Police Commissioner David Manning has warned that he will recommend to the PNG Electoral Commission to declare failed elections for the Enga Province if the violence, death and destruction continues.
Commissioner Manning made this remark following an upsurge in lawlessness within the last 72 hours in parts of the Enga Province.
Mr Manning said a joint task force comprising of military and police personnel will be established and inserted into the Enga Province at the earliest to restore law and order. The Commissioner also announced that 15 candidates of the various seats within the Enga Province in the 2022 National General Election are currently being investigated for their role in the election related violence.
“Someone must be held responsible for the death and destruction in the Enga Province. These candidates, these so-called leaders, were silent when the death and destruction began and have remained silent since. God help us if this is the calibre of the “leadership” that is being put forward for the people of Enga,” said Commissioner Manning who has been in the Highlands region since day one of polling.
Mr Manning said, “The situation in Enga Province is very serious and I have grave concerns for the lives of many innocent people there who have become victims of barbaric and animalistic attacks.
“I have always maintained that the electoral process must be jointly delivered in partnership with the people. Unfortunately, certain candidates do not think this is the way the elections should be delivered.
“Reading through the reports on the situation on the ground it is frustrating and sickening to note that known candidates and their supporters have deliberately attacked opposing candidates and their supporters to influence a favourable outcome.
“To think that these candidates are considered to be highly educated and have successful careers, married and have children of their own condone such violent acts by their tribesmen and supporters is sickening.
“These so-called elites of the province despite their degrees are nothing but highly educated people with questionable morals. We have a saying in many parts of the country with different versions depending where you are, ‘Mango diwai save karim mango, kapiak save karim kapiak’, a law-abiding upstanding citizen would not allow criminals to act on his/her behalf to better their chances of winning elections, similarly a citizen who resorts and supports illegal means of getting what he/she wants will never solicit the support of law-abiding citizens to carry out their criminal activities.
“I have conveyed my concerns to the Prime Minister as well as the Chief of the PNG Defence Force, and we have resolved to establish a separate multi-Taskforce to enforce the rule of law in Enga immediately and to also secure the Porgera mine.
“The situation in Enga is no ordinary law and order situation. Whilst many of the violent incidents are attributed to the elections there are sectors of the local communities in Enga that continue to engage in violent criminal activities pre-dating the elections and will continue throughout the election period and beyond.
“It will be the Joint Task Force’s primary objective to enforce the Rule of Law and respond appropriately where necessary to these individuals and/or groups.
“Candidates who have employed the services of these criminals or have supported these activities will be apprehended and face the criminal justice system.
“We are aware of at least 15 of these candidates who stood for elections in a number of electorates in Enga, and our Investigative Task Force (ITF) is compiling reports and statements at this time.
“This will allow for search warrants to be applied for on their persons, known associates, financial assets, and material property and if need be, arrest warrants.
“We are not time bound by the elections. If these candidates think that we are, then they are sadly misinformed. We plan to have this Taskforce deployed in stages over the coming days.”
Updates from various parts of the Enga province over the last 72 hours shows an unprecedented level of violence, death and destruction of private and public property.
In the Kompiam-Ambum electorate, four bridges on the Wabag-Kompiam road were destroyed. Government installations including schools were also destroyed. There are also unconfirmed reports of widespread killings. There is confirmed destruction of village homes and livestock and continuous tribal fighting between rival candidates.
For the election, despite efforts of the Joint Security Task Force (JSTF) Air Ops only a limited number of boxes were able to be collected from Kompiam and extracted to Hagen. All other boxes for the electorate that were extracted by road are currently being stored at the main storage containers in Wabag town.
The Kompiam Returning Officer and his officials were on hand and were involved in assisting the extraction of the boxes from Kompiam and delivered to Hagen. All other remaining boxes not extracted will be left to the Returning Officer and Electoral Manager to decide as to what options to take.
In the Laiagam electorate a major national road was destroyed. Culverts were destroyed, trenches three-meter wide and six-meter-deep were dug on the Surunki Section of the Wabag-Porgera Road. There were sporadic attacks on government security forces throughout the polling period and continuous tribal fighting between rival candidates. There were also unconfirmed reports of killings. The road from Porgera via Wabag has been cut off.
Certain boxes were unable to be inserted into designated polling areas in Laiagam during the polling period due to rival candidates clashing in those areas. The Returning Officer and the Provincial Election Manager will make representation to the PNGEC as to what can be done. All remaining polled boxes were retrieved and have been securely stored in Wabag.
In Porgera there was destruction of schools and teachers’ homes, shops and various other buildings in and around Paiam Station. Tribal clashes continue between rival candidates. Unconfirmed reports of killings.
Enga Provincial Police Commander Acting Superintendent George Kakas led a team by road through Southern Highlands to Porgera to extract polled Ballot Boxes. The Ballot Boxes for Paiyela were unpolled and were also retrieved and brought back to Wabag.
In the Wabag electorate, all boxes that were in Maramuni were safely extracted and are securely stored in Hagen after the use of Wapenamanda Airport was discontinued. Issues relating to the threat and risk assessment of counting has been assessed and recommendations for the counting of votes of specific electorates from Enga has been relayed to the Enga Provincial Election Steering Committee and the PNG Electoral Commissioner. The key recommendation is to count these two electorates outside of the Enga Province.
Meanwhile, the Police Commissioner said in light of an increased threat and risk assessment on counting centres in the highlands and parts of the coastal region, the Joint Security Task Force for the 2022 National General Election has advised the PNG Electoral Commissioner, Mr Simon Sinai, to conduct counting as soon as security personnel are on the ground.
“To proceed to count without the presence of adequate security personnel will be at the risk of the Electoral Commissioner and his officers,” Mr Manning said.