Archive for February, 2009

More security, less secure?

Security-related paranoia is the number one expat hobby in Port Moresby. We were therefore intrigued by the revelation the other week that the contingent of wantoks who maintained the security situation in our compound were about to get the proverbial ‘arse’ and be replaced by a high-powered security firm complete with black uniforms, a bloodthirsty guard dog, and a name to make raskols lose sleep at night – THE CORPS. The changing of the guard occurred on Sunday morning and (at time of writing) I have yet to lay eyes on our new sentinels. I am not sure if the wantoks from the Eastern Highlands carried out their promise to depart with a dramatic ceremonial gesture – apparently they were going to break their bows and arrows in front of the new guards and burn them in a heap before stalking off into the unknown. It would have been a great thing to witness if it did happen – but Sundays are for sleeping in after all.

Over the past few weeks I have had vivid and terrible images playing through my mind of how the changing of the guard would ensue. My fear was that our former guards would be ousted in a brutal and tactless manner, with THE CORPS arriving promptly in half a dozen armour-plated Land Cruisers at 0600 hours and duly informing the previous incumbents that their services were no longer required, and that if they had a problem they would have to contend with the formidable ranks (and high-powered arsenal, and ferocious hounds, and uniforms) of THE CORPS. Of course the previous incumbents would have no problem whatsoever with the idea of tackling the might and power (and arsenal, dogs, uniforms) of THE CORPS and probably would be happy to render a few of THE CORPS into corpses. The ensuing bloodbath engulfs all of North Waigani, Morata and Gerehu and we are evacuated amidst a hail of bullets, arrows and buai shells with the assistance of helicopters manned by Australian commandos (a crack squad are of course kept on 24-hour stand-by in the cellar of the High Commission here for situations like these).

Of course this was all idiotic nonsense (it is common knowledge that the commandos are kept in a suite on the top floor of the High Comm, not the cellar). The Highlanders were informed some time ago that their tenure was drawing to a close and were prepared to exit without too much fuss (although not without disgruntlement, as their talk of burning their bows and arrows would indicate). Now, instead of our guard-house being occupied by an extended family of tribesmen wielding bows, arrows and bush knives we get a disciplined paramilitary force with the expertise and firepower to wipe out entire battalions of raskols without batting an eyelid.

That also is of course idiotic nonsense. Some people may feel safer in the presence of uniforms, firearms and berserk German Shepherds – but I have never been one of those people. There is also no question that a band of well-organised raskols (and yes, they ARE organised) would be able to overpower whatever paltry resistance offered by employees of a security firm. If indeed resistance was offered – as I have said before, the wages of a security guard are pathetic in PNG, and some major crimes in PNG (an example being the total destruction by fire of the Western Highlands provincial administration building, ie Mount Hagen’s version of Macquarie Tower in Sydney) are achieved with the complicity of those supposedly protecting the place. So I am immediately disinclined to trust the professionals. The wantoks may have been slack, they may have left the gate open, they may never shown interest in questioning strange people trying to enter the compound – but they had worked there for years, and that was their place. This certainly does not indicate unwavering loyalty, but it is a long-standing relationship, and in PNG you are far more likely to get what you need from those who you’re familiar with – whether it be the guy you know in the bureacracy or the guards who have been minding your place at night for years. I’d be very surprised if a bunch of poorly paid guys in uniforms would begin to care as much as our former guards, as unorthodox as they were by the usual professional measures.

The real protection offered by the wantoks was not immediately discernible. Companies like the Corps rely on overt and ridiculous methods as deterrents – huge vehicles, guns and batons, uniforms and dogs. But their jobs finishes when the roster says it finishes. Our former security however were always on the job, in the sense that their reputation as a group never slept. Suppose a group of raskols stormed the compound, injured one of the wantoks and robbed a few of our houses at gunpoint. That would not be the end of the issue. The wantoks were bound by the palpable tradition of payback – you mess with us, we mess with you. And their connections were not limited to the five or six who regularly manned the guard house. The aforementioned ridiculous situation involving violence spreading through north Waigani, Morata and Gerehu suddenly becomes more plausible. Whoever wanted to assail us here once would have had to ask themselves – is this a good day to start a small war? As of Sunday morning, that question is not so pertinent.

The irony is fantastic – with greater security, we are possibly less secure. We are also the only place in the neighbourhood with a snarling guard dog out the front during the night. As if living on the top of the hill in bright white buildings (not to mention the bright white skin!) wasn’t conspicuous enough. Now we live in the place with the guard dog. We might as well request the relocation of that commando squad too while we’re at it. New neighbours are always fun.

Postscript – have met one of the new guards, the uniforms are truly dashing. You can tell when the new guards are wandering the compound at night because you can hear the robotic chirrup of their walkie-talkies. I was told that they had plans to relocate the dog to the far corner of the compound where in the past intruders had gained entrance. That would be the far corner just underneath our window. Great place for a slavering, barking brute to reside every night. Can’t wait.