Posts Tagged 'law enforcement'

Shituation 3: Red and blue by night

Believe it or not, roadblocks are not fun. Which is a shame, because they’re a pretty regular feature of life in Moresby. Most are set up by the local equivalent of New South Wales’ RTA. They look at your safety sticker and wave you through. Even if your tyres are bald, your exhaust is belching and your rear windscreen has been replaced by a sheet of black plastic, you will most likely be waved through – provided you gave the right person the extra gratuity fee to get the safety sticker.

Every now and then however you encounter the cops. Most of the time they just check licences and don’t pay too much attention, especially by day. By night, it’s a tad different – especially later at night, as was the case in this scenario, and especially when the driver (me) has by some dumb lapse of judgement left his licence at home. Stupid, stupid, STUPID.

You see, there are some quaint customs from the big place just to the south that are not so trendy up here. For example, in the big place down south, if you cannot produce your licence when asked to by a cop, they will typically give you the option of going to the local cop shop within a day or two to show it. Seems reasonable and maybe even efficient – gets traffic moving again, gets the cop onto the next car. Seemingly not. In Moresby, there are three options only – you have your licence, you pay a sum (not strictly speaking a ‘fine’ as we discovered), or you have a nice kip in the slammer and hope for the best.

Once we had established that producing the licence later was not an option, and insisted strongly that a night in the cell was equally as repugnant, we were left with the second option only – the ‘sum’. Apparently I was guilty of two evils – driving without a licence, and being unable to produce a licence when asked to by a law enforcement agent. This sounded fine to a point. The fee seemed hefty enough but not too out of line to my inexperienced mind – being one hundred clams per offence. The trickiness of the situation was twofold. First, the officer peering through our window was quite resolute in his insistence that any kind of documentation was not only unnecessary but thoroughly unconventional. It was a simple matter of paying one’s dues, accepting that one had done wrong, and trusting that the two hundred kina would be safely deposited in the relevant government account and not at the closest roadside beer shack. But that wouldn’t happen, surely.

Which brings us to the second issue – we had no cash. We also do not have the gift of pulling money from thin air, as much as the worthy officer seemed to think we might. After some time the officer became more accommodating – literally at first, as he repeated the offer of a free night in the Hohola cells, then figuratively as he said that possibly we could get a ride in a police vehicle to the closest ATM. Being slightly unwilling to leave our car we asked if it were possible to pay the fine at a police station or court house the following day, and maybe even get a receipt.

This concerned the officer, but of course he was worried on our behalf. In asking such a silly question I had betrayed by ignorance yet again. The officer explained, seemingly a little uncomfortably (but who am I to judge? I was myself also a tad uncomfortable) that payment at a court house or police station at a later date would be more expensive. Exactly twice the amount in fact. I ask you all not to leap to any unfair conclusions regarding the integrity of the officer at this stage. Red tape, paperwork and so on are major inhibitors to the efficiency of a modern economy after all, and seeing as PNG has plenty of things it needs to prioritise I would suggest that a situation like mine would merely be a strain on the progress of the nation. Bloody bureaucracy never helped anyone get anything done after all, here or anywhere else.

So we had a stalemate. We babbled a bit about calling our security escorts, we said we were sorry, we felt as helpless as we did angry. Eventually we hit upon a proposal that worked – call over the boss to sort something out.

The boss came. The boss certainly looked like the boss – protruding gut, fine moustache, nice blue beret and a button-up shirt. And, a machine gun.

The boss, however, was also our boon (yes! he looked a bit like a Papua New Guinean Boonie too) – he took one look at our humble car and decided he wasn’t interested. We offered again to report to a police station the next day. He said yes, and asked my name, which of course I offered freely and incorrectly. Then we were allowed to go. For two seconds. Then another cop pointed out our rear lights needed fixing. Of course of course we’ll fix it this week. Outta there!

Again, in hindsight, this wasn’t the worst of our road block experiences, but we were not to know that at the time. Certain expressions of relief and outrage were shared as we drove home, and that was that. Although I am sure the cops at Hohola would have been waiting around despondently for ‘Geoff’ to show up the next morning. For hours on end. Maybe they too were outraged. After all they wouldn’t be used to scandalous lies or anything like that, the poor guys.

Origin fever / Badass cops

The third State of Origin game is only about eight minutes old, but I’m already satisfied with the spectacle. Hulking giants heaving each other and indulging in many cringe-worthy ‘eat my shoulder’ moments. Shoulder of ham perhaps, shoulder of brute – I’ll leave that to the professionals.

The popularity of rugby league in PNG is one of the quintessestial facts of this country. The fact that PNG is the only country worldwide where league is the national sport is usually mentioned in the same breath that informs PNG has roughly one third of the world’s known languages and tends to have law and order issues. You can reiterate such details to the extent that they become close to meaningless, just like the Wikipedia entries you only half bother reading. It’s when you delve into the anecdotal that things get interesting again and you get a better idea of how (if not always why) something like a football game is significant.

A few people I’ve spoken to about the crazy popularity of the State of Origin games usually append an anecdote describing the sounds of loud splashing in Koki and Hanuabada – the noise of television sets hitting the water, of course. More scientific-minded types will assure you television sales rise sharply after Origin games thanks to enraged spectators trying to intervene directly in the game’s outcome via their own screens. More dour types (and of course the newspapers) will tell you about husbands venting violent frustrations on wives, or a footy-crazed young men murdering their own brothers for the eminent crime of supporting the other team. I was struck by the silence in our own neighbourhood after the second game, and wondered if it was all a beat-up. Then two days later reports of the brutal murder of three young guys at the hands of a wild mob in the Five-Mile area after the game surfaced. Who knows what they said and why an entire mob had cause (if any) to chop them to pieces. The point is it happened on Origin night, and hence became part of the gory folklore. Why such murderous reputations seem to be reinforced by actual events is beyond many Papua New Guineans. To be fair most people I meet are absolutely perplexed as to why any of their countryfolk would get so worked up over an Australian sporting match. It’s not that they don’t like the game – they invariably do – but they know it’s a game involving Queenslanders and New South Welshmen. Not a Papua New Guinean on the field (except Kumuls player Neville Costigan – depending on how one defines nationality).

Despite the lack of geographical relevance the ‘blues or maroons’? question is a common one this time of year. It’s sometimes hard to explain why, despite being born in NSW and having grown up in NSW, the maroons are my team of choice. It’s a bit technical explaining that the home town was only twenty minutes from the border, that Brisbane was a bigger feature of my youth than Sydney, and I was just going for the same team my mates did. But for some reason I persist. It also helps to weave a ‘conflict with the missus’ aspect into my explanation – ‘missus blo mi em laik blues, tasol mi laik maroons. Mi gat bigpla hevi.’ What I never, NEVER admit is that since I was about 12 years old I haven’t really given a toss about footy. That would be criminal. Besides PNG does funny things to longlong dimdims and I have found myself enjoying the Friday Night Football in a non-ironic fashion from time to time, and as for the game tonight it is good to see the Blues have reclaimed their spirit, I expect that if this had been the second game the series would have been a NSW win, the opening was fierce as you would expect from a real Origin match and GOOD GOD there goes that bastard in the pink shoes again, SMASH HIM!

The police reaction to the aforementioned post-Origin murders was predictable, and yet another ho-hum horror that seems to reflect a standard ‘truth’ about PNG – the cops are badasses. Without going into specifics the police reacted with a mix of burned houses, evicted squatters and beaten heads – and probably a few more murders, who knows. The heavy handedness was because one of the murdered men was in fact the son of an MP. Cops don’t like losing face over here. They don’t mind being off their faces, typically at road blocks, but losing face thanks to a high profile murder or robbery really ticks them off. The so-called millennium bank robbery in Moresby a few years ago involving a brash helicopter escape is a good example. Somehow, mysteriously, none of the robbers survived arrest after their helicopter was shot from the sky – eyewitnesses did report they were quite alive at time of apprehension however. Another great example is an anecdote I heard last night from a guest who lives in the East Sepik bush. He described a local policeman’s solution to a stray dog wandering on an airport runway – unload a full clip from his M-16 in the dog’s general direction. The scene seems so ludicrous when I imagine it, I can’t help but wonder how the dog felt about it all. Yes, the canine survived, but was probably very confused afterwards.

Dogs, guards, crowds, flags.

September 16 is Independence Day in PNG. I spoke to a guy in Boroko the day before and he wasn’t too fussed on the celebrations. What was there to celebrate? was his general opinion. The country hadn’t achieved much and its’ leaders were self-serving and selling the country short – especially to Asians apparently. It reminded me perversely of the unease in Australia when the Japanese were buying up big on the Gold Coast years ago. Here however the people have more to complain about. The guy I was talking to said technically overseas companies were obliged to train and employ locals. Then he kind of shrugged and made a handing-out gesture with both hands. I asked him what he thought of Somare. “Not the man he used to be” he replied.

Some of our volunteering colleagues had made a song and dance the day before about being “cooped up” in a motel for a fortnight and as a result we were chauffered in a couple of four wheel drives to the Sir John Guise stadium to see the Independence Day cultural celebrations. Two Gulf Province men – Greg and Loka – were our minders. It was fairly easy to pick our way through the throngs and the constant excange of “apinun, how are you?” quickly became habitual. Up front we found it a little harder to gain a vantage point, until a disturbance involving a cop and a dog and a supposedly drunk guy exposed some tensions in the crowd. The enforcers quickly decided that we were special – Greg threw the word “volunteer” around a lot but I think simply “white” would have sufficed – so we got prime concrete-slab seating on the stage side of the rope barrier. The distinct unease I felt at this special privelige dissipated as the crowd decided over the next half hour or so to come and join us, sneaking over in twos and threes to gather around the barrier and the group of whiteys. The proximity made me feel better. The reactions of the enforcers didn’t. For all the interest I had in the cultural show going on – traditional cosumes, dances, all that – I found the seething tension between the crowds and the guys with dogs and sticks far more gripping. Loka had told me earlier that the cops in Moresby weren’t too bad but when situations escalated they had a reputation for outright ferocity. I thought of this as I observed a situation that was slowly but definitely escalating. The cops would periodically uproot people, clear walkways, and every so often let a dog have a metre or so of leash and send a dozen people surging backwards, leaning on each other in the ever-tightening press of bodies. Right in font of the stage the crowd got dirty and tossed a few betel-nut shells at the cops, provoking a response that cleared a few metres for a while. The cops seemed to use whatever was at hand for batons – sticks, bent metal broom handles, tonfa-style riot sticks. I thought this was pretty shabby even for PNG cops, until I realised these guys weren’t cops at all but private security guards. I was told later they got paid roughly K1.50 an hour – hardly an incentive to show discipline and restraint. The real police were definitely there – they looked a lot sharper and a couple of them carried machineguns. I wasn’t unhappy that they kept their distance.

We roasted under the sun for an hour and bit before Greg decided the situation was on the brink of rapid deterioration. The flare-ups had indeed become more frequent and the wall of bodies behind us more impenetrable. Given that his boss would probably not be happy if the ‘packed-in-cotton-wool’ Aussie volunteers got involved in an incident then I can’t blame Greg for being responsible, but I was left vaguely dissatisfied at not seeing the culmination of the contest between the mob and the goons. Then again I’m sure riots are more to the taste of a particular type, and no doubt that type aint me.