG. I heard recently that there are a lot of murders in PNG, but that the rate peaks around major sporting events such as the “State of Origin” Rugby League contest. Apparently, there is a good deal of illegal gambling around the events and that consequently leads to drunken disputes and a soaring murder rate. People either don’t care about consequences or they commit crimes with impunity, knowing that the chances of the police producing a conviction are limited.

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Newspapers are odd here in that they wouldn’t dream of showing nudity or dropping the F bomb, but they have no qualms about showing a dead body on the front cover.

I found out recently that Australian AID – the agency that sends all the Australians over here for  technical assistance – advises its staff in its security briefings that there are 8 carjackings in Port Moresby every day. I was speaking to a friend recently who lives near one of the most notorious intersections. He said that on any given Friday night, he sits on his balcony and will personally witness 3 or 4 carjackings. Evidently, despite them being so predictable, the police are unable to stop them from occurring.

Stories of police further victimising victims has lead to a belief that is fairly widespread around here that calling the police in an emergency may simply make the problem worse.

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The police do have some wicked new Land Rovers though.

An Australian woman was a victim of an attempted carjacking recently. She was very lucky as carjackers here usually steal money, phones and cars from men but sometimes assault the female drivers. The modus operandi employed was to have a pregnant woman walk out on to a pedestrian crossing, forcing the driver to slow down, and then the carjackers pounce from the sides. It’s a clever ploy as everyone slows down for a pregnant woman. Apparently, the pregnant lady is complicit in the crime and receives a share of the proceeds.

On this occasion, the Australian driver slowed for the pregnant woman but then when she saw the carjackers, she panicked and hit the accelerator instead of the brake. The car surged forward, the pregnant woman leapt nimbly out of harm’s way. But the carjacker in front of the car wasn’t so lucky. He was struck soundly with the car and ended up with two broken legs. The Australian woman did the right thing and kept driving, then went straight to the nearest police station and reported it.

The police went back to the scene of the crime and found a blood trail. They followed it all the way to a house in the nearby settlement and found the fellow with the broken legs. The police allegedly tortured the man into confessing the crime and giving up the identities of the other assailants. All of them were rounded up and imprisoned.

Personally, I think it’s luck of the draw. If one gets the right police, they seem to be very decent chaps. I came across these police yesterday and I went and said hello. They were very personable fellows. They all introduced themselves and their ranks. The fellow with the assault rifle is only a probationary officer at this stage. Makes sense to give the biggest gun to the new guy.

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I was down by a little seaside recreation area known as “Sea Park”.

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It’s a lovely area, that apparently was very well set up and managed back in the 1980s. But it has been allowed to decay. There was a glass aquarium out at the end of a pier, which tourists could visit to see various marine creatures. That is no longer functioning, but the stairs down to it remain.

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There are various rides for small children and it appears that some of them still work.

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Unfortunately, the beach is strewn with detritus.

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It really does spoil the ambiance of the place.

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We had a work outing for the team, which included a barbecue lunch.

I was involved in the procurement of the ingredients.

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Shopping is always a challenge in PNG. These shopping trolleys (carts) have almost all had the red plastic handles broken off them. So the patrons just grab on to the uncomfortable metal sides and push them around like that. Replacing them would be expensive, no doubt.

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The meat industry here is reasonably strong, however a lot of meat is still imported. Since people are poor, they don’t waste as much of the animal as we would in Canada. Here they’re selling the neck chops from lambs for $7.50 per kilogramme.

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I tried to buy some disposable knives and forks for the barbecue but to no avail. This whole section is just taken up with plastic forks. Who can imagine what happened to all of the plastic knives. There were none to be found. No spoons either. Just forks. Lots and lots of forks.

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They sell other weird stuff too like this kerosene stove. People take for granted having gas or electricity in Canada, but here one needs alternate solutions.

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While I was out, this computer caught my eye. $350 for a “Special…Prize”.

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These ladies were sitting on the floor of the supermarket counting coins. Because the 1 kina coin has a hole through the middle, they thread them along a piece of string for ease of carrying and counting.

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We purchased steak and sausages and cooked them over an open fire right on the beach.

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The staff brought salads along and the meal was a great success.

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Some of the staff were chewing betel nut (“buai”) and they convinced me to try a tiny piece. I had just the nut – without the lime and mustard so there was no drug affects. It just tasted horrible and bitter, so I spat it out. I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to consume that, but then I’d say the same thing about cigarettes.

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While we were there, this ten pin bowling pin money box washed up on the shore. It seemed oddly out of place.

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Until next postcard…

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5 responses to “CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

  1. Brian has just read some of your postings, we almost fell about laughing, you are so comical. keep them coming Chris love them.The stories are sad but true

  2. Bittersweet, yet hilarious. Your writing is amazing, lovely. You take something so completely foreign to us and make it relatable.
    I read and observe that with more education and investment into women and children, crime rates go down. I’ve never been outside of the States or Canada. Is it an endless cycle of government tyranny and lack of resources that forces these people to live the way they do?
    I think so. Makes me sad..
    – Katrina

    • Yes, I agree. There’s definitely a cyclic effect – people with no education, health care, etc. end up with nothing to lose and people with nothing to lose resort to crime. I also think that they need a serious boost to the law and order here to address the symptoms at the same time.

  3. It seems a shame that the tourism potential is under utilized. But then again, that can bring problems too.
    Tell me again why beetle nut doesn’t have an effect without lime and mustard?

    • Yes, crime is really paralysing this country. I guess Tourism has its downsides, but it brings lots of hard currency and jobs, which are badly needed here. I am not familiar with the precise chemical reaction but I believe it’s the Calcium Hydroxide in the lime that causes a reaction with the nut. The betelnut is white but when mixed with the lime (also white) it reacts and turns the bright red colour that one sees on the streets. The mustard is primarily for taste but some species of the mustard can also enhance the potency of the drug.

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