PORT MORESBY: Papua New Guinea’s new reformist police minister has warned of a plot by officers to detain and possibly kill him, as a battle for control of the nation’s much-maligned police force turned ugly.
Days after firing the country’s powerful police commissioner, Brian Kramer claimed he had received intelligence reports about a plot by “high ranking officers” to have him arrested and charged.
In an unusual Facebook post on Monday, Kramer admitted that Papua New Guineans – who suffer under endemic crime and corruption – “fear and resent the police force.”
The opposition-activist-turned-minister also said his efforts to stamp out politically connected corruption and modernise the force could spell his death.
“I have no question of doubt I will eventually get killed for what I do. It goes without saying when you get in the way of those stealing billions in public funds, they will do whatever it takes to get rid of you.”
Kramer was a surprise appointment when new Prime Minister James Marape announced his government last month.
On Friday, Kramer made his first significant move and announced Police Commissioner Gari Baki had been told “to stop work” as the country’s top cop.
Baki – who is linked to former prime minister Peter O’Neill – has since resisted his removal from office, taking the issue to the courts.
Australian National University analysts Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton described the scale of the challenge to reform the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary in a recent paper.
“PNG’s police force is massively understaffed, poorly resourced, ill-disciplined and heavily factionalised,” they said.
Last year, after Papua New Guinea hosted a major Asia-Pacific summit, hundreds of police officers stormed parliament – smashing windows, trashing furniture and demanding unpaid allowances.
As well as organisational problems, the force has to contend with tribal wars, deadly attacks on people accused of witchcraft and violent roving street gangs known as “raskols”.
Mistrust in the police is rife and many rich Papua New Guineans turn to private security firms before the police.
Stories of police brutality are common. Last October four policemen in New Britain were sentenced to a total of 47 years in jail over the death of 20-year-old Wesley Kenny.
“These police officers came to our home, acting on a tip-off,” Kenny’s father told AFP. “But instead of asking properly, they began to kick and punch him repeatedly until he died.”
Last week in the same province three other officers were sentenced to 20-years-to-life imprisonment for shooting dead a passerby while drunk and on duty.
Violent gangs, widespread theft and rape have made Port Moresby one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with few residents willing to venture out after dark.