I write this on behalf of the many soldiers who can’t openly discuss the problems they face in the field as members of the Papua New Guinea Defence force (PNGDF)
I also write this as a Papua New Guinean who holds the PNGDF in high regard despite the many problems it faces.
Every year, the government passes the budget. Every year, the budget figures grow. Or it appears to grow at least on paper. But reality is, the PNGDF is the least prioritized functions of the government. Yet, the demands placed on the 5000 men and women is immense.
PNG’s military’ spending is 1.9 percent of GDP. Military spending in Fiji is 3 percent of GDP. That gives you an idea of how much value successive governments have placed on the very institution tasked with guarding our borders and keeping our country safe.
It is an organization that is struggling.
Yet the soldiers who actually do the work, will not tell you, publicly, how hard it is. It is a job they do with pride and with very little complaint outside of their own circle.
Former PNGDF Commanders like Retired Major General Jerry Singirok, has raised these concerns numerous times. Each time, it has fallen on deaf ears. He has said our air, sea and land capabilities need to be improved. The number of our infantry troops need to be increased to reflect the size of our economy. We need our own planes, helicopters and more ships. We cannot expect to grow an economy without having the means to protect it.
We can’t depend on Australia to fund all our training and equipment. It is embarrassing!
Last month, I saw the posts by soldiers who are working along the Indonesian border. They’re carrying out the commander’s intent. One hundred and twenty men. Their rations are in short supply, their uniforms and boots are torn and worn out. They work in wet, soggy conditions. Many of them have only one set of uniforms. The one they got from the training depot at Goldie.
One soldier’s wife said she sews her husband’s uniforms because he has not been issued any new sets for years. A soldier’s dad said he had to buy his son’s field uniforms and boots. They cost about K500 a set. It would cost about K8000-K10,000 just to adequately clothe a soldier, if you were to give him five sets of field uniforms and boots. That’s just the field uniforms only.
What good is an army that can’t properly feed, clothe and equip men and women?
Politicians have a shelf life of 5 years. The military is here to stay. However, the politicians wield the power of the state. That’s the power that uses the PNGDF as a tool for political convenience during elections.
We tell the soldier to “be proud of the uniform they wear.” What uniform? The torn and tattered shirt and trousers he can’t sew together anymore? The boots that he has to patch because the government has nothing more in stock?
We have to clothe our soldiers. We have to feed them. So that they do the jobs they signed up for. We owe it to their families to take care of their dads, mums, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.
I want to be proud of my army. I say to the legislator, while they are servants of the state, the military is not here for selfish political convenience.