The Security Industry in Papua New Guinea

The security industry is hugely important in Papua New Guinea. Concerns about safety, crime and the capacity of law and order agencies to respond are not novel in Papua New Guinea (PNG). However, in the almost two decades since securitisation for development became a dominant narrative globally, and for PNG and its donor partners, security companies have been relied upon increasingly to fill lacunae in state capacity. In 2006, there were 173 firms registered with the SIA (Security Industries Association, after 2014 Security Industries Authority). As of December 2013, there were 470 registered companies and 24,000 guards, and more suspected of operating unregistered (limited staff capacity within SIA prohibits accurate monitoring of all companies across the country).

On their website, the SIA theorises about the growth of the security industry, writing that it is partly due to ‘the insufficient manpower in the law enforcement agencies to meet the basic security needs of the 7 million PNG citizens. Consequently licensed private security companies are taking advantages of this to fill the vacuum to perform quasi law enforcement duties’. A recent World Bank survey of the social and economic costs of violence in PNG found that many business houses ‘acknowledged that they hired private security to help secure their premises, but also often turned to private security in lieu of the police in the event of an incident’. However, security guards are not hired for the protection of the community at large, but are for-profit companies designed to protect the particular interests of those who engage their services and whose business growth depends on a continuing sense of insecurity from those who can afford to pay for security services. In the same World Bank study, some respondents reported suspicions that:

private security companies may also create ‘security incidents’ by staging an attack on a business premises. This, allegedly, is done in order to create demand for their services or to undermine their competitors.

The rise in security has coincided with a depreciation of confidence in state policing. In 2012, there were 184 police stations across PNG, including posts of only one or two officers, and 5,387 uniformed officers, only 623 of whom were women. Many Papua New Guineans have an ambivalent relationship with police, with accusations that the law ‘lacks teeth’—that is, does not pose adequate risk of punishment to criminals so as to deter crime, and excessive use of force and police brutality are both commonly reported complaints. With regard to the former, limited staff numbers impinge on responses to call outs. This is compounded with poor investigative capacity at many stations, which, in turn, impacts on whether complaints will progress to arrest or court hearings. ‘Emergency responses’ to suspected ‘gang’ or raskol crime by police often involve brutal raids on settlement areas accused of harbouring criminals. Police violence—during raids, arrests and when detainees are incarcerated in police stations—is reportedly common.

Although not unproblematised, there are also widely held public perceptions that ‘something must be done’ to address crime in PNG, and there is a political onus to be tough on crime. Despite some observers noting that, rather than resolving issues of criminal violence, police raids in Port Moresby, for example, in fact seem to exacerbate problems, tacit acceptance of some degree of police violence is widely prevalent in media and public discourse across the country. Grudgingly permissive attitudes towards institutional violence are reinforced by narratives of securitisation and public fear, but also validate the notoriously macho cultures within the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC). Despite institutional efforts to elicit change through gender sensitivity and operational training, such attitudes remain pervasive and continue to perpetuate aggressive masculinity within the force, resulting in human rights abuses against men, women and children accused of committing or being complicit in crimes.

These same philosophies and practices have translated into the operations of security personnel. However, as ‘quasi-law enforcement’, security guards are not privy to the same levels of training, public scrutiny or regulation as state services. Even though such checks and balances are often shown to be inadequate, and change is slow within the police force, protocols still exist and fall under the purview of government and donor analysis. There is no standardised training curriculum or institution in Papua New Guinea for security guards. The SIA dedicates a section on their website appealing to industry members to help to establish a private college, noting that such an institution is a requirement under the Security Protection Act (Independent State of Papua New Guinea 2004). The website notes that because guards currently receive only ad-hoc training, ‘all the security guards currently employed in the industry are either not trained or insufficiently trained’. The site goes on to say that:

the establishment of a private security academy is very important to our long term interest to urgently up skill, rehabilitate and empower the security guards so they are controlled and well disciplined to provide quality services to the services receivers. By doing this all bad habits and serious allegations will be reduced and the integrity of the industry will be maintained.

The ‘bad habits and serious allegations’ are indeed cause for concern. There have been several high-profile cases of crimes committed by security guards in PNG that have recently received international attention. Barrick Gold paid compensation in an out-of-court settlement to 11 of 200 women raped by security personnel hired by the company at Porgera Mine. Australian and Papua New Guinean security guards at the Australian-controlled Manus Island Processing Facility were found to be culpable for violent assaults on asylum seekers in February 2014. Australian and Papua New Guinean security guards at the Manus Island facility were found to be unregistered with the SIA at the time of the 2014 riots, where security guards were found responsible for the death of asylum seeker Reza Berati. Other stories of everyday assaults by guards against citizens are occasionally reported in local news media, and regularly appear on social media sites. The World Bank study found that, although use of firearms by security personnel is restricted under the Security Protection Act, police weapons were found to be in use by some guards. Poor regulatory capacity of the SIA means that addressing assaults or misconduct committed by security personnel relies on internal disciplinary measures, or victims being able to report crimes to police and having police respond. As a result, the macho posturing and violence that is enacted by police under the guise of social protection is also perpetuated throughout the security industry, arguably in less visible and more pervasive ways.

Daniel Goldstein observes that the meaning of ‘security’ is entirely reliant on that which is defined as a threat. The line between categories in Papua New Guinea is slippery and subjective, as responses to anti-social threats in the form of criminal or alleged criminal activity from security forces can be as much a source of uncertainty and fear for communities as the behaviour of raskols. Nonetheless, the pervasive fear of violence generally, and its anticipated ill-effects on economic development in particular, means that despite its issues, security remains a growth industry. Consequently, in the small formal employment market in PNG, it is also a significant employer, especially of young men.

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