How land grabbing and low police numbers are adding to Madang's crime problem


Inside a tiny two bedroom fibro house built by the Australian colonial administration, the wife of a serving member of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary   points to repairs that she and her husband did over the years to the condemned building .

“When it rains, the water comes through the roof,” she says. “We can’t use the toilet and the shower   so we built an outdoor shower.”

The clay pipes installed more than 40 years ago are cracked in many places. The sewerage is leaking onto the lawn. They dug drains to channel the sewerage into the main gutters. It’s a health hazard but they have no alternative.

“My husband signed an oath to serve this country,” says the mother of four. “I can’t tell him to leave this job because of   poor accommodation. It is a life a I chose as well.”

In Madang, the Kusbau police barracks, one of the oldest in the country, sits among residential lots, schools and tertiary institutions. It was condemned by health authorities more than 15 years ago. But some police families continue to live there having nowhere to go.

Over 15 years, police numbers saw a significant drop from close to 300 men and women to about 195 in 2011.

Most were transferred to other provinces because of the acute housing shortage.   As police numbers were reduced, the pace of economic development since 2010 has increased.   The Chinese owned Basamuk Nickel refinery, the Ramu Nickel mine, the Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ) and the growth in tuna processing industry, are among developments that spurred an influx of settlers from other part of Papua New Guinea anticipating new opportunities in Madang.

Nagada along Madang’s North Coast Road, is one of the newest settlements in Madang.   The land, legally owned by the Lutheran Church, has been taken over by local man, Lesley Bernard, who claims to be the customary land owner.

“Settlers pay a fee of K1500 every quarter,” he says. “I’ve given them blocks to settle and it makes my job to reclaim by land difficult   when they have conflicts.”

In July, some of Bernard’s tenants were involved in a violent clash that caused the death of one man and the destruction of several houses.   Several months prior, during another clash, the Madang Provincial Government brought in Lae based police units to quell fighting between Sepik and Highlands settlers. Attempts to evict settlers at Nagada failed after Lesley Bernard, obtained a restraining order against police and the provincial government.

Provincial authorities say a main cause of Madang’s settlement growth and subsequent increase in crime is the uncontrolled informal leasing and sale of customary land.

“The landowners themselves are to blame,” said one former police officer. “They sell the land and more people settle.

“Then the settlement population becomes larger than that of the local people. “The settlers cause the petty crimes and it triggers the fighting.

“Police have to be called to resolve it every time that happens.”

Apart from increasing instances of settlement clashes, the rate of serious crimes has also risen in the 2015-2016 period.   Police officers who refused to be formally interviewed,   said the number of armed robberies average between five and six cases a month. Officers from the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) said in 2015 that the number of cases has been overwhelming given the lack of transportation and limited resources.

“We are seeing cases where an officer works one shift and has to continue through to another shift because we don’t have enough people to man the station.”

Police Commissioner, Gari Baki, admits police numbers have not complimented the economic growth.

“As a constabulary, we have not done our job to keep police numbers in Madang in line with the growth of the province,” he said. “Many have had to leave because of the housing problems.”

The tourism industry has been one of the most hardest hit.

Fifteen years ago, Madang Town was a tourist hub frequented by scuba divers and other kinds tourists. In recent months, the owner of Madang Resort, Sir Peter Barter, has issued statements echoing   concerns related to the increasing crime.

Sir Peter is one of several people who have said tourist numbers have dwindled causing a slump in the tourism employment sector.

As Madang police work to resolve the latest settlement clash stemming from the double murder of a man and woman. Provincial and national leaders including Commerce and Trade Minister, Richard Maru, have ended the inaugural Madang Business Summit that is seeking to draw investors to the Province.


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