Dr Andrew Lattas has done extensive field in PNG says these links with Malaysian logging companies are undermining the legitimacy of the state and will lead to a general collapse in state structures.
Speaker:Dr Andrew Lattas, Department of Anthropoloy, University of Bergen
LATTAS: A lot of the money’s going into the training of people and the provision of uniforms and equipment and motor vehicles, but there’s actually no money or not special money going into the management of the police force. Now that’s happening now is Malaysian logging companies have better contacts and direct links especially into the riot squad and can actually call the police in, and they actually pay for the police to come into the local village areas. They transport them, they house them, they feed them, they also give them an allowance per week as well, and given that the salaries are so low in Papua New Guinea, this then obligates the police and creates a debt relationship between the police officers and the Malaysian companies, and that then means basically that the police officers basically become private enforcers for logging companies against the villagers who are trying to block the developments.
COUTTS: Is there double-dipping? Are they doing police work and then in their spare time doing security for the logging companies?
LATTAS: It’s actually formally recognised by the Papua New Guinea government and also by the police officers or the superintendents as a legitimate thing to receive an allowance for being in rural areas. But it’s more than just an allowance, it’s actually more than the pay they’re actually receiving as well. So it’s about creating the sort of cultures of debt, because a lot of the Malaysian companies operate on the basis of gifts, both for politicians, to district administrators, to the police force and this sort of fits into the Melanesian culture of becoming indebted and giving gifts as well. So there’s a sort of merging of different ways of giving, both the Asian way of doing business through gifts, but also this customary gift culture that’s in Papua New Guinea as well. And people actually also need money in town, especially where these police officers live. It’s very expensive to live in town and they actually also rely on this extra income to be able to pay for things like school fees, accommodation and food.
COUTTS: And is it actually in conflict I’m still asking I guess with general policing?
LATTAS: Well it’s not actually supporting the villagers themselves, there’s no law and order problem, and that’s part of the problem is that the Malaysian companies create the illusion that there is a law and order problem in these local areas. And the law and order problem is simply people setting up a roadblock to block companies accessing their traditional lands. And that’s get created into a law and order problem, and that required the riot squad to come in. And it would be possible to solve that through a land mediator. But there’s an increasing resort of heavy armed sort of military like policing in these rural areas to push through these logging projects. And that’s what I’m concerned about is that there’s sort of this extra, the militarisation of policing in areas where they are in fact no law and order problems existing. But you draw upon law and order problems that exist elsewhere in Papua New Guinea and to sort of justify these strong arm tactics that you need to intimidate local villagers so they don’t setup road blocks, they don’t cut down a tree across the road to stop your company accessing their land.
COUTTS: Australian aid has produced a large dedicated private army used by Malaysian logging interests in Papua New Guinea and I guess other parts of the Pacific. If this is an untended use of Australian aid, what should AusAid be doing now to divert the money so it doesn’t go into this practice?
LATTAS: Well it actually needs not just simply in the police force, but within the bureaucracy in general you actually need Australian expats actually sitting within the bureaucracy and managing it because the structures of corruption have become so endemic within the bureaucracy and within the police force that it’s actually undermining the legitimacy of the state. I mean the state is actually held in total contempt, because people know what’s happening and they recognise what’s happening, they see the district administrator dining with the Malaysians every day, when they see the police dining with the Malaysians every day, when they hear them speak they know that they’re not impartial, that they’re not mediating between parties, that they are one-sided operators, and that’s what’s also undermining the state. The fact that the state officials no longer are seen as representatives of the people or even as mediators in disputes, but as partial, one-sided advocates of something that is deeply unpopular.
COUTTS: The so-called private armies that have been setup, how well structured are they?
LATTAS: Well basically they’re four or five police officers in the area that I worked in Pomeo in a plantation, and they have to be housed because there’s no money in the police force to actually transport these people in, they have to be transported in by the Malaysians, they have to be housed by the Malaysians and they have to kind of get given the allowance. So the actual organisational structure is actually created by the logging companies, which actually require their presence gives them the sheer intimidation, because they’re also beating up villagers with sticks, fan belts, they’re locking them up in shipping containers without toilet facilities, without control. So there’s a whole system of terror that’s also being inflicted by the riot squads from these camps as well. So it’s that intimidation of people that is needed to create the logging and to allow logging to take place.
COUTTS: Well I go back to that point again, I mean how much is this private army and the way the AusAid funding is being used to produce the dedicated army, is it actually undermining the state structures, in particular the police force?
LATTAS: Well people see it as actually building up the state. The Malaysians see it as enforcing the state and creating state. But at the popular level of people, they can actually see the state is actually not working, the state actually being bought off, because the Malaysians very rarely call in the police. They actually need other people to call in the police, so they’ll often get the district administrator to call in the police or they’ll get the local landowner company which is under their control to call in the police. So these local bodies which should actually represent people are all being cooperative, and the fact that people don’t have a way of mobilising state structures or getting state structures to represent them in any way that’s actually undermining the state, because it’s then no longer a mediating institution.
COUTTS: Well AusAid money of course is well intentioned, is it actually improving things on the ground?
LATTAS: No it’s not, on the ground the police force now is a lot better dressed than it was in the 1990s, they have beautiful cars in the cities. But there’s actual no control over how this police force is being used, and it’s actually a system of violence that’s actually being deployed against people. And that’s what creating a sense of popular injustice by people that the police force isn’t actually solving crimes, it’s not attending to rapes and murders, these actually don’t exist in the local areas to any significant extent or theft, it’s actually being used simply to push forward these logging operations. That’s what’s undermining the state is that the impartiality of the state and its commitment to law and order, law and order is seen as a rhetoric that the state actually produces to do something else, to do some other work which isn’t about solving law and order but basically looking after these commercial interests, which people don’t agree to, they haven’t signed these agreements, they haven’t even seen these agreements, these logging agreements that are being implemented.