"We declare our first goal to be for every person to be dynamically involved in the process of freeing himself or herself from every form of domination or oppression so that each man or woman will have the opportunity to develop as a whole person in relationship with others".


- Papua New Guinea National Goals and Directive Principles




Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Buying Shares in the RPNGC: Exxon Mobil's New Strategy?

It is difficult to discern at present exactly what is behind Prime Minister Somare’s immanent sacking of the Police Commissioner Gari Baki. Nevertheless, the suggestion is that Gari Baki opposes resource operators co-funding police operations. A figure of K2 million has been cited as the per month subsidy Exxon Mobil are/will provide the RPNGC for security services (The National, 8/11/2010).

If this is correct, the Police Commissioner is well within his rights to stand his ground and should be supported. LNG Watch has raised serious concerns in previous posts over the RPNGC’s woeful human rights record. However, compromising the authority of RPNGC commanders by beholding them to resource operators will hardly help rectify the situation. History tells us this quite explicitly.

Bougainville Copper Limited, for instance, subsidised the operations of the RPNGC and the PNGDF during 1988-1990. The company utilised this leverage to hold regular meetings with senior commanders in both forces. While it would be exaggerating to suggest they were able to direct the military operations on Bougainville, nevertheless, undue pressure was placed on the security forces by the company to hunt down the rebel landowners, which escalated the situation considerably.

The problem is that resource operators are guided by interests that are not necessarily compatible with humane, community policing. Companies must protect their investment, reassure shareholders, avoid costly labor disputes, and most of all keep production going 24/7. When local disputes threaten any of these fronts, the consequences for the company’s bottom line i.e. profit rate, inspires the need for quick, decisive action, even brutal action. Moreover, in principal at least RPNGC officers responsible for ordering such punitive actions could be disciplined in the courts, however, the expatriate executives who lobbied for such actions would be free to abscond from the national jurisdiction and thus escape prosecution.

Exxon Mobil are well aware, despite public statements to the contrary, that many people in the Southern Highlands are confused and aggrieved by the company's behavior. People in the affected regions are prepared to see the LNG operation cease, until their concerns are satisfied. It would not seem beyond belief, therefore, that Exxon Mobil are attempting to buy leverage within the RPNGC, to ensure swift action can be taken against landowning communities.

For a summary of recent events, Neil Ashdown from Global Insight provides the following useful snapshot:
"A dispute between the prime minister and police commissioner of Papua New Guinea has the potential to destabilise the country's police force. The localNationalnewspaper reported today that Police Commissioner Gari Baki has been given until 16 November to present his case for keeping his job. The dispute relates to Baki's request for 10 million kina (US$3.89 million) to cover the deployment of police to liquefied natural gas (LNG) project areas during an emergency meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) held on 28 October. On 4 November Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare sent a letter calling for Baki's suspension to Peter O'Neill, minister of public service. In the letter Somare wrote that he had "reason to believe that ... [Baki] misled the government". Baki denied the allegations on 5 November. Security for the LNG project sites is provided by the police in partnership with project developer Esso Highlands Ltd, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. In his response to Somare's letter Baki argued that the arrangement could give the impression that the police operation is "merely ... a private security arrangement". In a statement today Baki reiterated that he remained in charge of the force and called for officers to "return to their posts".
Significance:Baki has been leading a campaign to sever the links between the police and the private sector. His attempt to have the government pay for police operations to secure the LNG projects sites would fit with this campaign. The potential ramifications of the situation were highlighted by the general secretary of the Police Association, Clemence Kanau, on Monday (8 November). Kanau called the decision to remove Baki "politically motivated" and said that it had the potential to reignite the instability that wracked the force in 2006, when uncertainty over the appointment of the commissioner led to factionalisation. Kanau said that if Baki was removed "there will definitely be no control over junior ranks' behaviours". While the situation remains relatively calm at present there is the potential for more disruption if not resolved sensitively".

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